Damn it, Dan. Your band could be so good. Granted, you were the least interesting of the Class of 2013 neo-indie big hitters; outshined by The 1975’s sensual swagger, the Vegas glitz of Imagine Dragons, and the eccentric Haim sisters. But you had something, and that something has made your band extremely popular. At the time of writing, colossal mega hit “Pompeii” has had 385 million plays on Spotify. That’s more than “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” put together. Admirably, this success has been achieved with no gimmicks or celebrity ‘controversies’. The flip side to this is that Bastille can easily be accused of being boring.
For far too much of its runtime, Wild World fails to combat that accusation. Obviously it would be ridiculous to demand a successful pop band to make an abrupt deviation from the sound that brought them success, but it’s depressing that so much of the band’s sophomore record is content to follow down the path forged by “Pompeii” into faceless radio-ready fodder. None of the songs that do so are terrible, far from it – they don’t take enough risks to make that possible. Of the singles, “Good Grief” is a perfectly pleasant leadoff tune; “Send Them Off!” has some appeal in its brassy parps. They’re the best of the bunch among the vanilla material, though, and at its most boring (“Snakes”) the album has all the character of a blank piece of paper.
What makes this all so depressing is that every so often Bastille start being really, really good. This first happens on “An Act of Kindness”, a forlorn piano ballad that draws from the James Blake school of quiet anguish. When Dan Smith plugs his undeniable gift for a strong melody into a darker, more artistic framework, the results are wonderful. “Two Evils” is the best example of this – over shimmering guitars, Smith lets his voice fly and displays a range sorely missing from the rest of the material. It’s akin to Muse at its most majestic, done with only vocals and guitar. When Bastille go dark, they do so with no compromise and produce melancholic melodic magic. If they did so more often, or deviated more often from the “Pompeii” model, their music would be all the better for it.
Production wise, it’s difficult to fault Wild World. The interjection of spoken samples from obscure movies and TV shows is fun and adds a much-needed dash of character, even if the trick is a tad overused across the album’s 49-minute runtime. There’s more ‘real’ instrumentation than on the band’s debut Bad Blood. It’s not however enough to give Wild World any real rock credentials, beyond the Arctic Monkeys intro to “Blame”. Bastille are unlikely to forge a crossover fanbase in the rock sphere as The 1975 have done, because the songs that get put out as singles aren’t the ones that’ll attract listeners beyond their typical listeners. This is ‘rock’ as MTV conceives of it, stripped of any danger whatsoever with the minimum of credentials, i.e. there’s a guitar on it every so often. That in itself does not make Wild World a bad album, which it isn’t.
What it is is a wholly inoffensive pop record with a smattering of pitch-black gems hidden in a sea of beige. Existing fans will likely find a lot to love here, as the overall songwriting is a step up from Bad Blood with no great stylistic shift. But when it comes to bringing in those who have previously had no interest in Bastille, wasted potential is the overall message to be taken here. They’ve shown across the course of their career that they have the ability to make interesting music that goes beyond immediate commercial appeal. It would be lovely if they could do it more often.