Every time I listen to Bombay Bicycle Club, I remember the first time I heard them. My (then) boyfriend and I were driving west on Interstate 80 in Salt Lake City, Utah on a hot, sunny day. I was behind the wheel, he was DJing.
“Have you heard Bombay Bicycle Club yet?” he asked me.
“They’re this awesome new band from England. I think you’re gonna like ‘em.”
And he found them on his iPod.
They were catchy and dancy – good, poppy sort of music for breakneck interstate driving. I couldn’t say they were my favorite band I’d ever heard, but they weren’t bad either.
Listening to their third album, A Different Kind of Fix, released 29 August on Island Records, brought me right back to that moment; the first time I heard them, both in terms of their sound and my ambivalence. A Different Kind of Fix departs from the band’s folksy, more acoustic sophomore album, Flaws, and brings listeners back to the beat-driven, electronic dance sound of I Had the Blues but I Shook Them Loose. Unfortunately, the move is somewhat a musical de-evolution, showing that, despite three major releases, Bombay Bicycle Club are safely revolving around a specific, set, tried sound rather than exploring new territory and letting their musicality broaden and mature.
A Different Kind of Fix kicks off with the anthemic How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep. This track sets the tone, literally and figuratively, for the rest of the album. Ethereal, ooh-ahh vocals are followed by guitar, then front man Jack Steadman sets in with repetitive verse/chorus chants. The rest of the band adds their sound eventually – tight, bass-driven, and unmistakably plugged-in – building to a big crescendo before the song ends again with Steadman chanting the words alone, his vocals somewhat affectatious and quite heavy on the effects (hello reverb). This is basically the story for 98% of the album (with some exceptions, such as the aptly-titled and ethereally lovely track Still). While certainly not unlistenable, it also doesn’t blow you away.
Don’t get me wrong. A Different Kind Of Fix is catchy and danceable as all get out. Tracks like Lights Out, Words Gone and Take the Right One are the kind that are impossible to get out of your head after you’ve heard them once or twice, whilst single Shuffle is somewhat infectious. What works against this catchiness, however, is the album’s monotony, both instrumentally and vocally. If there’s one thing that loses attention almost immediately, it’s repetitive vocals. It always makes one wonder if the lyricist had a hard time thinking of enough words. While this doesn’t seem the case for Bombay Bicycle Club – their repetitiveness being more a dance chant thing – it still doesn’t keep hold of concentration, and, combined with similar instrumental repetitiveness and somewhat stagnant melodies throughout, causes the music to pump away one-dimensionally in the background, even when you’re listening to it in your car with the volume up to 11.
All that being said, however, it doesn’t negate the fact that when listening to Bombay Bicycle Club, I’m time-capsuled back to a sunny day driving on I-80, every detail as clear as if I was actually there. Even if the music doesn’t have the instrumental and lyrical depth to keep my full attention, there’s something to be said for a band that can instill and evoke such clear memories and feelings.