British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music?

Johnny Black

By Johnny Black

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Don't let the title mislead you. British Sea Power aren't selling any kind of retro-rock revival on their third album. Instead, they've maintained the momentum of their first two outings by allowing their socio-politically aware lyrics and distorted, over-driven rock to evolve towards accessibility without abandoning the scorching vitality that marked them as England's most stimulating new prospect.

Accessible and scorching: the third album from BSP.

A couple of tracks here, "Atom" and "Down On the Ground," were previewed on last year's exhilarating live EP Krankenhaus?, but the studio versions realise their potential much more convincingly. Ultimately, for the band too, the realisation of potential is the major achievement of Do You Like Rock Music?

Having fabricated a fabulously fast-and-furious debut with 2003's visceral Decline Of British Sea Power and pushing their catchy melodies and weird lyrics nearer the front on the follow-up, Open Season, British Sea Power has now gone whole hog, shamelessly revealing themselves as big, intelligent tunesmiths while remaining unafraid to hit the cacophony button whenever necessary to propel any given song from bloody marvellous to mind-bogglingly stupefying.

Do You Like Rock Music?

British Sea Power

In the space of just two minutes, the understated opener, "All in It," moves from a mesmeric bass-drum thump to a trance-like chant to a hugely majestic Nordic choral stomp shot through with blasts of white noise before winding down with singer Scott Wilkinson quietly repeating the song's only two lines: "We're all in it, and we close our eyes." And, of course, we are, aren't we? This simple little dirge is saying that this TVOD life, this gesture-politics world, is our fault — but we do next to nothing to make it better.

And that is why British Sea Power have the edge on most of their UK contemporaries: they give a damn, and they're engaged with every aspect of modern life. Who but British Sea Power would fashion huge rocking pop hooks around such topics as light pollution in "Lights Out for Darker Skies," and economic migration in "Waving Flags"? And who, else could pull off the nerve-shredding wrecking-ball rush of "Atom" and immediately follow it with the tender, slo-mo plaint of "No Need to Cry"? Don't bother even attempting to answer.

"Open the Door" and the aforementioned "Atom" represent both ends of the band's sonic spectrum. The former starts out like a wistful rock-lite rumination on life and death, climaxes briefly with a stunningly brief but cataclysmic guitar solo, then ends as it started. The latter batters along relentlessly before imploding into an atonal heap of sirens, feedback, mumblings and clattering cymbals.

The comparison that gets trotted out most often is with Arcade Fire and, while both bands offer an organic, “live” rock sound (built mainly on splashy drums and relatively unprocessed guitar tones) that's about where the comparison stops. What I hear is more like the crazed abandon of Spiritualized leavened with the intelligence of Bright Eyes.