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British Sea Power’s latest lacks emotion

Mychal Stanley | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

With the title of its latest album, British Sea Power asks the world a simple question: “Do You Like Rock Music?” Well, British Sea Power, most people do. But they might not be so sure if they like your rock music.

See, rock music is supposed to be more than just the music. It’s a state of mind. It’s a way of life. It’s an attitude. Everyone knows that, but British Sea Power seems to have forgotten that when it made one of the most boring and derivative rock albums in recent memory.

Well, it’s all right to be a little derivative. Every good act is borrowing from someone else. Even The Beatles made their share of covers, and the Fab Five sure didn’t invent the genre. They just fit it to themselves – made it their own – and by doing so, they made it better.

This is not trying to say that British Sea Power should be The Beatles. But honestly, what’s the point in trying your hand at an honest rock album if you’re not going to inject your own personality and emotion into ideas that you stole from other acts?

In this album, there are echoes of The Arcade Fire, U2, The Pixies, among others. And that’s OK! Really, it is. These are great bands, and any band worth its weight in salt water would be honored even to be mentioned in the same sentence as these bands.

But the problem here is that the sounds are stolen from these bands are not changed at all. BSP doesn’t apply them to a new aesthetic. They don’t give them better arrangements. They don’t treat them well in your hands, care for them, and nourish them. No, in BSP’s hands, these stolen sounds die because they have no heart.

Don’t get mad. This is not saying BSP doesn’t play them well. In fact, BSP is a very technically proficient band. All the instruments are played well. The production is solid. It all sounds fine, but it’s just all so empty – so cold.

Take the song “A Trip Out,” for example. This song was everything this album could be: short, punchy and fast paced. It’s a fist-pumper to be sure. And it’s a good rock song. But instead BSP buries it in the middle of the album, and starts out with what sounds like an Arcade Fire demo tape and a bloated, formless, shapeless blob of a song that tries so many rock song clichés, that it just breaks down under the weight.

BSP’s lead singer sounds like he’s just snoring through the lyrics. The lyrics might not be very exciting to begin with, but at least he could have injected some due energy into the words. It’s pretty sad when the album’s lone instrumental piece, “The Great Skua,” is one of the more exciting songs on the album, but nothing one couldn’t get from any Explosions in the Sky song.

If BSP had reached far with this album and failed, it would have been something to talk about. They would have tried. They would have attempted greatness. Instead, BSP tried to make a modest rock album – and modestly failed. That is somehow more crushing than anything else.

So, yes, British Sea Power, people do like rock music. Just not yours. Not yet. But they haven’t given up on BSP yet. Maybe by the next album’s release, BSP will have gone to the Wizard and asked for a heart. That would do wonders for their music.