Tuesday, May 6, 2008

British Sea Power -- Do You Like Rock Music? (2008)

British Sea Power -- Do You Like Rock Music? (Rough Trade)

British Sea Power has always been an inviting proposition. Yet another band inspired by the original post-punk movement, BSP distinguished itself in a number of ways. First, the band displayed a cheeky sense of humor, going back to early live shows where they decorated the stage with flora, fauna, and stuffed animals (of the realistic, i.e. dead, variety, not the fun plush ones). Second, lead vocalist Yan had a powerful voice, but didn’t immediately go into Bono or Ian Curtis mode, showing off a pensive and sometimes playful personality. Third, the band simply wasn’t quite as obvious in its lifts from the past, trying to navigate its own path and find its own sound.

The first British Sea Power album, The Decline Of British Sea Power had a couple obvious anthems, and lots of exploring, which was enjoyable because the band communicated its joy of discovery. On the follow up, Open Season, the boys dialed things down a bit, as if they wanted to deliberately avoid bombast. The result was some pretty tunes and burgeoning melodic skill. But in holding back, the band went away from its strengths. The ‘Power’ in its name is not a misnomer.

Here, on the third album, everything comes together, as they soar on large rock songs that don’t have an attendant heaviness. This is big music with a deft touch.

Three songs immediately stand out as guaranteed crowd pleasers, with gigantic hooks and dazzling lead guitar lines. "No Lucifer" and "Waving Flags" are a one-two punch that very few 2008 releases will be able to top. "Lucifer" is built on pounding drums over strings and chanted vocals, and it’s enervating. Yan intones very gently over the marital drums, and the bridge holds off the momentum, which then releases in the rush of the chorus, with the guitars strumming away. The percussion really drives the track, as the guitars are never so out in front to dominate. It’s a song that is made more powerful by the fact BSP holds a little back on some fronts.

"Waving Flags" is also much more fluid than your typical rock anthem. It starts with a swirling choral effect that is strongly reminiscent of the Doves. Again, the drums are the most prominent element in the verses. Then the swirl comes back while Yan soars and the drums keep things exciting. Okay, the more I think about it, this is basically British Sea Power’s attempt at a Doves song, and they pretty much nail it.

There is one traditional riff based anthem, "Trip Out". Here, the central guitar riff keys the whole song, yet BSP doesn’t overuse it. And the drumming is, yet again, spectacular. Although this song, as with "Hey Lucifer" and "Waving Flags" is a look at militarism and sending young men to war, it’s not overly heavy.

The lyrics on all of these tracks are very interesting. Can you decry and celebrate fighting for one’s country at the same time? Based on these songs, I’d say yes. The sweep of the music is consistent with the fervor that sweeps people up in war, and the notion of a just cause. But in each song, any romanticizing of the glory ahead is done with a certain measured distance. Yan and company aren’t being tongue-in-cheek, but they aren’t selling these songs as if every word is true as it is said. British Sea Power sees things from both sides with a depth you don’t often find nowadays.

There are also moments of great beauty on this record. "The Great Skua" is a sweeping, beautiful instrumental. "Canvey Island" tells the story of a man who killed a swan and seems to be as cursed as the Ancient Mariner (with the albatross around his neck). The lone guitar in space, with strings way in the background, key this lament that is a real showcase for the pure emotion in Yan’s voice.

"Open The Door" is cut from a similar cloth. However, this song moves from it’s shuffle drums and pithy guitar figures into something much larger and enveloping. It’s yet another BSP song that has a classic feel without sounding obvious about it.

This is real stirring stuff. Although it is sometimes hard to know exactly what it’s all about, the feelings come through in every track.

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