Review: VS - Bastille
Bastille returns and teams up with some unlikely collaborators.
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On listening to “VS”, we shouldn’t expect to hear Bad Blood Part 2, but Bastille exploring different styles with a variety of collaborators. The songs are often unpolished and occasionally ill thought out, but they often have the raw energy that is sometimes missing from the band’s more mainstream efforts. The LP hints at a more dance related direction for the second album, but keeps us hedging our bets by retaining a love of luscious strings, indulgent harmonies and unashamedly pop choruses.
Definite highlights are ‘Torn Apart’ and ‘Weapon’, both of which push Bastille in new directions. The intro of the former song is enough to indicate that it burns with a greater intensity than something like ‘Pompeii’. It builds through relentless drum loops towards an explosive chorus, which definitely calls for intensive dancing. The lyrics may be bland (the chorus is simply “we were born to be together! Torn apart! Torn apart!”) and it does feel a little bit confined within a rigid structure, but none of this diminishes it’s stomping appeal. What is distinctly odd is separating Lizzo’s one minute rap interlude into a different track as a kind of deleted scene. Forgiving this we move on to ‘Weapon’, which is dominated by Angel Haze’s relentless and aggressive rapping before giving way to another heavenly chorus which becomes stronger and more compelling each time it repeats. Things trail off a bit when R&B singer Braque chips in, but this is still Bastille at its most exciting.
Elsewhere however, tracks refuse to take off. ‘Axe to Grind’ does have some marvellous guest vocals from Tinashe Fazakerley (not entirely sure if this is either Tyde or Rationale); but the fragmented synths are chilled to the point of dull, and the chorus is fairly boring with all parties sounding a bit embarrassed to be singing it. Meanwhile ‘Bite Down’ does have a kind of offbeat charm and boasts the glitziest guest star with Haim, but it works a lot better on paper than in reality. The vocals fail to be convincing when it should be a marriage made in heaven, whilst the instrumentation occasionally just sounds like a bit off a racket. A better use of the guest vocalist comes in ‘Remains’, a stripped down version of the excellent ‘Skulls’ from All This Bad Blood. Rag’N’Bone Man is perfect for the song, conveying the world weariness appropriate for a song so obsessed with death. Unfortunately then Skunk Anansie turns up and pushes the whole thing into melodrama, and the album once again suffers from one too many collaborators.
On some of my personal favourites the guest stars are either absent or practically invisible. ‘Bad News’ is supposed to feature MNEK but is relatively indistinguishable from the B-Side version without them. It’s fairly traditional Bastille fair: expressive synths, lovely harmonies and lyrics about the importance of saying something vaguely soothing after your friend’s had ill tidings. Nevertheless, the brilliant falsetto riff and the slightly more bass driven synths are both reasons to be positive about the future. Then there’s the tremendous ‘The Driver’, a product of Zane Lowe’s attempt to rescore the film Drive. Some broody verses extolling the virtues of keeping one’s head and quoting Romeo and Juliet suddenly and dramatically give way to squealing falsetto (“big boys don’t cry-y-y-y!”) and growling guitar, as Dan Smith decides that actually it’s probably best to just beat the baddies up anyway. It’s all fabulously cinematic and scarily moreish.
So overall, general contentment is the likely reaction to purchasing “VS” Lovers of Bastille will find plenty to delight in, provided their willing to let the band experiment a little bit. It is a bit short and not quite the comeback many of us were hoping for, but it’s certainly a welcome Christmas treat to tide us over to Album 2 proper.