A deeply elegiac album made with the self-assurance of a group working at the height of their considerable powers
The title of Sea Power’s new album is a line taken from the track Folly, an environmental protest song that abounds in memorable lyrics. “You’re losing the right to breathe / You’re losing the right to roam,” Sea Power’s Hamilton sings at the end of the first verse, in a wonderfully boots-on-the-ground way of talking about environmental destruction that almost seeks to draw a line crossing space and time to stretch between the Kinder Scout mass trespass and recent epidemics of wildfire around the globe.
But midway through Folly, Hamilton asks, “Are we all fucked?” This is an uncharacteristically bald and blunt question from a band who have so often wrapped their thoughts and feelings in stories, conjuring up grand images and retelling lost tales. It also feels like a wavering of the optimism that Sea Power’s soaring anthems have frequently conveyed – a shift towards a more fatalistic mood.
This is not entirely out of place in Everything Was Forever, a deeply elegiac album. On one level it’s a personal elegy – Hamilton and his brother Jan lost both their parents in recent years and there are nostalgic songs that act as direct memories. The rousing Two Fingers, for instance, refers to their father’s habit of making a kind of toast in the form of a two-fingered salute. Lakeland Echo is fractured and fragmented, a sort of sound collage of reminiscence glued together with drones and fanfares.
At the same time, like much of Sea Power’s previous work, it’s an environmental elegy of an album, a sad paean for what’s described in Folly as ‘this weird rock.’ It’s also a peak demonstration of their great capacity to engage with the physical world alongside the human and to show how the two are inevitably interrelated. This is evident in the subtle ambiguity of some of the song names. The title Lakeland Echo conjures up noises resounding through sublime landscapes, but it’s in fact inspired by the local paper that Jan and Hamilton used to deliver as kids. Green Goddess, for all the ‘bucolic poetry’ invoked in its lyrics, could simultaneously be about both military fire engines and woodland deities.
Everything Was Forever might have its fair share of darker themes, with talk of departures, loneliness and body-snatchers. But its music covers almost every dappled shadow between darkness and light. There is the intense post-punk of Doppelganger, verging on goth in its sense of industrial menace, and the motorik beat of Transmitter. Folly’s sweeping verses ride atop synth patterns that push the track towards a place more electronic than Sea Power have visited before. Scaring At The Sky and Fire Escape In The Sea are more ruminative, while closing track We Only Want To Make You Happy shifts between gentle verses and a beautiful weighted blanket of a chorus.
This is the first album Sea Power have released since dropping the word ‘British’ from their name last year. It’s therefore tempting to view it is a kind of rebirth for the band, an abandonment of former values and interest, and the start of a new chapter. The fact that it’s their strongest record in years only reinforces that temptation. But Sea Power were never actually concerned with ‘British’ values or interests in a political sense – hence the decision to modify their name. Everything Was Forever is in fact more of a renewal or a re-avowal of what Sea Power stand for – British in its misty landscapes and chequered pasts, but more expansive than just one jumble of isles.
“All of this used to mean so much to me / It doesn’t mean so much anymore,” Jan sings on Transmitter. There’s that fatalistic streak again. But stand fatalism on its head and perhaps you find confidence, the self-assurance of a group working at the height of their considerable powers.