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Sunday, September 23, 2012

British Sea Power: Do You Like Rock Music?


1) All In It; 2) Lights Out For Darker Skies; 3) No Lucifer; 4) Waving Flags; 5) Canvey Island; 6) Down On The Ground; 7) A Trip Out; 8) The Great Skua; 9) Atom; 10) No Need To Cry; 11) Open The Door; 12) We Close Our Eyes.

All right, if you want it that much, I'll bite. I do like rock music. But if we're talking about the bare essentials, the «narrow» definition of rock music, then British Sea Power is one of the last bands on Earth to have the right to subtly imply to me that what they are doing is «rock music». Heck, I don't even think of Bruce Springsteen as «rock music», no matter what Jon Landau might tell us. True rock music is covered with dust on Earth, not skyrocketing towards Heaven, which is where Yan and Hamilton have set their sights.

Not that they don't have a right to; it's just that the album title really rubs me the wrong way, much as if someone had the ingenious idea to release an Andrew Lloyd Webber collection en­titled From Cats, Trains and Phantoms to Ambiguous Argentinian Women: Greatest Classi­cal Hits. Yes, BSP's third album is even more loud and epic than its second. But it doesn't mean that it is any more related to the quintessential spirit of «rock music» than its predecessor. Nor does it mean that it is a better album, for that matter. It is much worse, on all sides.

Supposedly what happened here is the inevitable. Praised by critics for all the wrong things — the volume, the scale, the soulfulness, the verbal intelligence, etc. — instead of the right thing, a.k.a. musical creativity, British Sea Power became convinced that they were the UK equals of Arcade Fire, and that, as long as they stuck with their form, they should no longer be under pressure to seek for more substance. In fact, they became so stuck on preserving and polishing the form that they even went to Canada to work with Arcade Fire's producer for a while (the album overall has at least three producers and was recorded all over the world, although the stylistics is so coherent that it does not really show). And so the indie trap closed in on them.

For me, there is one big difference between Open Season and Rock Music: the cloud of «bored hatred» that eventually dissipated after a few listens to the first of these never opened up on the second. Why? Most likely — because the melodies have become even more generic, more stereo­typical, more dispensible. They do throw in a little extra dosage of punky scraping and distortion, but it is still not enough to install a firm «rock bite» into fillerish tunes like ʽA Trip Outʼ or ʽLights Out For Darker Skiesʼ (whose rhythm appropriates Blondie's ʽOne Way Or Anotherʼ and turns it into something much more serious and much less exciting). Nor does it excuse them for such obvious Arcade Fire steals as ʽWaving Flagsʼ, which tries to pocket the drive and spirit of ʽNo Cars Goʼ but forgets to sew on a hook of its own.

Even worse, their «atmospheric» numbers are becoming even more yawn-inducing than they used to be. ʽThe Great Skuaʼ, a beauty-oriented instrumental number, gets by through sheer exclusive loudness, echo, and wail of overdubs; if we're talking seabirds, Fleetwood Mac's ʽAlbatrossʼ ori­ginally achieved much more with much less. And the closing eight «psychedelic» minutes of ʽWe Close Our Eyesʼ, brave as they are, are a pointless mess of silence, white noise, annoying organ ambience, and a wall-of-sound coda which is completely wasted because all of the rest of this al­bum already had the same wall of sound — try as they might, they just cannot make this conclu­sion sound more «EPIC» than everything else on here.

Like any such album, Rock Music is probably not a complete waste of time, but the amount of time spent on sorting out the few tasty grains is quite disproportional to the size of these grains. ʽAtomʼ has some curious dynamics to it, alternating moments of silence and all-out loudness so that one gets to appreciate the relative value of each a little better. ʽNo Need To Cryʼ, as the only relaxed, quiet ballad on the album, presents a comforting change of pace and a few subtle emo­tional pinches on the senses that, I think, actually work better than the incessant tempestuous as­sault on said senses throughout the rest of the album — enough already!

But my major disappointment is with the guitar sound: other than on one or two tracks (ʽDown On The Groundʼ might be a particularly good exception), the little colorful power-poppy phrases that helped the material on Open Season so much are almost en­tirely gone now. It's almost as if they consciously sacrificed their best abilities for the sakes of  Ab­solute Power. Now everything is in the vein of ʽNo Luciferʼ — a never-ending high-pitched plink-plink-plink set against an equally monotonous distorted chunk-chunk-chunk, with no indi­viduality whatsoever. In other words, a masterful shortcut towards an irate thumbs down, which I am happy/sad to provide. One more indie nightmare.

Check "Do You Like Rock Music?" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Do You Like Rock Music?" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. No Lucifer at least nicely shows why loud rock (OK, let me be generous and call it hardrock) nééds riffs, preferably with intriguing bass lines added. If I already think AC/DC boring because of the monotonous bass play, how do you think I'll judge My Lucifer?
    As for the wall of sound thingy, try Shostakovitch' Seventh or Thirteenth Symphony. Blows those British guys away.