Writing a review for the Legendary Pink Dots’ Seconds Late for the Brighton Line without access to a thesaurus would prove near impossible. Without one, a review for this release—the 27th in the band’s 30-year career—would break a record for the amount of times “eerie” and “ominous” are used in succession. An album of this caliber of brooding risks being written off as over the top, but in the hands of the Legendary Pink Dots, Seconds Late is more a refreshing return to pure goth atmospherics; in other words, it’s over-the-top done right.
As soon as vocalist Edward Ka-Spel begins intoning in “Russian Roulette” with his bare, rangeless voice, we know we are in for a doomy delight. “One is where I’d like to be, two is a crowd, three is where we have an argument that’s way too loud,” Ka-Spel counts off, perhaps checking off the years of the 21st century, anticipating an apocalypse on 2012 and its aftermath around 2018. The lyrics are malleable, but the pervading desolation of the sounds backing Ka-Spel heartily supports this interpretation.
Ka-Spel’s vocals, while lacking in range, prove themselves equally adaptable. When lyrics become extra surreal or as the music mellows, as on the almost sweet “Someday”, the vocals take on a Syd Barrett quality. There are more than a few moments scattered throughout Seconds Late that evoke the early incarnation of Pink Floyd, had that band’s output been fortified with synths and keyboards.
Many of the tracks on Seconds Late begin with minimal, or at least buried noises, blips, and frequencies, then throws in a startling sound or two before fading out. Sometimes, this tactic works wonders, a case in point being “No Star Too Far”, a nine-and-a-half-minute opus which begins with some spoken word lines from Ka-Spel and little else, then sees Phil “Silverman” Knight making fine use of his keyboard effects buttons, from “dentist’s drill” to “mutilated bagpipes”. “Radiation Day” pulls the vaguely clever trick of discharging what sounds like a stampede of CGI horses after Ka-Spel intones, “I will ride you like a stallion.”
Elsewhere, everyday noises integrate themselves nicely: while listening to the album during a bus ride, the beeping of the bus backing up seemed right in step with the chilly keyboard swirls and blips of “Leap of Faith”. This added noise also worked in making the song’s chorus of “Feeling so alone now / I really need a hug / Maybe more I’d clean the floor for your contaminated love” all the more unsettling. All this chilliness and post-apocalyptic worriment ultimately lead to “Ascension”, a 13-minute instrumental that, after so much synthy darkness, comes across as ethereal by comparison.
If we are to take Seconds Late as a concept album about life following the apocalypse, then the album also implies that, in such a world, whoever survives becomes their own God. Although the journey Ka-Spel and Knight take us on is barren, the payoff is fully worthy, no matter the amount of synonyms one relents to along the way.