VINE VOICEon 12 March 2004
The other evening I found myself watching a programe about Simon Cowell and suddenly I came to my senses and realised what I was doing. Why waste any time listening to what that soul-sapping goon has to say about anything I thought to myself, though not quite so politely, and so I removed the smug slug from my sight by switching the Gawp box off and rooted around my CD collection to listen to something that was the antithesis of the gutless fodder that hellspawn like Cowell and co peddle. I alighted on the British Sea Power album that I'd bought last year but hadn't really listened to properly. After several tracks had gone by all thoughts of the Cowell object had been dissipated because I realised I was listening to a bloody great album and started to interrogate myself as to why had I not spotted it before. By the end I was raving like a loon at the sheer splendidness of the whole bally thing.
Opening with a gregorian chant entitled 'Men Together Today', it zaps shortly into 'Apologies for Insect Life', a lapel-grabbing knees up that bounces like a whizzed up little f*cker that recalls the halcyon days of early Pixies. It's a cracking start, Gromit. But this and the following song bely the majority of what follows, though the fourth track 'Something Wicked' hints at the different mood awaiting in the second half of the CD, with its sinuous lilt and the muzzy organ flitting about like marsh mist in the background. A couple more crunchy guitar-based tracks follow and then we leave the harbour and start heading out towards the open sea. 'Fear of Drowning' slowly carries us out far from land as the sky grows dark, leading us into a droney evocation of heavy ocean swell. By the time we get to the next track, 'The Lonely', all trace of daylight has gone, just the promise of a long cold night; it is a melancholy yearning thing, a song that tickles that part of the brain which evokes nostalgia for something we may not even have lived through before, the feeling we get when we set out on a sea journey, say, even if it's only a booze cruise on the cross channel ferry to Calais.
And then comes 'Carrion', my personal favourite; bombastic maybe, but soaringly inspirationally bombastic. Carried on waves of heavenly choral-like keyboards, it makes me feel like I'm flying above a rolling turbulent sea at night, sometimes just clipping the tops of the wavecrests, sometimes arcing right up into the dark sky, but always aware of that murky, twisting ocean below. It's a wonderful, uplifting tune that I can't get out of my head.
It should be noted that the production is not what you'd call pin sharp. Instead the whole sound throughout is kind of murky, like a fog out of which strange muffled noises ebb and flow. This is wholly in keeping with the album's recurrent images of water, waves, seas. 'Carrion' is followed by the lovely bittersweet 'Blackout', another highlight for me. The next track is the 14 minute or so epic 'Lately' which could have been called Ocean, except the Velvets got in there first. This is only track that has the the quiet/loud thing going on mentioned by other reviewers. Not that it's a problem, it's called dynamics you igorant fooles. Starting off with lightly strummed acoustic guitar it swells and fades like the tide, like ocean waves, a mighty beast of a track. I ain't normally fond of that kind of thing, finding most such efforts (Sister Ray, Voodoo Chile, and so on) tiresome. But here I go with the flow and let it wash over me and it feels damn good. Final track 'A Wooden Horse' is both drained and jaunty, exhausted but exhilarated, a brief fleeting weary epiphany at the end of the journey just as the sun starts to rise.
Now reading this back, I see that I have got all pretentious and a little OTT but it's a been a good long time that an album has actually got under my skin in this way and made me really feel like I've been taken on a trip with it. Can't imagine Cowell or any of his little proteges being able to imagine let alone undertake a project that even attempts what BSP have done here because they only think of music as product for gawping prolebrains. Comparisons are odious some say, but they are useful to an extent, so what came to my mind while listening the first time was the aforementioned Pixies, Joy Division/very early New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Velvets, early Wah! Heat, a smidgeon of Inspiral Carpets, a hint of The Doors, all the usual suspects in other words. Though BSP are more than the sum of their 'influences', if these quoted acts are influences. Yes, they are unashamedly white boy indie, but not the generic shoe-gazing dodo type, because their horizons are bigger: sea-gazers or sky-gazers, perhaps. I look forward to their next voyage.