Posts Tagged British Sea Power
This is the best thing I’ve seen on TV for a long time: a documentary of the British coastline (both on- and off-shore), soundtracked almost exclusively by re-arrangements of British Sea Power songs.
Gentle, fascinating, touching, and (towards the very end, in something close to modern-day Blackpool) mildly profane.
Just beautiful, and absolutely essential watching.
I don’t like to subscribe to the “of course, I really like their older stuff” school of music appreciation; no matter how genuine or well-intentioned, you can’t help but come across as sounding like a bit of a purist snob. That said, I happily recognise that so often a band’s earliest recordings are among its most vibrant, vital material (who was it once said “you get 21 years to write your first album, 18 months for the next”?), and that there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as opening with a bold statement of intent.
I took this theory to a logical extreme when reflecting on the first three songs of the first album from British Sea Power (yes, them again, sorry to surprise), The Decline Of British Sea Power.
It opens with Men Together Today*, 40 seconds of Gregorian Monk-esque harmonies: however this track is intended, it manages to disarm the listener of pretty much all their pre-conceptions of what this reputed post-punk/indie/art-rock band are supposed to be about.
* this somewhat bizarre video also has Apologies to Insect Life on it – for a much more authentically bizarre video to accompany that song, please see below.
Apologies to Insect Life then takes over, its creeping bass and drums giving way to jagged, self-consciously messy guitars and lyrics which barely tumble out of Yan’s mouth in time before moving on to the next line (and which appear to contemplate Fyodor Dostoyevsky, infection-ridden prostitutes, and cruelty to insects. Naturally).
A discordant squall of noise joins Apologies to Insect Life to Favours In The Beetroot Fields, which, somehow manages to be even more breakneck and breathless than its predecessor. BSP’s periodic allusions to the military are manifest here, with talk of a “little Caesar” taking on the world and breaking all records (the title itself referring to the rumoured extra-curricular activities of soliders serving under Field Marshall Montgomery in the British Army and the local working girls).
Most intriguingly for me is the line “The universe is a record of everything you see and do”, which appeals to the most arty-farty element of my brain, in terms of the nature of ‘reality’, its social construction, and the multiple perceptions thereof (I find myself musing on these issues in a work context quite often, which, on reflection, may explain quite a lot of my ‘professional career’ (ha!) to date). By my reckoning, this is a fair amount of ground to cover in little more than a minute. The song ends in a similar way to its beginning, that is with a squall and a crash, leading to a few precious seconds of respite and relief, before moving on to a more restrained song, and the rest of the album.
In terms of an opening gambit and a declaration of intent, this is pretty heady stuff. Of BSP’s early work, I really like their older material.
It’s a song about an iceberg. It’s the best song about an iceberg, ever.
British Sea Power wrote Who’s In Control? in mid-2009, but it wasn’t released until late 2010. Curiously, this time gap allowed it to seem immediately resonant and zeitgeist-y.
One of BSP’s stompier affairs, the song is aimed at the disaffected and oppressed, a call-to-arms in the face of everything that’s “yours and mine” being sold down the river. Beseeching us to “fight, fight, point and stand, point and stand and fight”, the song immediately called to mind the student-led protests in response to the ‘austerity measures’ imposed by Little Lord Osborne and his chums.
Not long after, it was easy to consider the lines “Over here, over there / Over here, every-fucking-where / … I’ll never be, I’ll never see/ I’ll never be what you want me to be”, and reflect on the social uprisings in so many north African countries: British Sea Power, instigators of popular regime change? You read it here first.
Just ahead of early 2011’s Valhalla Dancehall, British Sea Power released the Zeus EP. A deliberately experimental eight-track album, it’s very hit and miss, with songs like Pardon My Friends and Can We Do It? being too bad to be instantly forgettable (an outcome exacerbated by the latter failing to deliver on its suggestion of Bob the Builder-themed rocking out). However, there is enough sparkle and magic to keep me coming back for more.
KW-H’s take on glam rock-stompery is enjoyable, and faintly reminiscent of Super Furry Animals (and it concerns electricity, of which the means of production is obviously a minor obsession of mine), but better still is the opening title track.
Zeus, with its near-chaotic percussion and shimmering guitars, begins with a greeting to Rick Stein, and goes on to invite Nikita Kruschev, Worzel Gummage and Aunt Sally to a bizarre take on the fantasy dinner party (“your bathroom is delightful and your party is great”). As with so many of BSP’s more memorable moments, the lyrics are abstract without (quite) being incomprehensible, Yan desperate to find out “what’s your maximum?” over an insistent, pounding, soar-away climax to the song.
Bear, meanwhile, is the stand-out track. Fragile and beautiful in comparison with most of the rest of the album, Yan contemplates a failed relationship, offering apologies for life’s cruelties, and recognises that his angel was “only waiting for the world to catch you up”. Despite the obvious tenderness to the lyrics, contempt for the modern way of life isn’t too far away:
Saw you reading the Daily Star
Saw you watching X-Factor
And I was wondering
How could you fall so far?
The second half brings in ethereal electronica (a pre-cursor to Valhalla Dancehall’s Living Is So Easy) and adds new depth to the song in its conclusion. This is a touching, delicate track, and its placement in the middle of a testing ground is frankly a waste: this should have been one of the centrepieces of Valhalla Dancehall. They just won’t be told, these music-types, will they?
Do you worry about your health?
Do you watch it slowly change?
When you listen to yourself, does it feel like somebody else?
Did you notice when you began to disappear – oh was it slowly at first, until there’s nobody really there?
These are the questions with which British Sea Power’s Yan begins Remember Me (for the record: yes, yes, yes, and yes). There’s a deep sense of loss here (of youth? love? the nation’s war veterans?), delivered with absolute, utter conviction.
This is one of the reasons I love British Sea Power.
I love British Sea Power. They stray just (just) the right side of pretentiousness, intellectualism, and being downright too clever by half, and make lyrically and musically interesting songs for it. They are an ostensibly ‘indie’ band without being your ‘typical’ indie band (ie. shit). I suspect I will write lots about them.
I should point out that I apart from the standard ‘you’re-a-school-pupil-here’s-a-recorder’ spell, and a severe case of stage fright involving some kind of large brass instrument, I have literally no understanding of the technicalities of music. This fact, and its resulting limitations will become horrendously apparent from now on.
In No Lucifer, from Do You Like Rock Music?, their third full album (or LP, if you must), they tackle the subject of good versus evil. They do this in a novel way, bringing some Big Daddy fans in from the 1980s to sing backing vocals (“Easy, easy!”), and constructing a video featuring rejects from The Judderman campaign.
This is a weirdly optimistic song, in which evil will be sought out (“To Sodom I will go”), confronted (“Can always just say no / To the anti-aircraft crew / And the boys from the Hitler youth”) , and defeated (“Several Lucifers come / And we can beat them all”).
Meanwhile, Kevlar and cherrywood are put up as divergent options for our future (representing malevolence and good. Respectively, obviously), touching on another of BSP’s favourite debates, modernity versus nature. Their gigs are reported to feature all manner of foliage and plastic seabirds about the stage, as well as the occasional appearance of an oversize bear. I wouldn’t know first-hand of course, as I don’t really do live stuff.