I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose is the debut album by Jack, Jamie, Suren and Ed, four old schoolfriends from North London, known collectively as Bombay Bicycle Club.
It’s a timeless, British debut, brimming with youthful urgency, honesty and romance. Like its bashful creators, ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ doesn’t feel the need to shout, scream or bluster to be heard. Instead, its chiming chords and sighed melodies blaze proudly like flushed cheeks on a cold day.
From the dizzying MBV/M83 swoops and morning-after ruefulness of opener ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ to the ambitious, open-tuned, Appalachian folk feel of the album’s closing track, , the album thrums with subtle invention and quiet emotional intensity. Fans of Bloc Party, Broken Social Scene and Bon Iver – or any mildly sensitive soul with a fondness for ricocheting guitar chords – will be utterly beguiled. Indie rock rarely gets to enjoy its innocence these days, but Bombay Bicycle Club know that’s exactly what makes it precious.
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Always Like This
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Jamie and Jack formed Bombay Bicycle Club after spending their early teens trying to sneak into 18+ gigs together. They were dissuaded at first by Jamie’s guitar-playing Dad, Neill MacColl (son of Ewan, sister of Kirsty), who once told Jack he should become a plumber rather than a musician if he ever wanted to make a decent living. Then Neill heard the astonishing cache of songs Jack had amassed in his bedroom with Garageband and a cheap guitar, and instantly changed his mind, offering to produce Bombay Bicycle Club’s first demos.
Those early recordings helped the band triumph in V Festival’s 2006 Road To V competition, winning a slot on the Channel 4 stage, the boys revelled in this small, unexpected victory, not for the first time managing to piss off a number of grizzled rival bands who took exception to Bombay Bicycle Club’s youthful guilelessness.
Always Like This
Bombay Bicycle Club’s first, self-released EP – 2007’s ‘The Boy I Used To Be’ – was a pure distillation of adolescent wonder, brilliantly chronicling their coming-of-age in real-time. Two of its songs have been resurrected and retooled for ‘I Had the Blues but I Shook them Loose’: ‘The Hill’, Jack’s shivery vocals sounding at once both wide-eyed and world-weary, is a memorable tumble through the heather; ‘Cancel On Me’ remains a startlingly dynamic piece of songwriting, and a live favourite. Their second Indie Chart-topping EP, ‘How We Are’, donates the plangent, reflective ‘Ghost’.
‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ was recorded in Autumn ’08 at Konk studios in Crouch End. Bombay Bicycle Club chose it not because of its state-of-the-art facilities, but because it was “round the corner”. Sessions were helmed by studio vet Jim Abbiss, the producer of landmark debut albums by Arctic Monkeys, UNKLE, Kasabian and Adele.
Bombay Bicycle Club don’t fancy themselves as sonic explorers and were happy to let Abbiss take the lead. “I think he found it difficult to work with us at first because we were very lazy and laidback about the whole thing,” says Jack. “He’d say ‘Is this fine?’ and we’d just shrug, out of inexperience more than anything.” Even so, several of the beats put together by Jack as guide tracks in his bedroom were deemed worthy enough to make it all the way through to the final mix. That’s why ‘Magnet’ sounds so garagey and claustrophobic before veering off on a minimal techno tangent. In fact, songs regularly do something neat and unexpected after their natural ending, with Suren’s limber drumming, Ed’s nimble basslines and Jamie’s fluid chords lending Bombay Bicycle Club an impressive Chicago post-rock poise.
Yet it’s Jack’s presence that pulls everything together. Skinny and feminine, it’s his very lack of any kind of rock posture that makes him a compelling frontman. He says his voice sounds the way it does because he was always embarrassed his family might overhear him back when he was making all those bedroom demos. Jim Abbiss had to properly rile him up in order to coax out the raw self-flagellation of ‘Dust On The Ground’.
Jack claims to always write his lyrics at the last minute, partly out of procrastination, but partly as an attempt to bottle the immediacy of each song as freshly as possible. Yet he’s still managed to pen plenty of nonchalantly graceful lines that perfectly capture feelings of regret, rejection and infatuation. “You mirror-gaze while I decide/ The moment you were deified” he sings, on the tremulous ‘Lamplight’. He admits there’s a girl attached to almost every song; his current sweetheart should be pretty proud of inspiring that couplet.
‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ is an indie record in the sense of being properly ‘independent’, its recording funded by the band’s management company, with Island only signing Bombay Bicycle Club after the wrap. “It was a really good position to be in,” says Jack. “No-one came in and hassled us about the songs. We just finished it, handed it to them, and they liked it.”