It’s about time that Bastille did a concept album. The British alternative band has always danced around the idea—note its cover art, always designed like movie posters, and its frequent sampling of film dialogue in Wild World—but never before has it committed so strongly to a theme. Doom Days calls to mind two previous concept albums: Gorillaz’ Demon Days given its title and concern with the state of the world, and Lorde’s Melodrama in that it follows a protagonist’s emotional journey throughout a less-than-blissful night of partying. While the album doesn’t quite reach the cinematic heights that Bastille has shown in previous releases, it’s an intriguing submersion into chaos and strife.
Bastille has long flirted with apocalyptic motifs. Their breakout single, “Pompeii,” told the story of the most famous city ever consumed by lava; “Things We Lost in the Fire” was about exactly what you would expect. Wild World put a more political spin on the concept of chaos, with songs about Trump (“The Currents”) and capital punishment (“These Four Walls”). On Doom Days, the band leans even more heavily into the theme with clever lyrical choices. In “Bad Decisions,” lead singer Dan Smith sings, “London’s burning,” nodding to The Clash. In “The Waves,” he describes his night out as “fallin’ through the twilight zone”—definitely not Pitbull’s version of partying. The epitome of this prophetic outlook is the album’s title track. The song opens with soft, but tense guitar strumming. Then Smith comes in with his trademark fragile vocals, harmonizing with himself: “When I watch the world burn, all I think about is you.” Somewhat like a more abstract version of The 1975’s millennial “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Love It If We Made It,” the song is a mélange of allusions suggesting the impending… well, doom of the universe. References to Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid cult, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the final days of Rome, The Matrix, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan are all made, comprising a haunting puzzle picture about the puzzling state of society today. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose—“Think I’m addicted to my phone now” doesn’t pack the punch that Smith wants it to—but still, the track is the emotional crux of the record.
Doom Days’ foreboding ethos comes across gracefully in the album’s first two songs, as well: “Quarter Past Midnight” and “Bad Decisions.” The former sets up the album’s main conceit, letting listeners know they’re in for a wild ride: if “a quarter past midnight” is when it all begins, when will it end? It also includes one of the album’s punchiest one-liners: “We want the bodies on the billboards, not the lives underneath them.” “Bad Decisions” has both the buoyancy and introspection of many a track on Wild World. It’s the classic tale of a mishap-ridden night out with mates, but phrases like the wonderfully evocative “Kubrick’s Hollywood” give it an ominous undertone. Another standout is “4AM,” an acoustic ballad that sounds exactly like the hazy hour it’s named after and gives Smith’s gorgeous vocals a chance to shine. The chorus is sure to be a lighter moment in arenas.
The strange thing about Doom Days, though, is that much of the music does not sound very doomsday-ish at all. There are plenty of somber ballads, but not so many of the intense, cinematic tracks that gave Bad Blood and Wild World their urgency. The band tries their hand at some subversive contrast with “Million Pieces,” an EDM-influenced track that deals with feelings of emptiness, but it never goes far enough to make a statement: the instrumentation sounds too much like standard radio fare, and the lyrics are lukewarm. While the songs on Doom Days are well-composed, one can’t help but wonder why Bastille didn’t go a bit darker here.
Doom Days is a fine album of indie pop tracks. It’s not exactly what one might expect, especially given “Doom Days” as a single—but its premise is fascinating, and its poetic language is not to be missed. Fans ready to add a bit of soberness to their wild summer nights will likely find something to enjoy here.