The song at #45 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Pompeii” by British alternative pop-rock band Bastille. Originally started in Leeds in 2010 as a solo project of singer-songwriter Dan Smith – who named his project after the French holiday that’s celebrated on his birthday of July 14 – Bastille later grew into a four-piece. In 2011, they released their debut EP Laura Palmer, featuring songs Dan had previously written. That December, they signed with Virgin Records, and began recording and releasing a series of singles that would become part of their debut album Bad Blood, which dropped in March 2013. One of those singles, “Pompeii”, would catapult Bastille to international fame. It reached #1 in Scotland and Ireland, and #2 in the UK, Italy and Mexico. In the U.S., it peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Alternative, Adult Alternative and Rock Airplay charts.
Smith wrote the song in 2010 while still a student, after reading about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. It made him think about all those who perished being forever frozen in time. He later told The Daily Telegraph that he imagined what those dead inhabitants might have to say to one another, and explained the song’s meaning “It is essentially about fear of stasis and boredom. Being quite a shy, self-conscious person, I was afraid my life might get stuck.” “Pompeii” is darkly beautiful, immediately grabbing our attention with its ominous opening chant of “Eh, eheu, eheu…” (“eheu” is Latin for alas, which is an exclamation of grief, pain, or fear) that’s repeated throughout the track, ending as it started. It was one of the more unusual and haunting songs of the decade.
The fascinating and eerie video plays almost like a mini horror film, albeit not a terribly frightening one. Smith is shown frantically wandering about an empty-looking Los Angeles at night, discovering that the few people he encounters all have unnatural vacant black eyes that resemble the looks of the petrified remains of those who perished in Pompeii. He steals a car and flees to the desert to try and escape, but the car breaks down. The next morning, in a scene filmed next to the Whitewater River in north Palm Springs not far from where I live, he realizes he’s been infected too. In the final scene, he’s atop Mt. San Jacinto looking out at the view, then turns around to reveal his own eyes have turned black.