Generally, the announcement of a member temporarily splitting from a band I admire to release a solo album fills me with a nameless dread. It is a gut feeling that has been proven correct time and time again; as two quick examples – Albert Hammond Jr and Julian Casablancas (although the feeling does extend beyond artists who aren’t members of The Strokes).
So, when news broke that Ed Nash, bassist of Mercury Prize-nominated Bombay Bicycle Club, was to release an album under the moniker “Toothless”, my heart sank a little. Not least because his choice of name would make it all too easy for lazy reviewers to make awful puns about the album ‘lacking bite’.
Fortunately for you, me, my editor and Mr Nash collectively, there is nothing about The Pace Of The Passing which would give an opportunity to such woeful wordplay. I’m not even sure why I included it. The album is, in short, brilliant.
Let’s make one thing clear from the off. I loved Bombay Bicycle Club’s latest album So Long, See You Tomorrow. It was comfortably my favourite album of 2014. And, as is understandable, The Pace Of The Passing does have a feel of that album about it, layered as it is with punchy rhythms, arpeggio guitars and choral harmonies from Nash and guests, including The Staves, Marika Hackman and Tom Fleming. Although perhaps lacking some of the poppy-hooks that made BBC’s latest offering so popular, Nash’s record focuses more on simple melodies that are left reasonably bare and, as a result, stick with the listener long after they’ve finished the album.
The fact that Nash hasn’t just ramped up the bass and left all else by the wayside is credit to him as a musician and artist. A large portion of the tracks, including album opener Charon and The Midas Touch favour more subtle instruments (such as strings and an organ respectively in the examples given). The result is a well-rounded album which is clearly the result of a lot of time, effort and attention to detail.
By its own admission, Toothless’ debut is slightly lacking in tracks which would hold their own as stand-alone singles – although with that said I do keep returning to the second track, Sisyphus – but as a complete record, it works very well indeed. With a running ‘mythological’ theme, each track on the record flows nicely into the next (without being too similar) and it is easy to find yourself listening to the whole thing two or three times in a row.
Unfortunately, as with any solo effort, comparisons to the ‘parent’ band are somewhat unavoidable and there are some similarities between Toothless’ debut and Bombay Bicycle Club’s output. Although, rather than some accidental forgery, one gets the impression that the reason is Nash’s influence on the musical direction of the band, rather than the other way round. Fortunately for Toothless, although I don’t think fortune has anything to do with it, this is a well-crafted debut album that well and truly holds its own against the comparison and is sure to be loved and, more importantly, revisited by fans for years to come.