‘Bastille’: sieging the charts by storm

“Oh I feel overjoyed,” Bastille’s 25-year-old frontman Dan Smith sings in the UK band’s first debut album, “Bad Blood.” Although Smith sounds a bit more melancholy than overjoyed while singing his tracks, he should be feeling overjoyed right now.

Not only has Bastille’s “Bad Blood” tour sold out within minutes of its UK release, but their single “Pompeii” has been no. 1 on the UK Official Streaming Charts for at least seven consecutive weeks.  According to the UK iTunes charts, their album, “Bad Blood,” (which was released only in the UK on March 4 by Virgin Records) is selling at no. 7. “Oh I feel overjoyed/when you listen to my words,” Smith sings in Bastille’s single “Overjoyed.” Well, Mr. Smith, your wish is fulfilled. More than 22 million people have watched the music video for “Pompeii” on YouTube, listening to your words.

Smith, who’s been writing songs since he was 15,  says his songs aren’t overly autobiographical. Instead, the singer/songwriter follows in the tradition of Regina Spektor and Josh Ritter, American alternative indie folk singers known for their narrative styles, drawing from fiction or history for inspiration. Smith — who named the band after Bastille Day, the English term for the French holiday celebrating the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution on July 14, 1789 — plays his part as a historian or singing bard.

His song “Daniel in the Den” chronicles the biblical story from the point-of-view of Daniel, who was trapped in the lion’s den. “Icarus” is based on the Greek myth where Icarus, the son of Daedalus, flew too close to the sun, melting his wax wings and falling to his death. “Pompeii” is about the fall of the Roman city from the point-of-view of its citizens. “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” Smith repeats.

Whereas other English singer/songwriters wrote autobiographical and emotional, passionate songs about heartbreak, Smith’s songs are cold and passive, sounding a little detached, but no less addictive. Adele had “Set Fire to the Rain.” Bastille has “Things We Lost In the Fire.”

Like Adele, Smith has a high vocal range and a knack for songwriting, but the man behind the words is a mystery. In fact, Smith kept his music a secret until his songs were discovered:  “None of my friends ever knew. My family knew because they overheard it coming out of my room – these weird warbling noises,” he told The Independent. The elusive Smith literally masks his face and his wild, spiky black hair — first with a shapeless brown sack and then with a grotesque mask — in Bastille’s music video “Laura Palmer,” inspired by David Lynch’s television series “Twin Peaks,” one of his favorite telly shows.

Smith’s lyrics are beautiful and haunting. “There’s a hole in my soul/ I can’t fill it/ I can’t fill it,” Smith sings in “Flaws.” In the Abbey Road recording of the song, violins cry in the background, harmonizing with Smith’s choruses.

“The Weight of Living, Pt. 1” sounds like something out of the “Where the Wild Things Are” soundtrack. “Your Albatross/ shoot it down/ shoot it down/ When you just can’t shake/ The heavy weight of living,” Smith sings. You can almost hear Maurice Sendak’s words wash over you: “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Smith’s company consists of Chris “Woody” Wood on drums, Will Farquarson on bass-guitar and Kyle Simmons on keyboard. But they aren’t like the British boy bands of One Direction or The Wanted. Wood, Farquarson and Simmons are content echoing the “ey-ey-ey-oh, ey-ohs” in the background of “Pompeii” or harmonizing to the “ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay, ay, ay, ays” in “Get Home,” rather than take turns with solos.

The lead singer, on the other hand, has reservations about being in the spotlight. “Kyle [Simmons] who plays keys in the band always takes the piss out of the fact that most of the stuff I have to do is my idea of hell, like putting myself out there and being in photos,” Smith says.

Well, Mr. Smith, it looks like you better get used to hell because your Bastille has stormed the British charts and started a revolution across the Atlantic. And as you know from your world history, revolution’s contagious.

Bastille’s debut album “Bad Blood,” which contains 13 tracks including their singles “Overjoyed,” “Flaws,” “Bad Blood,” “Pompeii” and “Laura Palmer,” is currently only available in the UK. Their 4-song EP, “The Haunt,” was released in the United States on May 28.  


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