Brighton’s British Sea Power ask and answer on their third full length, Do You Like Rock Music?. In many ways, Rock Music is a return to the sound of their amazing and epic 2003 debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, but yet it still retains some of the more pop-friendly sensibilities of their 2005 sophomore LP, Open Season. However, Rock Music also grows in other, newer directions, touching post-rock and a lot else besides, to craft perhaps the first great record of 2008.
Rock Music begins with the growing march, “All In It”, an announcement that the band has retained their grand imperialism and vision, and leads into one great, quintessentially BSP track after another. The expansive “Lights Out for Darker Skies” drives the listener forward across the open ocean, all the while retaining a great beat and catchy refrain. “No Lucifer” remains in this vein, but as more of a call to arms than a march once they’re taken up, and yet it also plays more melodic, thanks to bassist Hamilton (Neil Wilkinson) going in for vocals on this number, in place of usual singer, guitarist Yan (brother Scott). Then BSP drop two more of their well-honed ‘epic songs about obscure topics’, “Waving Flags” and “Canvey Island”. “Flags”, the first single, concerns itself with the River Vistula, the longest river in Poland; weirdly nationalistic in the way only a band that played a release party at the Czech Embassy in London could, its banner could encompass all of Europe, new and old. “Canvey Island” lies on a river much closer to home, the Thames, but of course isn’t about the island, but the island’s football [soccer] club; and not even simply the club, but the club’s loss of its records in the 1953 flood. More post-rock than anything else on Rock Music, the piece shows the historical-wistful side of the band (reminiscent of friends iLIKETRAiNS – QRO album review).
Hamilton’s higher effects come fully into view with the pressing “Down On the Ground”, one of two Rock Music pieces featured on their 2007 pre-release EP, Krankenhaus? (QRO review). BSP then go up in the air for “A Trip Out”, a high, explosive, and fun voyage across British skies, before plying the seas with the ocean waves post-rock instrumental “The Great Skua”. “Atom”, the lead-off track to Krankenhaus?, comes in now at a full version, with a slow, haunting opener to go with its driving indie-rock.
The somewhat one-note-ness of Rock Music is overthrown at its end. The slow and sweet “No Need to Cry” and “Open the Door” might have worked better if more in the mix, and not back-to-back near the end, but that isn’t to take away from the sadness of “Need” or high harmony of “Open”. Finisher “We Close Our Eyes” is an eight-plus minute-long coda or haunting, echoing effects that, while interesting, feels excessive and somewhat self-indulgent. But if you put Rock Music on repeat, the track will carry you perfectly back “All In It”, circumnavigating the British Sea.
After the jaw-slackening power of The Decline of British Sea Power, one could be forgiven for having first found Open Season a little too full of catch and pop. And after the grooves of Open Season, one could be forgiven for first finding British Sea Power’s latest a little lacking in hook. But spin it again, and you’ll find you can’t stop. Do You Like Rock Music? Yes, yes I do.
MP3 Stream: “Waving Flags”