Brighton-based band British Sea Power is made up of five members: Yan on vocals (also guitarist and chief songwriter), his brother Hamilton on bass, Noble on guitar, Wood on drums, and Eamon on percussion/keyboards. They dress in WWI military uniforms (which immediately call to mind the British Guardsmen uniforms donned by ‘60s garage band the Palace Guard) and they definitely wear their influences on their sleeves. Which in and of itself is unremarkable—it’s just that British Sea Power seem to bear the mark of so many of them. The Smiths, the Pixies, Joy Division, David Bowie, Suede—all are heard in ways large and small on this remarkable debut album, and yet British Sea Power come across as undeniably original at the same time.
The LP opens with a Gregorian-style men’s choir on “Men Together Today”, but quickly segues into the McLusky-esque, angular rocker, “Apologies to Insect Life”, and the very similar sounding “Favours in the Beetroot Fields”. It seems as if the album really begins, however, with “Something Wicked”. Warm, Cure-style organs and breathy, forlorn vocals wrap delightfully around a syncopated repetitious chorus. The song continuously creeps into anthem territory but always hesitates just a little, and it’s for the better in the end as “Something Wicked” whets the appetite for what’s to come. It also contains perhaps the most clever lyric on the album: “It starts with love for foliage / And ends in camouflage”. Lovely.
The rest of The Decline of British Sea Power glides along in much the same vein as “Something Wicked”, with many highlights along the way, such as the rocking “Remember Me” with its perfect Brit-angst lyric: “Whatever! / We’re all part of the same old bloody regime / With someone taking it out whilst you were putting it in”. You’re just waiting for Jarvis Cocker to yell “Alright!”
“The Lonely” and “Carrion” are further highlights, the former stating, ““I’ll drink all day and play by night / Upon my Casio, electric piano / Just like Liberace I will return to haunt you with peculiar piano riffs . . .” However, for all of British Sea Power’s seeming peculiarities there is real heart at work here. They look as if they are a band just starting to find their way and their own unique voice. Like Suede on their eponymous debut album, British Sea Power seem to be just hinting at the possibilities of what’s to come and that is good news indeed as The Decline of British Sea Powerhas moments of extraordinary beauty and musical prowess. They are a young band to be reckoned with.
Everything leads up to the 13-minute epic, “Lately”, and it is here that the true evidence of British Sea Power’s potential for greatness lies. Starting gently and carefully with simple acoustic guitars and soft, brushed drums, it eventually explodes into grand, majestic wails of guitar and distorted shouts of indistinguishable intention. Sure to be a highlight of their live show, “Lately” is the record’s climax and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is great talent at work here.
British Sea Power have the talent and vision to be a truly inspirational new guitar band. Whether they hone their craft well enough to make a significant enough leap in their future endeavors remains to be seen, but as of right now they have injected the British indie scene with real vigor and purpose. Although they have yet to release The Decline of British Sea Power in America, and have only seen fit to grace these shores tangentially, here’s hoping that British Sea Power steam westward in all their glory sometime soon.