Album Reviews

Bombay Bicycle Club – My Big Day

(Mmm...) UK release date: 20 October 2023

With guest stars ranging from Chaka Khan to Holly Humberstone, the sometime indiepoppers have made an album which takes many unexpected turns

Bombay Bicycle Club - My Big Day Bombay Bicycle Club have been around for over 15 years now, and despite never really breaking through commercially, they still hold a firm place in many people’s hearts. Irish musician CMAT was so obsessed with the band as a teenager that she wrote Bombay Bicycle Club fiction and met her best friend on a BBC forum. And it has to be said, tracks like Luna, Shuffle and Lights Out Words Gone still stand up as strong singles.

Yet there’s always been something a bit… familiar about Bombay Bicycle Club. Maybe predictable is the wrong word, but there’s always been a sense that you know what you’re getting from Jack Steadman and company – pleasant, singalong indie-pop.

Which is what makes My Big Day such a surprise. Although much of the album is still very recognisable ‘Bombay Bicycle Club’, it also takes many unexpected turns. As well as the unexpected guest stars – Damon Albarn! Chaka Khan! – there’s also songs about arcade games, an instrumental, and experimental tracks based on vocal repetition. It’s a far cry from the band’s usual breezy guitar pop, but it works beautifully well.

The opening track, Just A Little More Time, is a good example, simply the song’s title repeated until it feels like some sort of mantra, over some dreamy, hazy instrumentation. It does, admittedly, drag on a bit with such limited lyrics, but it’s a heads up that this isn’t the Bombay Bicycle Club that you may be familiar with.

It’s followed up with I Want To Be Your Only Pet, which pulls off the tricky feat of sounding relaxed and languid, while also sounding paranoid and claustrophobic. By the time Steadman’s repeating “I want to let go and forget, I want to be your only pet”, it’s become strangely gripping. There are hints of Tame Impala in the way it slowly all builds up but without the MOR rock the Australians sometimes lapse into.

Elsewhere, Rural Radio Predicts The Rapture lives up to its excellent title by packing more ideas into its two minutes than most songs twice that length – opening with a brass-laden fanfare, then becoming a deep, hypnotic percussion-heavy instrumental, broken up with strange eerie noises seemingly taken from a ZX Spectrum game from the 1980s. By the time you’re surrendering to its charms, it’s suddenly over.

There are more traditional Bombay Bicycle Club songs on My Big Day – Turn The World On is a gentle lullaby of a song (appropriately, as Jack Steadman wrote it after becoming a parent), while Meditate sees a return to the jangly guitar and harmonies that the band made their name on, but with Nilufer Yanya adding a pleasing edge. The excellent Jay Son performs a similar job on the stirring Sleepless.

Yanya is just one of a number of guest vocalists on My Big Day – ranging from veterans like Albarn to younger artists like Holly Humberstone. Heaven, which Albarn guests on, is a woozy, slightly disorientating ballad with Albarn’s contributions making it sound like a track from latter-day Gorillaz. Humberstone’s role on Diving is less showy, but her voice melds beautifully with Steadman’s vocals.

That’s all without mentioning Tekken 2, which is a lot to unpack – not least as to why Bombay Bicycle Club have named a song after an arcade game sequel, or as to how they managed to bring in soul-pop legend Khan to add some vocals to it. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it works terrifically, a beautifully laid-back indie-funk masterpiece that sounds better each time you listen to it.

So if you had pigeon-holed Bombay Bicycle Club as a generic landfill indie band, My Big Day is here to prove you very wrong indeed. It’s summed up by closing track Onward, which is, on the surface, a big anthem to end the album but suddenly switches gears in its last two minutes to produce something quite cathartic and joyous. It’s the sound of a band off the leash. They sound so much better for it.

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More on Bombay Bicycle Club
Bombay Bicycle Club – My Big Day
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Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
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