And Praise Be! Listening to this album isn’t about passing an extra-curricular history exam; it’s about getting down, Stooges style. Laying down thy raincoat and grooving; as you surely will to A Trip Out, a song which boasts the most primal, most dumb-ass drumming outside of Ceremony.
British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
It's time for a little preamble. When Robert Conquest, on being asked to give a subtitle for the reprint of his "controversial" book about the horrors of Stalinism, The Great Terror - much kicked about by academics with communist leanings before the true story of the Purges in the late 1930s leaked out of Russia - is reported to have replied "Write, ‘I Told You So You Fucking Fools'."
The point I am trying to make (before I get a call from OGPU) is that orthodoxies are there be challenged by time and events. Now, as many of you are aware, in the world of "alternative rock" the accepted, orthodox view of British Sea Power is that they will never better their astonishing debut; 2003's The Decline... or that they will ever escape the tag of loveable eccentric art rockers who have an obsession with the past and excessive stage decoration. Dare I say it, they've become in the eyes of the press and others an essentially "cuddly" band, easily categorized as safely eccentric... like Betjeman, the Nation's Teddy Bear, to be trotted out like a prize exhibit when we're all feeling good about ourselves and slightly intellectual.
Still, I'd suggest we all had a re-think about BSP. Maybe we've become a little bit complacent about them. For if you want to hear the sound of a band taking on itself, as well as its critics and supporters in equal measure, I suggest you listen to Do You Like Rock Music? without further delay.
This is a big, ambitious release. It's also I suspect, going to be a bewildering listen for a few. Where are the coy mannerisms? In many ways this LP goes for the jugular like nothing they've done before. It's a monster of a record... brutal, a big kicking Rioja; rich, sensual and overpowering. The shock of the guitars on the opening of No Lucifer is akin to the untamed mess of feedback on the Velvet's Heard Her Call My Name. Atom has a touch of the Sabs about it, shredding your living room like a pissed up Beserker. Yan's singing is more urgent too, direct, shorn of a lot of the slightly sickly winsomeness on Open Season or the Grande Masque theatricals on Decline. Just listen to the way he sings Lights Out for Darker Skies, it's honest; urgent and in your face.
And Praise Be! Listening to this album isn't about passing an extra-curricular history exam; it's about getting down, Stooges style. Laying down thy raincoat and grooving; as you surely will to A Trip Out, a song which boasts the most primal, most dumb-ass drumming outside of Ceremony. Sure there's enough to keep eggheads happy, but what BSP have pulled off is the realisation that eccentricity is best expressed in a tone, a slight movement, an underhand gesture; not an act of gaudy, vaudeville movements tailored to please dull minded mates. And there is plenty here that makes you realise just how far out there BSP are at times. Canvey Island is a fabulous song, possibly Yan's best to date; a shifting, passionate collage of imagery and sound which frankly couldn't have been written, let alone bettered by anyone else.
Two other things of note; firstly brother Hamilton presents us with his strongest and biggest collection of songs, five in total, which gives the LP a much more balanced feel, not only emotionally but in terms of sonic attack. And secondly, there doesn't seem to be a ready-made BSP formula for writing anymore, it's as if the band have deliberately tried to explore the possibilities of each track, embellishing things only if necessary. Hamilton's songs are more oblique, full of quiet charm and slightly crazed, they hint and suggest as opposed to Yan's direct, high-minded story telling. As a test case, listen to the difference in approach between Hamilton's beautiful Open the Door and Yan's Waving Flags, both slightly sentimental tracks, but treated in utterly different ways.
BSP have always been far too intelligent to play anyone's game, but if I was to stick the knife in just a little way I've always suspected them of being too laissez faire with their muse, listening a bit too much to what others said, letting things rumble on contentedly or maybe letting things get on top of them. Now they have seemingly decided to jettison any worries and just got on with rocking out with DYLRM? Sure the LP fails in part, it fucks up, but only because it's dared to go too far, to over-achieve, to take on the band's own past. It's not the classic LP, but I strongly suggest it's the launch-pad.
By the way, play this record loud.
Words: Richard Foster