There’s this thing I’ve been known to do where I’ve bought an album having never heard anything that band or artist has ever recorded or performed. More often than not I have actually read about them before parting with my hard-earned cash. But in some cases all I had to go on was the artwork.
You may call me extremely foolish. And I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with you.
There have been occasions where, you will be astonished to discover, this has backfired. Stone Temple Pilot’s Shangri-La Dee Da, for example, did less than nothing for me. Quite literally – obviously; it left me about ten quid lighter than I had been before I’d marched into a record shop and bought the thing.
And then there have been times when the bet has paid off (if you don’t count the actual financial damage of the subsequent x times ten quids spent investing in bands’ back- and future catalogues).
British Sea Power’s The Decline of British Sea Power is one such example.
I’ve got this idea I bought the album (Gloucester’s MVC – probably on a lunch break from my job at Fortis Insurance if you’re interested) the week it came out. I thought (and still think) it was a phenomenal album. That stuff I was saying about the Ben Folds Five album being visceral and raw? It applies here too, even though we’re talking about quite a different musical beast.
British Sea Power do not have a virtuoso pianist amongst their ranks, but they do have enough pent-up energy to power a small city for a week.
Their debut opens with a brooding male choir’s groaning introduction before giving way to the album’s opening song, ‘Apologies to Insect Life’ which hurtles along at ferocious, if not down right dangerous speeds, while spouting out wilfully obscure lyrics (something about Dostoevsky, “gymnastic whores down on all fours” and the titular aggrieved insects: “what I did was not very nice”).
It carries on with much of the same. ‘Something Wicked’ slows it down some but still packs an anthemic punch while ‘Remember Me’ sends your brain scurrying back deep into the mosh pit, an intense assault on the ears that somehow threatens the other senses; it’s almost as if you can taste, feel and smell this music washing over you.
On and on it goes, through to the epically long (nearly fourteen minutes long, to be precise) ‘Lately’, a song which gradually inflates itself into something of gloriously gigantic proportions. It’s followed by the perfect come down (in term of melody at least). But even here, ‘A Wooden Horse’ comes with a sting in the tail; or rather a bunch of blood thirsty Greeks hiding in its belly (“I swear I’m ready to kill”).
You could not, in my humble opinion, ask for a better album to raise the pulse and touch your soul.
There is, quite possibly, the danger that I might just be hyperbolising ever so slightly.
I suspect this might be less to do with the album itself and more to do with my experience of seeing the band live. The first time was at the Avolon Stage, Glastonbury in 2009.
Here, at one of the festival’s smallest stages, hidden away in a tent somewhere between the Healing Fields and a dystopian, goth tinged theme park, the band provided me with one of the most invigorating, spine tingling moments of my life.
It was almost like something religious – something utterly divine and spiritual sweeping over me; just the claustrophobically acute, beautiful cacophony touching a tightly packed crowd, melding them into a single delighted entity. And me in the middle of it all, happily drowning.
The mood was slightly dampened when guitarist Martin Noble lunged leapt from the stage for a spot of crowd surfing, but only after donning a foam headguard. While his dedication to his own personal safety was certainly commendable, it did kind of take the spontaneity out of the act.
Despite this, it was, of course, the songs from the band’s debut that heightened the quasi-spiritual experience all the more.
What can I say? I guess I always preferred their earlier stuff…