British Sea Power: Machineries Of Joy – album review
British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy (Rough Trade Records)
CD / DL / LP
Out 1st April
Fifth album: it’s regrouping and consolidating time for Britain’s most functionally-dressed mentalists.
It might be assumed, now that we’ve all shuffled this far along the line (ten years!), that any new BSP album would be destined to follow the band’s self-established rules of play. Let’s see, now. It would be pastoral as FUCK, first and foremost, with ample dollops of Abi’s sweeping bow-work, a delicate sprinkling of cornet from Phil and a reliable hardcore content of slightly-skewed super-devotional high fives to nature, bravery and figures of historical note.
And you would be correct to make just such an assumption. At least, up to a point. The themes are indeed familiar in the main, and the treatments applied will mostly come as no big shock to BSP’s devilishly-devoted legion of enthusiasts and spectators.
This will no doubt come as a relief to some – but those listeners craving innovation, growth and imagination from their BSP records are invited to stick with me for a few more paragraphs.
You see, for every couple of trademark swoops and sweeps of as-anticpated cathedral-high grandeur, there exists at least one 180-degree demented twist to be unearthed by the keen listener too. You might not wish to count Hamilton’s extraordinarily pure chorister voice on ‘Hail Holy Queen’ as a demented thing per se… but its application here as a female-reverent and, dare I suggest, submissive high-pitched siren sure does come out of nowhere. Of course, this effect might partly be down to the minutes of madness that immediately precede it: a frenetic, discordant and shouty recollection of an uncomfortable dalliance with everybody’s favourite equine mind-bender, ye olde ketamine. Here, Yan’s voice wibbles with nerves as he stares down the snapping jaws of the drug, confessing plainly and urgently that he and his chums “might be in trouble”. The decision is made to ride with whatever the ‘K-Hole’ has to throw at him/them. Whatever went down, they all thankfully survived to make this record.
Another Hamilton-led surprise is ‘Loving Animals’, a vocally-treated run through familiar Sea Power themes of animal admiration and the hunting of these beasts, in which the little chap winds up sounding not a little like New Order’s Barney. This, you might imagine, will please the loyal Third Battalion no end – but you don’t have to be cut from that twig-waving badge-and-patch adorned cloth to enjoy the pleasingly electronic result. The animal noises and clip clops of hooves are fun too.
Obvious hit singles (if indeed hit singles are still a thing to think about in this day and age)? Oh, not a one. Closest to the target, at a push, is probably ‘Monsters Of Sunderland’, this album’s own ‘Waving Flags’. If you yearn for another one of these, be heartened that a “confrontational” and “educational” chant and airpunch-along comes bundled into this particular package. Just a little one…
Everybody will enjoy ‘When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass’, which is their latest ‘Lately’ – only minus the carnage at the end. Perhaps surprisingly (yet again) the strength of this confusingly sweet song is in the maddening three-note riff that underpins it all – sometimes coming dangerously close to throwing the whole thing into the air like a stroppy child, with its bloody ceaseless repetition. It adds discomfort, but in a jolly delicious way.
This BSP enthusiast’s favourite selection is ‘Radio Goddard’, clearly a revised homage to their dear friend Geoff, the misunderstood and slightly damaged mainstay of the legendary Joe Meek madhouse. Unlike ‘The Lonely’, though, which firmly lamented the loss of the musician-turned-kitchen-help’s “peculiar” and haunting piano riffs, this new tribute is low on sentimentality.
As Meek’s cultish Holloway Road echo chamber is, um, echoed in the swirling musical
motifs, Yan curiously reminds himself: “Dear boy, don’t forget who you are/retune yourself to Radio Goddard.”
So what’s occurring here, then? Is he warning himself not to wander too far from the neatly-tramped BSP routemap of old? Or is he, quite conversely, urging his band to channel the madness of the Meek/Goddard world, and stretch out towards something new?
The funny thing is, you know, in ‘Machineries Of Joy’ British Sea Power have very neatly embraced both those attitudes. You’ll like it.
All words by Andy Barding. More writing by Andy on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive here.