British sea power ‘Macheneries of joy’ – review

12 Apr

‘Remember me, oh remember me’ British Sea Power exclaimed on one of the ten best songs of the past decade (according to last month’s BBC 6 music poll). These days it’s a more gentle ‘You will remember me won’t you?’ On ‘A Light Above Descending.’  Their approach may have changed but the jist is the same; British sea power don’t want you to forget about them. And it would be hard to – over the past decade the band have released five albums, two soundtracks, dozens of e.ps and an utterly brilliant book. They tour regularly and a host a monthly night in Brighton where they blitz through entire albums to a small but devoted following.

This is the band that audaciously prefixed their debut album’s title with the phrase ‘British Sea Power’s classic…’ they were right as well, it was a classic and no doubt.  They followed it with two more; the soothing ‘Open Season’ and the bruising ‘Do You Like Rock Music’. The band compared their debut to an obsticle course and ‘Open Season’ to a relaxing bath that comes after. Listening to this one is more like taking a dip in the ocean. Icy and bracing at first but ultimately invigorating, adventurous and great fun. It washes over you on repeated listens and even by their standards it seems to delight in sunday driving its way to your heart.

It opens with the title track, a song built around a steady motorik beat and some lovely viola playing from Abi Fry, who is now a full-time member of the band. It’s her playing that makes this such a distinctive record. It adds elegance to ‘Hail Holy Queen’, dark atmosphere to the otherwise mundane ‘When a Warm Wind Blows Through the Glass’ and sheer beauty to ‘What You Need’. Her presence means that the guitars take more of a backseat this time around, although they still crank up the rock on the cautionary Ketomine ode ‘K-Hole’ and the slightly sinister ‘Loving Animals’.

Lyrically the album is a typically obtuse and intellectual record that deals with themes as diverse as British spring time, party drugs and physics. unfortunately their steady decline in this department continues. ‘Decline of British Sea Power’ contained some of the most evocative, thought-provoking, and downright thrilling lyrics of recent times (who could forget the epic ‘Lately’ that beautifully chronicled a soldier’s frenzied mental state?). But as on ‘Valhalla Dancefloor’, the lyrics here are too vague and highfalutin to truly penetrate in a meaningful way. It’s a shame, not only because it was once their great strength, but also because it’s the one significant flaw of the record.

‘Vallhalla Dancefloor’ was both more ambitious and more pedestrian than this: ‘Machineries of  ‘Joy’ is a well-trimmed and expertly sequenced album that demonstrates just what accomplished producers and arrangers BSP have become. Whereas ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ and ‘Man of Aran’ felt slightly clumsy and overreaching, this record is nuanced and deftly edited. It’ss no return to form because the band have never lost form. Ok, it kind of lacks the excitement that ‘ Valhalla Dancefloor’s’ wild experimentation generated and it hasn’t got the spirit or genius lyrical bent of the first trilogy of albums. But British Sea Power surely have more clean sheets than any other band this decade and ‘Machineries of Joy’ is a lovely addition to the family. An album to remember then, from a band you’re never likely to forget.

8/10

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