British Sea Power
ritish Sea Power’s 2003 debut album, The Decline Of British Sea Power was a noisy, angry, full-frontal body slam of a record. Noise and feedback and screaming and more noise and more screaming—this was an album that made an immediate impact, and a very physical one at that.
However, the hidden (or perhaps sunken?) key to the album’s appeal was the often complex and beautiful tunes that lay beneath the scree. Sure, the initial appeal was the noise and the energy, but those tunes, hidden under the layers of sound and anger, were what listeners kept coming back to hear. Whether they knew it or not is a subject for debate.
And so now here we are, two years and many fawning reviews behind them, and like many bands whose first effort is hyped and/or lauded, that all-important second album has arrived. You’ve all heard this one before. Would they make a total dud? Would they simply repeat what they had done before, playing it safe? Would they do a complete about-face and baffle everyone? Given that this is a band with a rather unique view of things (witness past lyrics/themes on tunes like “Men Together Today,” “Apologies To Insect Life,” or “Favours In The Beetroot Fields”), I sure didn’t put anything past them. And that’s not even factoring in their live act....
So what did British Sea Power deliver here then? Room On Fire? No, thankfully, more like the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands. Like JAMC, BSP have given their sound a good scrubbing and waxing and the results reveal a shiny new Jag in the driveway where once there was a filthy pickup truck. Or perhaps more appropriately, they have come out of the damp, dirty sonic basement to embrace the sunshine and work on their tans. It suits them well.
Washed clean of the majority of the angry thrash of its predecessor, Open Season reveals BSP to be a different sort of band than many of us might have thought based on their debut. There are still layers of noise and sonic adventurousness, but now it is far more subtle in the mix, applied with a delicate brush rather than a trowel. Tracks like the album’s centerpiece “North Hanging Rock” and the atmospheric closer “True Adventures” use the feedback as a background enhancement rather than as a bludgeoning tool, and are all the stronger for it, making way for a graceful sort of power where before there was only brute strength. Elsewhere, as on “Be Gone,” “Oh Larsen B,” and lead single “It Ended On An Oily Stage,” the hooks are plentiful and the melodies rich—something else that was obscured by the dark clouds of the debut. This is certainly a far poppier album than Decline, but it is the sort of vast, epic pop that only certain artists can achieve, and even then with mixed results. By adding textures, piano, acoustic guitars, and restraint, and losing some of the scowling and savagery, BSP have unleashed a truly unique pop creation, one with depth and feeling. Anyone who cries “Sellout!” at this record clearly hasn’t looked around at the rest of the charts very closely.
And of course, now those wonderful, quirk-tastic lyrics can be fully appreciated, as can the breathy, expressive vocal stylings of Yan (no last names, please). British Sea Power may well be the only band on record to get me to sing along to the line, “Oh guillotine!” or with catchy couplets about the coastal Antarctic shelf. Elsewhere, there is insomnia, various birds, geologic matters, and all manner of vocabu-fabulous terms that take the typical “rock” lyrical trappings and turn them on their ear. Or perhaps their eyebrows... or spleens.
If you fell in love with British Sea Power’s first incarnation and wanted them to stay that way forever, I am sorry, this is not the record for you. If, however, you are like me and find great rewards in the continuing evolution of your favorite bands, Open Season is rich with character and brimming with invention. Ain’t that the way it’s supposed to be? If not, perhaps we should come to expect a bit more from our bands.