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Music

Bastille: Wild World

Wild World sounds big, but it also sounds like more of the same.


Bastille

Wild World

Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2016-09-09
UK Release Date: 2016-09-09
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"The world is not enough."

-- James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in The World is Not Enough (1999)

There have been signs that Bastille was bound to make an album like Wild World. Although the London-based band is now a global phenomenon thanks to mega-hit singles like "Pompeii", Bastille's nascent stage was only a few years ago. During this time, singles like "Flaws" and "Icarus" -- which, like "Pompeii", later featured on Bastille's 2013 debut Bad Blood -- circulated to some minor fanfare on English radio. In 2012 the band released two fantastic cover mixtapes, entitled Other People's Heartache and Other People's Heartache Pt. 2, which meld together sampled lines of dialogue from film with bold, stadium-ready pop production. A song like Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" might be a curio of '90s dance music to most, but it's a vehicle for anthemic pop in Bastille's hands. The music of Seal and Liam Neeson's classic growled threat from Taken don't sound like ideal bedfellows, but with a little imagination and pop smarts, Bastille makes it work. The Other People's Heartache EPs are brief compared to Bad Blood and now Wild World, but they represent the band at its most creatively uninhibited. Still, even in the free play of those cover EPs, signs that Bastille was bound for stadium glory, of the kind that the likes of Coldplay know all too well, were obvious. Fortunately, in this foresight the word "sellout" never cropped up; Bastille sounded genuine, and more importantly innovative, in the capacious environs of the concert arena.

Wild World exhibits what Bad Blood cemented and the Other People's Heartache mixtapes hinted at: Bastille makes pop for the end of the world. No matter how amped-up the chorus or how hushed the piano interlude, Bastille imbues every second with the feeling that the stakes have never been higher. Simple pop hooks become the springboard for lead vocalist Dan Smith to examine the grand personal, societal, and metaphysical questions that have occupied songwriters for millennia: "Oh, where do we begin, the rubble or our sins?" Smith sings on "Pompeii". Bastille's immediacy isn't centered on fear and anger; Smith's lyrics aim to bring people together, no matter how dire things may seem. The music of Bastille, to quote from Wild World's "Warmth", is about finding solace with those who "warm you to your core."

Wild World continues in the convivial and grandiose spirit of Bad Blood, which remains one of the better major-label pop debuts of recent years. Synthetic strings and horns form the backing of Wild World's strongest songs, "The Currents" and "Send Them Off!", and will undoubtedly soon be the lifeblood of festivals soon to come. On quiet moments like "Two Evils", Smith knows just when to add that extra vocal oomph to push the emotion quotient up a few notches. Smith's penchant for syllable elongation -- check how he stretches the word "power" on the track of the same name -- comes in handy in these moments, even though he does occasionally veer into one too many "woah-ohs". Smith's bandmates Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson, and Chris Wood prove a force on the vocal harmony front. Much like the Bad Blood's "Pompeii" and "Daniel in the Den", Wild World's "Act of Kindness" and "Blame" feature all four members of Bastille creating an echoey, resounding vocal interplay, a choir in miniature.

The panoramic cover art of Wild World aptly captures what Bastille has achieved leading up to this album. These guys really do have the view from the mountaintop -- or, taking after Drake's Views, the cityscape -- and their music reflects that. Listening to Wild World, one can't help but imagine Bastille belting these songs out from the top of World Trade Center One, the Tower of London, or really any peak in the world, natural or artificial. Wild World is a sign that Bastille still feels as alive as it did on Bad Blood; there's no decrease in energy to be heard here.

But high spirits and punchy hooks aren't enough to keep a whole album afloat. At its best, Wild World offers slight sonic improvement, but at its worst it further cements the weakest aspects of Bastille's music, particularly Smith's lyrics. Like many stadium acts, Bastille's aesthetic isn't about words, it's about the delivery of those words: clichés and clunky sentences are more likely to unnoticed when a band has someone as vocally nimble as Smith at the helm. Unfortunately, with Bad Blood and the 2014 mixtape Other People's Heartache Pt. 3, Smith's way with words has become increasingly questionable, and Wild World does little to give any indication that might change. The cliché at the heart of "Two Evils" doesn't promise much, and it's made further regrettable when Smith delivers the awkward turn of phrase, "There's more than one way to skin tonight." "Warmth" is anchored on a rote parallellism: "'Cause in your warmth I forget how cold it can be / And in your heat I feel how cold it can get." Smith tries his hand at political commentary with "The Currents", a nonspecific protest against fearmongering that nonetheless can't feel like anything but a rejoinder to Donald Trump: "I can't believe the scary points you make." Musically, "The Currents" is one of Wild World's most compelling numbers, but it's consistently undercut by its milquetoast take on a weighty issue.

Had Bastille significantly changed up its songwriting approach, Smith's lyrical foibles might have been easier to overlook, but Wild World doesn't do much by way of branching out from Bad Blood. The music is uniformly good or at least competent, and certain tracks do stand out as some of Bastille's catchiest to date ("Good Grief", "Send Them Off!"). At 14 tracks the album does drag a bit in its back half, but this has less to do with the energy of the individual songs and more to do with the feeling of sameness that lingers throughout. In a live setting these songs are sure to take on a new life; Bastille in this way takes after its British stadium compatriots in Muse, a band that has put out increasingly bad records while continuing to put on superlative rock concerts. Yet its most promising, Bastille never seemed like a band that would end up just another British stadium sensation. Playing to all the seats in the arena is an undeniable strong suit of these chaps, but on early releases like the Other People's Heartache the band balanced that populism with a delerious, carefree creativity.

Wild World attempts to throw back to the style of those mixtapes through frequent incorporation of audio from various films, including '80s teen comedies like Weird Science ("Good Grief") and schlocky Italian sci-fi ("Send Them Off!"). Fans of Bastille will likely appreciate these inclusions, but they are not aesthetically pertinent in the way the film samples are on the Other People's Heartache mixtapes. On those EPs, Bastille uses those samples to comment on the songs it covers; on Other People's Heartache Pt. 2, audio of Psycho's Norman Bates is interspersed throughout a cover of TLC's "No Scrubs", which in turn forms a psychological commentary on emotionally stunted men. The film samples on Wild World aren't totally irrelevant to the songs that they feature in, but their relationship to the record as a whole is piecemeal. In hearing these snippets of film audio, one can't help but be taken back to Bastille's earlier days, when the world really was wild at the band's fingertips. Paradoxically, the wide open space of the stadium, which proves liberating for so many artists, is for Wild World a source of aesthetic confinement. Bastille is only two full-length LPs into its career, and in that time its world has gotten bigger. It's a shame that it hasn't gotten any wilder.

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