I’ve never been so mystified regarding an album’s lack of popularity as I was, and am, about British Sea Power’s masterful, monolithic The Decline of British Sea Power (2003). It’s not often that any album, much less a debut album, is as academic, scrappy, mischievous, gut wrenching, and all-around powerful. Yet I was only able to convincingly make that case to one person: my friend Craig. I hate to take advantage of whatever forum Stereo Subversion provides me to make a case for an album that I’m not reviewing, but like Quentin Tarantino before me (yes, I just compared myself to Tarantino) I feel compelled to right history’s wrongs. So here goes: I urge anyone reading this to seek out The Decline of British Sea Power. It’s a big, bold, brash bastard of an album. Anyway, on to the business at hand…
However strong my enthusiasm for British Sea Power’s debut album may be, my enthusiasm for the band in general has significantly waned since 2003. Their sophomore album, 2005’s Open Season, had many excellent moments, but it was considerably more polished that it’s predecessor, robbing it of the visceral thrust that was crucial to British Sea Power’s sound. 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? showed that the band was interested in recapturing that primal edge, but it felt a little desperate, as though they were over-correcting the previous album’s missteps. The band kept themselves somewhat in the public eye between albums with a stray EP here and there, but sadly, it seems that the band either missed, or was denied, the opportunity to truly take off like they should have.
Their latest EP, Zeus, is unlikely to correct how criminally underrated this band is, but that’s certainly not for a lack of talent or gusto. In fact, the Zeus EP finds British Sea Power the closest they’ve been to the natural swagger and punch of their debut effort. The band has always been at their best in one of two modes, and the first two songs on Zeus capture them both perfectly. Opener “Zeus” finds the band in shit-kicking, over-excited form, decked out with rapid-fire guitars and bounding drums. Whereas BSP would usually be content to allow this sort of song end after a couple of thrilling minutes, this time they stretch for seven, creating a wildly erratic epic kickoff to a lengthy EP.
The other mode, represented here by “Cleaning Out the Rooms,” is more wistful, but no less powerful. “Cleaning Out the Rooms” has one of those melodies that never changes, but rather keeps the song grounded as the surrounding noise (drums, strings, backing harmonies) slowly escalates, giving way to the sort of release that highlights just how much has changed during the song’s seven minutes. “Bear” though more melodically dynamic, is another fantastic example of this band’s ability to create high drama without descending into melodrama.
Of course, it wouldn’t be British Sea Power without a little irreverence, and proper album closer “kW-h” provides plenty of that expected cheekiness in the form of heavily Auto-Tuned vocals. It’s a fun enough shot of stomping bar rock, but it’s not one of the premiere moments in BSP’s catalogue. “Mongk” does a far better job of livening up the EP after the murky one-two punch of “Bear” and transitional piece “Pardon My Friends”.
But, like I said, Zeus is not the release that gives British Sea Power their rightful moment in the sun, and it’s questionable that the band will attain the rock ‘n’ roll glory they so richly deserve. Nonetheless, those who have stuck with the band through their lesser days will be happy to hear that the band seems to be rejuvenated and near their top form.