Thursday, 10 March 2011

Valhalla Dancehall

British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
released 10 January 2011 on Rough Trade

British Sea Power have always been a better band in theory than in practice. On paper, they should be adored - they put geology and nature references in their lyrics, they often decorate the stage with assorted foliage, and they self-effacingly titled their debut The Decline of British Sea Power. However, giving their records a spin is often a disappointment as they reveal themselves as little more than a competent but pedestrian rock band. At this point, it would be fantastic to proclaim that Valhalla Dancehall is a triumph, a breakthrough, the album that would finally win over the doubters. Sadly, that’s not the case, and this record is just more of the same.

The attitude running through Valhalla Dancehall is an intriguing one: the aforementioned allusions to nature (“there are interstellar clouds on the Sussex Downs”), the dedication to creating huge, anthemic tunes, and the resolute Englishness that pervades the entire album (“I’m a big fan of the local library”). It’s a towering rock behemoth, make no mistake; it’s just a bit hard not to feel jaded by it all.

It starts off so well. First track, Who’s In Control, fair roars out of the traps. As album openers go, it’s a bold mission statement as lead singer Yan wishes “protesting was sexy on a Saturday night” against a wall of electric guitar and rumbling bass. The chorus chants of “over here, over there, over here, every-fucking-where” are just waiting for a hands-aloft crowd singalong.

From there, it’s almost uniformly downhill. The tracks fall into two categories: one-dimensional, reverb-heavy songs that try and fail to replicate the winning formula of Who’s In Control, and trite, over-long ballads, where Yan’s reedy vocals sound strained. The main exception is the stellar Living Is So Easy, which contains both the features
Valhalla Dancehall otherwise sadly lacks: melody and restraint. If said subtlety was evident in more of the record it could have been a good deal more substantial, but as it stands, in spite of the band’s evident acumen, it’s a plodding, unremarkable effort.

So. Same as it ever was. British Sea Power: the band you want to like but who don’t do themselves any favours.
Valhalla Dancehall will quickly disappear from your radar and there’s a chance that in two or three years, we get to do it all again. Let’s hope they confound expectations for the better next time.

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