British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy
The first time I became fully aware of British Sea Power was on an overcast August day back in 2006. They curated a festival at an unused military fort that was situated locally to my hometown. I was dragged along by friends who, I have to admit, were much keener on the band than I was at that point in time.
The sound that day was terrible and it wasn’t helped by the fort’s stone walls and coastal winds blowing in from the English Channel. The atmosphere created by the band however lives long in my memory. Perhaps it was the power of seeing a confident young group playing ferocious power-pop amongst the vintage military paraphernalia of the fort? Whatever it was, I didn’t fully get it at the time but I knew the vibe emanating from these musicians was electric and thought maybe they could go on to create something special.
Seven years on from that ‘gig in a fort’, British Sea Power deliver Machineries of Joy, their fifth studio album (seven if you include their soundtrack work). The music released between 2003’s Decline of British Sea Power and 2010’s Valhalla Dancefloor has seen a definite progression towards taut song structures, big choruses and flourishes of sweeping orchestral beauty.
Machineries of Joy opens with an industrial swoosh of synthesizers not too dissimilar to the opening titles of Star Trek and I was fully expecting the dulcet tones of William Shatner to pervade the air. Fortunately however, the title track soon falls into place with the Ian McCulloch-esque croon of lead singer Yan (each band member has a single moniker) complimented by chiming guitars and a swooning string section to which fans of the band will have become accustomed over the years.
What the record lacks in experimental leaps of faith it makes up for in spades with memorable hooks and tunes that lodge themselves in the listeners’ consciousness.
The only song that harks back to the fledgling British Sea Power sound is the ferocious punk of K Hole with its “staring down the canons” rallying cry of a chorus. That edginess is soon bought down a notch or two with What You Need The Most, a song full of lush strings and acoustic guitars that is quite beautiful.
I have to confess I like my British Sea Power when they are at their most melodic and take a step back from the edgy punk. A Light Above Descending is a fine example of this sound, with ghostly backing vocals and viola complimenting Noble’s delicate guitar lines. In fact, overall this album is the most commercial and focused the group has sounded since second album Open Season. Fans of the more edgy, eclectic debut album and 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? may long for a bit more fizz and crackle but I think Machineries of Joy is a fine record from a maturing but not stagnating band.
Review by Gary Page