British Sea Power - Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-03-31

British Sea Power’s Let the Dancers Inherit the Party is a song-oriented, concise, well-produced album by a pretty interesting band. And it’s a good record. The brief “Intro” leads into the big arena anthem sound of “Bad Bohemian,” which has a couple of notes that are too close to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” for my ears; but the song does, in time, develop its own personality enough to get a crowd on its feet and chanting the chorus. Then “International Space Station” arrives with heavenly keyboards, emotive vocals, and nice pulsating bass. This is rock pop music that exists somewhere “between the moon and the stars” and it is big music to fill big spaces. There are a lot of punches in that song. I suppose BSP has always been about the best of 80’s rock. It’s all sort of here: Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church, The Chameleons, and vocals that sometimes recall early Bowie; but the band is very good at what they do and have created a lot of very exciting rock music. I’m reminded of Runrig, Scotland’s finest and the Isle of Skye’s greatest export, during their peak Donnie Munro Amazing Things period. (And that’s saying quite a bit.) Both bands are able to incite an urgent pop passion with a rock beat. Now, I could be wrong, but it sounds like brother Hamilton singing the next song, “What You’re Doing.” (I think he sang “How Will I Ever Find My Way Home” on Open Season.) Again, this is a very catchy tune, but it struggles to really be anything other than that, just highly infectious pop music. Nice guitar solo, though. “The Voice of Ivy Lee” is yet another swirling song with a breathy vocal and a wide open chorus. It’s hard not to like this stuff. To be fair, BSP have always had a pop streak. Even that first album had “Something Wicked” and “Blackout.” So fans of that commercial vein with such a clean production will like this album.

Yes, this is a far cry from the intense and heavy experience of that first album, The Decline of British Sea Power.  You know, that record gave me a “near-religion experience.” This should not be mistaken for a “near-death experience.” Never had one of those, but my friend, Kilda Defnut, included that idea in her theology’s Sacred Maxim XXVII which states: “The best part of a near-death experience is that you’re not dead.” As always, she may have a good point.

Allow me to interject a Non-Drug Related Flashback Experience. Buying that very first BSP album made me, perhaps for only a moment or two, believe that there may be, indeed, a Divine Hand of Providence interceding in my life. You see, I had just cut my grass. Walking behind that mower is all very hypnotic. Yeah, it’s hypnotic. That’s why I didn’t notice the several large ant hills until I had obliterated them with my power mower. Well, I didn’t think much about it until I was holding that first BSP album in my local, “Timebomb” Tom’s Green Bay Exclusive Company record store, and I saw the song title, “Apologies to Insect Life.” Now, I’m fully aware that the word “apologies” has two meanings: one is simply to express the state of being sorry; the other is to express a state or inferiority. At that moment, let’s just say I was game for either one. So I bought the album. You know, that song about “Insect Life” is just a wonderful bit of deconstructed rock which sews itself back together with needles in grooves that still vibrate somewhere between the Pixies’ song “Debaser” and just about any song by The Gang of Four. It hit me like a mower blade. Yeah, I had just cut the living bejeebers out of all that hard Formicidae construction work, and I felt bad about those ants in a Henry David Thoreau “live and let live” sort of way. Not only that, but the song has an obscure lyric about a Russian named “Fyodor.” Coincidentally, at the time I had just begun reading Crime and Punishment at the urging of my Russian exchange student Dmitri, whom we all knew affectionately as Dimi. So there I stood: grass, guilt, apologies, ants, Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, Walden Pond, even more guilt, and my Russian exchange student Dimi. The universe just seemed for that moment to divinely converge and make some sort of connected sense. But, thankfully, I had also purchased yet another re-mastered copy of ELP’s Tarkus (with even more bonus tracks!), and it was impossible to relate my life in any way to a lyric about an evil armadillo tank machine getting defeated by a Manticore creature when said Manticore creature manages to scratch the eye of the evil armadillo tank machine. Talk about a “spanner in the works”! So my brush with religion passed. Thank the heavens for prog rock! My encounter with all of this ended without a conversion. By the way, if you are looking for Decline’s “Apologies,” the fourteen minute epic guitar work out of “Lately,” or Valhalla Dancehall’s “Once More Now,” well, they’re just not on this new record. And my friend, Kilda Defnut, amended her list to include Sacred Maxim XII.V which states, “The best part of a near-religion experience is that you’re still not religious.” To that, I say, “Amen.”

No, this album is a different animal. “Keep on Trying,” with its weird infectious refrain, reminds me of the long lost and great art rock band, City Boy, who were probably too clever for their own marketplace welfare. “Electrical Kittens” stretches the grooves of the record and slows the pace, just as Pink Floyd managed in their more dramatic moments. Somewhere in the midst of this rather commercial record, the sounds start to creep “from under the floorboards” (to quote Howard DeVoto and Magazine) and add up to a pretty great listen. Then there’s “Saint Jerome.” This is the tune that redeems any other earlier poppy misgivings. It compresses a passionate Yan vocal and a great hard groove. This is exciting music. The same is true for the song, “Praise for Whatever,” which again ventures into slow-motion Pink Floyd or even the spacey side of Radiohead territory. This record is suddenly taking its time, expanding its depth, circling the back side of the moon, taking more of its time; and at about 3:30 into tune, the bass kicks in, the guitar hovers, the keyboards cover with a cloak, and then the vocal returns to slowly cash the song’s promissory note. This is beautiful music. To that, I once again say, “Amen.”

It’s just an idea, but I never know what to expect from British Sea Power. Sure, this is commercial music, and pretty good commercial music at that. But their last one, Sea of Brass, recorded the band with the Peter Wraight conducted Foden’s Band, with, yes, lots of brass. Not only is it a great album, but it sits way out there in esoteric progressive rock land with Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and Procol Harum’s Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. In a more curious time like the early 70’s, the record would have been readily accepted, just on its verve alone. And never forget this band’s soundtrack work. Last Sunday night, their album, Man of Aran (which was inspired by a 1934 documentary about Irish fishermen), made it to the much coveted number three position on my list of “great soundtracks I may or may not own for movies that may or may not exist.” The competition was tough: Dungen’s Haxan (what a great record!) took the number two spot, while Jethro Tull’s War Child retained its chart-topping position, as it always seems to do. But, really, BSP released this soundtrack into the commercial market. That took guts, and a couple of us actually bought it. By the way, it’s a lovely bit of haunted music, mostly instrumental, that was written, as band member Martin Noble said, “…because we liked the romantic notion of people living on the edge of existence. It’s something I’d like to think I could do, but I never will.” Well, at least from a popular musical context, I beg to differ with him.

To finish the album, the band returns to a Floyd serenity (with Eugene and his axe lurking slightly below the surface) for the song, “Want to Be Free,” which has a bit of cornet thrown into the ending, just for nuance sake. Yes, this entire album is filled with wonderful nuance. The penultimate “Don’t Let the Sun Get in the Way,” may be the most melodic song on the record, and it rocks with another great guitar bit and yet another catchy chorus. And then “Alone Piano” ends with a moody note, and its title belies the actual depth of the song. If this is, indeed, a song-oriented, concise, well-produced album by a fairly interesting band, then all of the above, at least this time, make for a successful commercial rock record. And best of all, it comes with great music, which, thankfully, is rock music without a close-encounter with a near-death or a near-religion experience.

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