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Album Review

This British synth-rock outfit with a moniker inspired by the French Revolution erupted onto Billboard's Hot 100 chart in early 2014 with its catchy hit " Pompeii," an oddly upbeat ode to a city-ending tragedy. Bastille, led by frontman Dan Smith, follows that with the release of Vs. Other People's Heartache Pt. III. As the title indicates, this is Bastille's third Vs. compendium, a so-called mix tape that's full of contributions from relatively obscure collaborators such as Haim, the Gemma Sharpless Quartet, MNEK, Tyde, Rationale, Angel Haze and F*U*G*Z.

Bastille's synth-saturated vibe here sounds like a straight-up throwback to '80s acts Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and Simply Red. More so than the band's first big hit on this side of the Pond, Vs. III wallows in and wanders through moody territory where it's difficult at times to puzzle out whether the cup they're drinking from is half empty or half full.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

On "Bad News," we hear a plea not to drift into dejected passivity when "bad news, like a sucker punch/ … kicks you in the teeth." We're encouraged, "Don't turn your back on me/Don't bury your head deep/Just 'cause you don't know what to say." "The Driver" is a complex song that seemingly confronts the tendency some people have to offer stiff-upper-lip bromides to those who are struggling. And the song's narrator longs to trade his sense of airy disconnection ("Anything to stop floating 'round") for being solidly grounded once more ("I want to be back on the ground/Where my feet touch my shadow").

"Axe to Grind" vents pent-up yearnings ("Breaking the silence like I'm bursting at the seams/So many stifled thoughts and long forgotten dreams") from someone who's had enough of an emotionally abusive relationship ("Your iron rule has often had me on my knees"). The chorus implies that the person being confronted needs to be because they're consumed by bitterness ("All you have is your axe to grind").

"Weapon" uses that titular word metaphorically to suggest that speaking out is an expression of empowerment ("And your voice is a weapon/And we'll do with it what we can"). The song also counsels, "Kill your fear in your sleep" and exhorts, "No more falling to pressure/No more failing acceptance."

Objectionable Content

Spiritually murky lyrics on "Weapon" say, "We dance with the devils/And make your halos the color of sinners' portraits/And smothering it means everything's lovely again").

Mournfully romantic, "Remains" moves from wistfully hoping to share eternity together into a more morbid place ("When our lives are over and all that remains/Are our skulls and bones, let's take it to the grave/And hold me in your arms, hold me in your arms, I'll be buried here with you/ … I don't want to rest in peace, we can haunt each other's dreams/ … We'll find a common ground and fall in love all over again").

"Bite Down" finds a weary and overlooked romantic partner ("I'm tired of waving my arms in the back of the line") begging for deeper commitment by using violent imagery ("You've got your claws buried deep/Bite down, bite down into me"). "Torn Apart" repeatedly says of a sundered romance, "And it hurts like h---/To be torn apart/And it hurts like h---/To be thrown around" "Torn Apart Pt. II" is convinced that "Happiness only brings heartache." Profanities on two other songs include two s-words, one f-word and one use of "a--."

Summary Advisory

Life and love are hard, and then you die. That's pretty much the message on Vs. Other People's Heartache Pt. III. More often than not, Bastille seems resolved to make the best of the harsh reality that life sometimes "kicks you in the teeth." Other times, though, the band's response is a morose one. And when strong emotions flare into obscenity, the unwanted eruptions end up spilling enough water from the glass that you finally do have to categorize it as half empty.

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December 9, 2014

On Video

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Adam R. Holz

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