BRITISH SEA POWER: OPEN SEASON (2005)
1) It Ended On An Oily Stage; 2) Be Gone; 3) How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?; 4) Like A Honeycomb; 5) Please Stand Up; 6) North Hanging Rock; 7) To Get To Sleep; 8) Victorian Ice; 9) Oh Larsen B; 10) The Land Beyond; 11) True Adventures.
EPIC alert! Maybe, this time around, fueled by the critical success of Arcade Fire, British Sea Power hit it loud, proud, and hyper-arch-pretentious, and never let go for even one second. «Sea power» indeed — Pathos, with a capital P, roars and thrashes here with ferocious wave amplitude. If it weren't for Yan's «anthemic loudest whisper in the world», I'd say they were trying to outdo U2 and The Cure rolled together on most of these tracks, but since the man is so obviously «vocally challenged» (yet tries to turn it to his advantage), the comparison would be somewhat off.
Surprisingly, the songs are good! I will admit that I totally hated this upon first listen — the stubborn hooks had no intention of climbing out from under all the walls of sound, and the monotonousness of it all weighed heavy on the soul. As in, if you want to make something that loud, that romantic, that pathetic, make it short and sweet: ten songs in a row based on the same approach and groping in the same limited bag of tricks (simple 4/4 beats, droning electric or strumming acoustic rhythms, atmospheric keyboard / female vocal background) get annoying very quickly if each one is slapped with the seal of «Hello, I am The Artist, and I am here to help you Get Inspired».
Eventually, though, it clicks. No, they are still nowhere near Arcade Fire: Yan and Hamilton's imagination suffers from a serious lack of vitamins compared to Win and Regine's. (On the other hand, Yan's obscure, intricate lyrics might easily make them intellectual darlings compared to Arcade Fire's more transparently «populist» approach). But it would be slanderous to say that the music here is just a vehicle for Yan's incomprehensible, yet still overblown ego. With Hamilton and Noble, they are honestly trying to come up with simple, but distinct and, hopefully, memorable guitar hooks for each song. Listen to how ʽIt Ended On An Oily Stageʼ begins — with a massive electric riff riding on a crest of unchanging rhythm chords, and then one more riff is tracing and echoing Yan's vocals in the chorus. It's hardly genius, I'd say, but it's an attempt to make some damn good music, and, with a little patience, it gets through.
Still more of these simple, but meaningful electric phrases can be found on ʽBe Goneʼ (powerful, but plaintive, which is probably supposed to agree with obscure references to the French Revolution in the lyrics), ʽPlease Stand Upʼ (this song could easily come out as generic alt-rock, but there is something subtly non-generic in the way its guitar wailings mesh with Yan's «gray-eyed soul»), and ʽOh Larsen Bʼ (referring to the collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf and not to a close Norwegian friend of Yan's, as could be suggested).
But the best of the lot is arguably ʽHow Will I Ever Find My Way Home?ʼ, which begins like a fast, quintessentially cozy Brit-pop number, then drops the coziness for a totally dandy two-note guitar solo (a real tasty bit of 21st century power-pop aggressiveness here), then races towards a proverbial ecstatic climax. Again, maybe it won't make the annals, but it's a brilliantly executed piece of work all the same — and its main emotions, «cautious tenderness» and «restrained malice», are absolutely not what you'd usually expect with that kind of title (something à la Bee Gees? James Taylor, maybe?).
Again, they try their luck on the last number — ʽTrue Adventuresʼ loses the punch, the speed, the energy, and, for much of its duration, even the rhythm, and tends to woo you over with atmospheric trills, frills, and spills. It certainly ties in with the roaring oceanic feel of the rest of the album, but really, guitar-based atmospherics is so passé now, guys: what do you want, bring back shoegazing? At least if y'all were a bunch of Robert Fripps... but perish the thought.
Altogether, I am still torn. Open Season is most definitively a grower, and there is definitively something of a «real thing» about Yan and his buddies — even now, when they go for a much more streamlined, less experimental, more «rock-oriented», less intellectualized (apart from the lyrics) approach than on their debut. But it's hard to get away from the feeling that the album is inadequate, and that these guys could use some subtlety — all these Herculean efforts to «make yourself look big», in the end, are like a bunch of Springsteen bastards that only managed to improve on their father by reading a few extra books.
If it weren't for their surprising ability to punch out these nice guitar melodic bits, there would be very little to recommend about the record. Any way you look at it, it is a post-Decline decline; but it still gets a thumbs up. In fact, ʽHow Will I Ever Find My Way Home?ʼ would probably deserve a spot on a top 50 list of «best songs of the 2000s» or something like that.