15 February 2011
listen: british sea power
Story by Andrew Reinholds
Will the Valhalla Dancehall record finally catapult BSP into the mainstream? Well, the simple answer to that is – maybe.
Based in the seaside town of Brighton, British Sea Power’s heart actually lies to the far north-west of England, in Cumbria, the sprawling rural county renowned for its vast natural beauty. It’s from this remote land that British Sea Power draw their creative and artistic inspiration, making them quintessentially English and modern day flag bearers for England’s other great intelligentsia group, The Kinks.
Now ten years in to their recording career, British Sea Power remains as enigmatic and eccentric as ever. Their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, was a powerful statement of intent, and their epic live performance on Jools Holland, featuring a saluting Michael Stipe, marked them as a truly unique and exciting proposition.
They remained on the very far left of the mainstream, until the release of 2008s Do You Like Rock Music lurched them back towards the centre, with a more mature and consistent sound. Indeed, anthem-in-waiting Waving Flags almost became the song that launched them onto the stages of a thousand stadiums that their ambition and at times titanic sound demands. At the very least, it did mean another trip back to visit Jools Holland, where the band introduced the ancient art of Cumbrian wrestling to the world.
And so to their latest offering, Valhalla Dancehall, which the band themselves describe as a mixture of Serge Gainsbourg and Ralf and Florian era Kraftwerk with a sprinkle of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Is this the record to finally catapult them into the mainstream? Well, the simple answer to that is…maybe.
The album’s first three tracks continue on from Do You Like Rock Music’s sonic barrage, ‘Who’s in Control’, ‘We Are Sound’ and ‘Georgie Ray’ offering few surprises for fans. So it’s not until the stupefying ‘Mongk II’ that things really start to get interesting. A gloriously feral blast of howling guitars and techno-rock combination mixed with Yan’s lead lyrics sneering accusingly, “You’re an animal, you’re a homorapien”.
And don’t be fooled by the album’s deceptively sweet first single ‘Living Is So Easy’ based loosely on Dame Vera Lynn’s legendary celebrity clay pigeon shoots (by all accounts Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was a regular guest), the video adds an almost Valley of Dolls creepiness while you can almost hear the drips of cynicism falling from Yan’s lips, “living is so easy, shopping is so easy”.
But where British Sea Power really finds the essence of themselves is on the ethereal dreamscapes they create, most noticeably on the eleven minute plus ‘Once More Now’. It’s these tracks that drag not only the band, but the listener back to the wind swept, rugged mountains and hills of Cumbria. British Sea Power have always had a strong connection to the land and to the animals that inhabit these notoriously windswept and barren areas that heroically defy the decaying urban jungle that England has become.
And it’s for this reason that, despite everything, British Sea Power will remain glorious outsiders – the bookish eccentrics who are just too honest and too passionate to ever be accepted into the “mainstream”.
Long may they wander.