Fans can rest easy. British Sea Power haven’t decamped from the moors or the coastlines to make a bid for the centre of the dial on our FM radios or to accompany our morning lattes. Indeed it seems the title of their third album may be taking the ‘rock’ in question to refer to the one of our inhabitance, third in line from the Sun.
That’s not to say their music doesn’t rock at times, for signs of change are indeed afoot. The band throw caution to the wind, releasing the heavy artillery after the false start of All In It to suddenly crash in with a full band tutti, hitting the listener like a force eight gale. Having grabbed us by the throat, the band keep a tight grip on the jugular for the next three songs.
Waving Flags will inevitably secure the most attention, its larger than life chorus proclaiming “it’s all a joke” over steadily rising chords. No Lucifer is just as rabble-rousing, this time the harmonies of the verse pulling at the heartstrings.
With such an early blow-out the danger is the album could collapse on itself. This briefly threatens to happen in Atom, the strangest song on the album yet the one that somehow makes most sense, the hushed revelation from vocalist Yan that “it’s already a mess” seemingly leading nowhere before its revelation as an introduction to the main event, a chorus of renewed vigour and heart.
Most moving of all is Canvey Island, the point on the record where the volume dips for the first time, allowing Yan a poignant remembrance of the wild swan that died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, before a factual tribute to the victims of the Canvey Island flood of 1953. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s going well,” he observes later.
More recently the island has enjoyed less painful publicity with the exploits of their football team, and that’s a spirit that can be equated with British Sea Power. Their lyrics are a complete rebuttal of FM radio rock, as they sing of ornothological wonders (The Great Skua), the growing number of Eastern Europeans in Britain (Waving Flags) and show shades of male vulnerability (the chorus of Open The Door). Musically they think big, and while Yan’s voice may hint at Ian McCulloch in the bigger choruses and the The Smiths retain a minimum share in some of the verses, they find an individual angle.
The sweep of the widescreen production means you can almost feel the wind and rain outside, and this adds to the mixture of melancholia and euphoria throughout, the latter realised most obviously on Waving Flags. And that’s the spirit that runs through this fine album, staying with the listener long after the final stanzas of We Close Our Eyes bring it full circle.