After a brief run as the flavor of the month in the British music press (a fate that has killed lesser bands) and making their much anticipated debut with the smart and tuneful indie rock of 2009's I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, Bombay Bicycle Club have switched gears rather dramatically on their second album, Flaws -- namely, while they still sound indie, they've decided that, for the meantime they'll do without the rock. Flaws is a gentle, low-key acoustic set, most of which was recorded in Jack Steadman's bedroom, and the four songs that were cut in proper studios don't sound particularly more elaborate. Drummer Suren de Saram and bassist Ed Nash are audible, but they're pushed to the back of the mix and do little more than lend a gentle pulse to the songs, and singer/guitarist Steadman and guitarist Jamie MacColl are practically the whole show on much of the album. An album like Flaws lives and dies on the strength of the songs and the ability of the singer to make them work without excess artifice, and it's Steadman and MacColl's good fortune that their material is melodically strong and lyrically intelligent, and Steadman's voice has just enough presence to carry the tunes. Steadman also has a flair for the dramatic that allows him to recast himself in different styles with élan, conjuring a variety of moods on his own songs as well as shaping himself to the work of other writers. Steadman's take on John Martyn's "Fairytale Lullaby" doesn't add much to the original, but the light quaver of his voice is well-suited to the song's fragile beauty, and the group's reimagining of Joanna Newsom's "Swansea" is the most full-bodied performance on the album and honors the spirit of Newsom's gossamer original while finding something new in it. Flaws sounds like a detour rather than a bold step in a new direction, but it speaks volumes about the strength and intelligence of Bombay Bicycle Club's songwriting; these tunes are impressive even as played by two guys with banjos and guitars in someone's bedroom, a trick not every band can pull off.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming