Jack Steadman wrote So Long, See You Tomorrow, Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth album in five years, while travelling in India, Turkey, Tokyo, Holland and the UK. It was clearly a “discover yourself” period and, as with many gap years, the result isn’t a consistently interesting listen.
So Long tracks Steadman’s travels and the difficulties of being in a relationship during this time. Judging from the album, it was emotional turmoil. Barely a minute goes by without some climax, dramatic crescendo or large textural contrast. This is strongly apparent in opener ‘Overdone’, flitting between a journey’s preliminary excitement in the form of a devastating, ‘Inhaler‘-esque guitar riff, and brief breakdowns with Steadman’s quivering doubt sitting on top.
The whole album is similar: one moment intense euphoria (irritating, festival-advert-level euphoria), the next intense fragility. The subtlety of the grooving ‘Lights Out, Words Gone‘ has disappeared; ironic, given how much more engaging it was than the building ballad ‘Eyes Off You’. The one time So Long tries is ‘Home By Now’, a schmoozy, dragging mid-tempo slab of nostalgia; it’s not really subtle, but simply lacking. Steadman’s prediction of retrospective contentment – “When everyone else is setting up to fall, I’ll just think back on it all” – is frustratingly mediocre in comparison to Matthew Dear’s sinister declaration on DJ Koze’s ‘My Plans‘: “When I notice the world is falling apart, I will run a bath”.
There are prominent electronic influences on So Long which are a mixed blessing: varied drums, token electronic glitches, looping and sampling (including from Bollywood, which sustains ‘Feel’ until the chorus suitable for a 60-and-over health club singing about a new vitamin pill). This helps develop Bombay Bicycle Club’s search for greater textural variation, but also allows songs to make the small jump from catchy to annoying.
The main problem is that all this euphoria, nostalgia and other emotional baggage seems fake. Authenticity isn’t always essential, but a lack of real emotion in an album of such highs and lows, and one concerned with a relationship, is an issue. On ‘Luna‘ there’s finally some true feeling and as such the marimba and synths blend in naturally; the song appears to depict how Bombay Bicycle Club actually feel as opposed to how they want to, or think they should. ‘Come To Me’ is a success too: the shoe-gaze intro’s atmosphere conveys more about travel-confusion (as on ‘Lost In Translation‘; it’s satisfying to imagine that he wrote it in Tokyo) than any other aspect of So Long; the deft ease with which this shoe-gaze element is balanced, and later combined, with the upbeat saunter of the verse, is impressive. These moments stop the experience of So Long from being a tiring exposure to faux-second-hand emotion, and ensure that an incredibly catchy album stays enjoyable.