As Neil Young once opined, maybe it’s better to burn out than to fade away, but Bombay Bicycle Club had no intention of doing either. In 2016, having completed the touring cycle for their chart-topping fourth album, 2014’s prophetically-named So Long, See You Tomorrow - the band took a step back. They all remained involved in music in the interim, bar guitarist Jamie McColl, who returned to university; singer/guitarist Jack Steadman put out a solo record as Mr Jukes, & bassist Ed Nash did likewise as Toothless, with Suren de Saram devoting his drumming prowess to that project, as well as making himself available as a session player.
The band had been more or less their whole lives since forming in 2004, locked rigidly into the tour-album-tour-album-tour cycle since 2009 debut I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, so that decision to set it down for a while might well have saved it altogether. Indeed, that debut album’s anniversary was the catalyst for them to pick it back up, and new songs weren’t long in coming, with the seeds of what would become their fifth album planted early last year along with news of their reunion.
Working with Los Angeles-based producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Wild Beasts, Future Islands, etc.), the band sound refreshed and raring to go on Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, with opener ‘Get Up’ a brass-and-woodwind-assisted clarion call for both the listener and band themselves. Establishing one of the record’s key themes - namely, how to cope in times of adversity - the record begins with a cinematic flourish before ‘Is It Real’ kicks the door down with aplomb, a nostalgia-baiting look at times gone by that questions the veracity of formative memories. “I feel our lives roll back, look the wrong way when I’m moving too fast” Steadman sings, but the band are more concerned with the present and future, as ever - this time lyrically as well as musically.
The ‘else’ in the album’s title is crucial - it focuses on how we operate when all around us seems to be crumbling. The declamatory title track is shot through with spirited resilience, while ‘I Can Hardly Speak’ flips the narrative, with de Saram’s martial rhythms and Nash’s bouncy bassline in lockstep with each other on a deceptively sprightly track on which Steadman tackles his social anxiety. Two sides of the same coin, the latter track also ties into another of the record’s themes: connection, be it technological, figurative or literal.
In whatever form, it can be a balm in times of strife: ‘I Worry Bout You’ explores how struggling to maintain that with someone can have negative effects on one’s own mental health, while the comparatively sparse ‘Good Day’ posits that change starts from within and that connection with yourself is also important, the anxiety in its verses about global and personal unrest contrasting with the chorus’s delightfully simple sentiment: “I just wanna have a good day, and it’s only me that’s standing in my way.”
The burbling synth hook of lead single ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ perfectly encapsulates the joy of connection, framing it through the lens of a love song (“Those looks at the start, those words in the dark / But never the flame, we just wanted the spark”), while ‘People People’ - one of several tracks on the album to feature touring partner Liz Lawrence on backing vocals - and ‘Do You Feel Loved?’ express the desire to take interaction beyond the sometimes rose-tinted world of social media: ‘Gonna write you a letter, ‘cause you’ve been on my mind / Wanna get to know you better.’
Penultimate track ‘Let You Go’ ties together those themes, building to a synth-driven roar from its humble beginnings as Steadman tries to hold on to himself while simultaneously holding on to others, the give-and-take of friendships and relationships summed up quite poetically by a man who, by his own admission, was worried he’d run out of things to say (or to quote the title track, was aching for a word and the words were not coming): “Can we stay here longer, burn our embers down? Glowing bright for one last moment just to fade somehow?”
The final word is left to torch-song closer ‘Racing Stripes’, featuring guest vocals from Billie Marten. Despite its pessimistic title, the album’s shot through with positivity even in the face of an uncertain tomorrow, and its sign-off sums up that desire to keep pushing onward through choppy waters: “This light will keep me going / And I don’t even know wherever I may go.” Finishing on a resoundingly hopeful note, their fifth record is a testament to the band’s refusal to settle, to keep striving to find the best version of themselves - and this might just be the closest they’ve gotten to date, on an album that fans old and new will hold close to their hearts and turn to for solace in their own dark times. Everything else may indeed have gone wrong, but for Bombay Bicycle Club, the future’s brighter than ever.