Album: British Sea Power, Valhalla Dancehall (Rough Trade)
Power and glory – a panoramic take on protest pop
Sunday 09 January 2011
When British Sea Power wrote "Who's in Control?", the rousing overture to Valhalla Dancehall, the Cumbrian heroes' fourth album proper, the current Winter of Discontent and the accompanying outbreak of civil disobedience were still distant prospects, but – like The Specials' "Ghost Town" – it catches the mood of the nation with eerie prescience.
"Did you not know, were you not told?/ Everything around you is being sold..." begins singer Yan, before dreaming "Sometimes I wish protesting was sexy on a Saturday night". Looks like he's got his wish. It's a song which heralds the band's most direct and least cryptic release to date, and which sees them tackling idiocy and brutality head-on.
"We are Sound" – possibly a pun on the Mancunian use of the title's final word as an adjective of approval, possibly not – attempts to engage with someone who "can barely string two words together", while "Georgie Ray" envisions, with a shudder, a time when "the language gets perfected to a solitary grunt".
Not that British Sea Power are watching the cultural decline as passive spectators: on "Observe the Skies", they issue the defiant, you-and-whose-army vow "We'll stand against them still/ Them and all their bruiser mates..."
And they're not haughty, highbrow, pleasure-shunning snobs either: on "Luna", whose first words run "Are you going to the disco, hey?/ Are you hoping that you'll all get laid?/ When there are interstellar clouds on the Sussex Downs..." they sound torn between star-watching and carousing, between the aesthetic and the carnal, while "Living is so Easy", which transplants the romance of Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" to the topic of the north/south divide, raises the toast "Here's to all the dirty girls/ They're taking on all of the world/ Accessorised up to the hilt..."
As you'd expect from British Sea Power, it's all set in a silver sea of the kind of sublime, subtly inventive guitar rock which raises the hackles, spreads goose pimples, elevates you out of yourself. That can mean the demure "Baby" or the deranged "Thin Black Sail" or, somewhere in between, the billowing, somewhat shoegazey "Once More Now", upon which Hamilton's last words, at the end of a deathlessly pretty coda, are a spoken "Fuck 'em".
As well as being a hilarious moment, it's highly significant, highlighting just how strongly this band are going against the prevailing grain. British Sea Power are bravely bringing beauty into an increasingly ugly world, whether that world wants it or not. They ought to be given a medal. For valour. For Valhalla.
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