In a splendid tradition of true British eccentrics Brighton-based British Sea Power bring packed lunches to interviews, like military uniforms, stuffed birds (the feathered sort) and ordnance survey maps.
They are possibly the only rock band of “national repute” to play in the Scillies and have a penchant for calling themselves by single names (Yan, Hamilton, Noble and Wood, the first two being brothers – vocals, bass, guitar and drums respectively). They are reputedly Jarvis Cocker‘s favourite new band and appreciated by BBC political correspondent Andrew Marr, among other unlikely celebs.
After emerging in late 2000 and quietly building a following with careful singles and wild live performances, they have finally released the debut album. It more than justifies the rave reviews to date. Most often compared with early Joy Division, they certainly share the energy of the post-punk explosion but are actually a lot more fun.
You know you’re in for something different from the very first track – Men Together Today – that lasts less than a minute and sounds like a lifeboat crew in full voice. Rolling Stone at Reading admiringly called them “mad as fuck on every level” and Apologies to Insect Life and Favours in the Beetroot Fields (beat those for song titles) make you understand why. Both tracks explode with wild guitars, frenetic drums and harsh vocals, and are incredibly exciting bursts of frenzied rock.
Something Wicked is more melodious: this bunch can write classic rock anthems and Yan has a terrific voice. Remember Me – an early single – is a scorching, melodramatic epic of pounding guitars. Fear of Drowning was the first release, with bronchial, breathy vocals like mid-period Bowie, swirly guitar riffs and a tune that gets into your head and just refuses to budge.
The Lonely takes us into even more relaxed territory with a lushness reminiscent of the Triffids. It’s the sort of track to bring you out of the blackest mood: irresistible, open, unashamedly joyous despite its title. And then there’s Blackout and A Wooden Horse, standout tracks with ridiculously catchy refrains. They may do weird things on stage but British Sea Power, unlike some more celebrated British bands, are not afraid to write romantic, gorgeous, accessible songs.
Lately breaks the mould in this album of short, sharp tracks, lasting almost fourteen minutes. It builds in intensity from a gentle opening, allowing the vocals to take precedence for an epic tale of sadness, with episodes of understated guitar and piano dripping like water. Addictive stuff.
Oddly enough Carrion, the new single due out 30 June, is one of the less interesting tracks. But it will still be better than anything else released in the last few months, and I bet the B sides will be crackers.
The finest British band in decades? Rock band, yes. You need this album.