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Thursday, June 05, 2003  
The Decline Of British Sea Power
British Sea Power
Rough Trade

What is the power of the British sea? An odd thing, for sure. A five-piece from Brighton, guitars and keys and drums and voices and too much strange clean salt-air, pot-plants onstage with them, cheeky and irreverent but honest with it. “We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time…even so, that will suffice…there is a land for the living and there is a land for the dead…” are the words writ upon the cover. British Sea Power’s Classic… A Gregorian-style chant gives way to a fingers-&-thumbs bassline, a clatter, a stiffed riff, a stabbing tempo, The Pixies, Apologies To Insect Life indeed, indeed? A minute-and-a-bit burst that doesn’t work.

For too long now we’ve been starved of new guitar bands with real personality, one tight-trousered grunter after another caterwauling and swaggering, too busy doing punker and rocker to notice the delightful oddities hidden in the melancholy joy of pop. Is this the turning of the tide? The Coral are crawling up a blind-alley of histori-scouse ballads, the vim and whimsy gone to The La’s, nodding heads, nodding heads, stroking chins. Something Wicked “this way comes”, organ and airy harmonies buried back there, a spooky hello, pop as can only be made by young men who spend too much time laughing at the sea and turning up guitars. The scent of Clouds Taste Metallic-era Flaming Lips on Remember Me, a better song than any on SFA’s last album, busy and hungry and a touch crazy.

Anyone who can rhyme “ebbing tide” with “formaldehyde” gets a Blue Peter badge, who can squeeze in more backing vocals that sound like pagan monks, striking guitars and delicate piano lines, British coastal psychedelic pop, emotional and strange and proud to be a little to one side. Peaks with The Lonely, a falling guitar line like The Stone Roses could have played, emptiness, impermanence, “haunt you with peculiar piano riffs / I believe bravery exists…” a direct comment on the emptiness and uselessness of song, this song, every song; “Casio electric piano” and still that stomach-pull that lets you know, winding up and down again in noise and echo and piano.

Peaks again with a 14-minute meander through half-a-dozen different tunes, some of them pop, some of them postrock, all of them fitting together, the start with guitar like rain and cymbals like strong wind through trees. “Lately you seem like another language.” Shimmering phases, FX, electronic ear-pieces, fuzzed-out distorted vocals, a shoe-gazing climax, sweet bass and angular guitar clicks and notes and more climax, more calm, and then too fast until it hums and feedbacks itself out.

British Sea Power dissolve ten, twenty, thirty years of skewed British guitar pop into their own solution, giving it their own personality rather than the past’s. A Wooden Horse with Morse code guitar and stately piano and a chorus that swings, that last-song-vibe, and easily melodic drift, the verse a broken version of the chorus. These are people making model boats and fly-fishing and butterfly-catching. Still young, weak in places, they can swim and fall beautifully and they will do this more often. “British Sea Power’s Classic”? Not quite. Not yet. But we can see the high-tide mark.

6/05/2003 10:28:00 pm


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005