In barely six months Bastille have gone from playing undersold, tiny venues to selling out London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Academy on the back of their anthemic and synthy debut album, Bad Blood.
Regarded as an antidote to today’s pop-scape saturated by EDM synths, autotuned vocals and repetitive, joyless thumps, they offer what White Lies and Coldplay have offered - a focus on scoring melodies sung in high tenors, chiming pianos and quick-paced basslines. Unfortunately, Bastille subtract all of the redeeming qualities of those bands and Dan Smith (lead singer, producer, and sole songwriter) provides lacklustre lyrics to songs that, beyond their soaring choruses, are heartless.
This hasn’t stopped an ever-growing fanbase however and the crowd sings along to every vacant lyric, jumping to Chris Wood’s heavy drum beats in a flashy nu-rave light-show. Bastille’s set tonight is a run-through of their album, singles and a selection of covers released over two mixtapes (‘Other People’s Heartache’ Parts I and II). ‘No Angels’ is a horrendous cover of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’; ‘Of The Night’, an indie-pop rendition of the 1985 club classic ‘Rhythm of the Night’ with showy drum fills and nods of recognition from older gig-goers.
There is a string quartet onstage to inject some depth to the swelling build-ups and it works well on early singles ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Laura Palmer’. There are even some moments of quality synth pop in the mash of scaling choruses about the holes in Smith’s soul. A juddering bassline brings hope of something with bite on ‘Weight Of Living’ and vocal harmonies work well here and on ‘Poet’ but Bastille’s music has you gagging for some lyrical depth. Even an attempt at a Coldplay-ish uplifting cliché would be welcome but it all comes across as a wave of whiny indie misery.
Full marks for cultural referencing however, with song titles like ‘Laura Palmer’ (Twin Peaks) and ‘Icarus’s’ ominously introduced by Sara Goldfarb’s speech from Requiem for a Dream: “It’s a reason to get up in the morning. It’s a reason to lose weight, to fit in the red dress. It’s a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow all right”.
The beginning of the end is aptly, ‘Pompeii’, a volcanically doomed love story which leads into ‘Get Home’ a video game-inspired harmony and ‘Flaws’, the big crowd send off. With lyrics that would mean little without the tunes to sustain them, Smith provides consistent and far-reaching vocals with big, chunky choruses. Bastille have catchy tunes but there’s no groundbreaking craftsmanship here.