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British Sea Power

Open Season

(Rough Trade; US: 5 Apr 2005; UK: 4 Apr 2005)

Longshore drift or longshore drifting off?

Britain is an accumulation of tribes. Therefore, you support the football team down the road from where you were brought up. Geographical location is everything. Championing a team because they are successful is definitely dodgy (just look at all those Manchester United fans). This is the British way, which means I’m left with Brighton and Hove Albion, close to relegation from the second division—I refuse to pander to the way fickle sponsorship deals cut up the English football league. Interestingly though, Brighton’s shirt sponsors are Skint Records, the people who have Norman Cook on their books. And where does the Fatboy live? Brighton. Along with Nick Cave, Paul McCartney, The Levellers, and Emma Bunton. Is it any wonder Brighton is the cultural capital of England? I mean, come on, Emma Bunton!


So if you’re an English band that doesn’t fancy London or Manchester, you move to Brighton. And that’s precisely what British Sea Power did. And being your basic English bloke, I think ‘great!’ another band to champion. First off, it’s a bloody brilliant name. Secondly, they have a wacky stage presence complete with military uniforms, camouflage and examples of taxidermy. And then there was the roll of their noisy rock first album The Decline of British Sea Power, with the re-recorded single “Remember Me” that kicked arse “increment by increment”. I was looking forward to their second album release. A bit more polished, a bit more mature, and they would become a hell of a lot bigger.


Two and a bit years down the line and we have Open Season. So obviously, there they were, walking around the countryside, cocked rifles over their arms… before shooting themselves in the foot! Because that’s what this record is, a shot in the flipping metatarsus. What went wrong? What’s going on with English music at the moment?!


If you believe the hype, BSP are Cumbria shoved through a speaker. Cumbria (the Lake District) is where three-fifths of the band come from and as the song “How Will I Ever Find My Way Home” suggests, this album wants to be all about “watching a storm cloud form over the hills”. Wordsworth eat your heart out. Sorry, I’m being unfair. One thing I want to praise BSP for is their lyrical risk-taking. Take the opening track “It Ended On an Oily Stage”—not only do they manage to scan “elegiac” but there’s also anadiplosis with “I headed for the coastalry / Regions of mind”. And there’s no denying the imagery echoes through the band’s name.


This is one of the better numbers. But I was disappointed by Yan’s lack of vocal oomph. The problem is that all the songs are characterised by this wannabe ethereal whispering. According to Noble the guitarist, the vocals were recorded outside at night with “just a microphone in the courtyard”. Surely they should have stuck to the studio where Mads Bjerke the producer could tell them to leave the poncing around to Mercury Rev.


The result is a real mixed bag. A third of the tracks sound distinctly like an edgeless Pulp. These include “Be Gone”, “Like a Honeycomb”, “The Land Beyond”. “To Get to Sleep” even has Pulp-ish subject-matter: “Propylene across your eyes / To take me to the land of sighs.” Then there are songs like “Please Stand Up” that sound like a weary Power of Dreams.


This is not to say that the songs are inherently bad but there’s no denying they let us down. The potential is definitely there, but I can’t help feeling that BSP have taken a step back from the promise of their first outing. But that’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable moments here. “Victorian Ice” is a gem of a pop song with the exquisitely English line “Totally wicked and equally ace” and its reference to longshore drift.


Romantic imagery abounds in this record. In true pantheistic fashion God is to be found in a Wiltshire field and nature is the divine landscape of human emotion. Thus, the break up of the Larsen B ice shelf becomes an intriguing metaphor: “Oh Larsen B, oh you can fall on me / Oh Larsen B, desalinate the barren sea.” This track is closer to the BSP I like with its rock-lick and simple guitar motif. “True Adventures” offers a fun bit of cheesy experimental prog-rock. As the bass kicks in you can definitely feel Pink Floyd collecting their pension. Before Yan does his Jarvis-Cocker-cum-Jonathan-Donahue that is.


All in all, this would have made a good EP. What BSP need to do first off is get rid of the birds chirping between songs, although they can keep the seagulls on “True Adventures” for obvious reasons (yes, you’ve guessed it, Brighton and Hove Albion are known as the Seagulls). Then they need to get back to the gnashing rock they can be excellent at. You do expect more from a record mixed by Bill Price. But as it stands, this is not the album that will turn the Long Man of Wilmington, the fertility effigy on the South Downs, into a real man. It has no chalk penis.

Rating:

Raphaël is maître de conferences at the Sorbonne, Paris, where he lectures in English literature, Cultural Studies, Media Studies and Radio Journalism. Though born and bred in England, Raphaël has spent much of his adult life travelling between London, Edinburgh, Dublin and the Continent. After a short career as a rock band front man and music critic, he worked for several years as a radio presenter/producer and is currently piloting the Radio Sorbonne project. His radio work mainly focuses on the analysis of British current affairs with a cultural angle as well as issues dealing with the reception of popular music. He is known in radio circles as the "Dr of Pop". He completed his PhD in 2001 on the performances of postmodernity in contemporary British poetry and subsequently left his home in Britain to take up his post in Paris.


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British Sea Power still play like the Jim Thome of indie rock. They strikeout often, but they’re always swinging for the bleachers.
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