Public service broadcasting, The race for space - album review: The follow-up should fix that

The moods stretch from the ominous to elegiac, zero-gravity harmonies

When Public Service Broadcasting released Inform-Educate-Entertain in 2013, some pegged the pair as a one-shot gimmick or academic wheeze: How We Used to Live in NEU! drag.

The follow-up should fix that. PSB’s core elements remain: archival voice samples and electronic pop, bow-tied smartly. But Wrigglesworth and J Willgoose Esq here look to the space race to prove there’s fuel enough for manoeuvre in pop that’s piloted with intelligence, energy, craft and atmospheric control, even if it seems frightfully, stiflingly high-concept.

So, out go the post-war Brit-propaganda samples and in comes JFK’s speech about “change and challenge”, an agenda PSB pursue even if moments of sheer lift-off are rare. The choral titletrack glows like a herald of open possibility. “Sputnik” accommodates techno pulses without achieving full velocity but “Gagarin” erupts in flurries of soul-funk horns and Afrobeat rhythm, like the Chemical Brothers’ “Galaxy Bounce” chivvied onwards by the promise of “the unknown”.

There’s range, too. Proving that PSB aren’t just starry-eyed worshippers of the bright stuff, the moods stretch from the ominous “Fire in the Cockpit” to the elegiac, zero-gravity harmonies (from Smoke Fairies) of “Valentina”.

What it’s all driving at is debatable. Are PSB merely fetishising history, or digging into past hopes and fears to illuminate the present? Either way, Race is richly entertaining, immersive and evocative, orchestrated with fastidious care and feeling. The meaning remains ambiguous, but one point doesn’t: after this blast from the past, PSB’s future looks fine.

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