British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall

Not once does ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ seem thrown together.

Rating: 9

Looks like good old-fashioned eccentricity’s triumphed again, as far as British Sea Power are concerned. From the title of the album alone, it was obvious ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ was going to have that quirkiness that the Brighton-based sextet had become famous for, but was strangely absent from their Mercury-nominated third album ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’. Hold on a second, we hear you cry. Sextet? Yes, it’s true: Phil Sumner is now a fully-fledged member of the group.

Abi Fry has been with the band since their third LP, yet some could argue that her presence has had minimal impact. Even still, on ‘Valhalla Dancehall’, she shines on ‘Baby’, a gentle duet with joint lead singer Hamilton that sticks out because of its slow-burning qualities, another of the underrated BSP tracks to which an easy comparison would be ‘No Need To Cry’ from ‘Rock Music’. It fits surprisingly well on ‘Valhalla Dancehall’, but at the same time is rather easy for a listener to overlook after they’ve been completely floored by the first six tracks.

Floored, yes, but not entirely drained, which was the effect the occasionally misfiring third album had. Last time out, there was no let up from ‘All In It’ as far as ‘A Trip Out’, and the dismal running order ensured that it suffered as a result. It’s the black sheep of the BSP canon as it doesn’t really work as an ‘album’. There are no such problems with ‘Valhalla Dancehall’, however, a refreshingly diverse album that makes use of every moment in its hour-long span.

The band have mostly left the bombast of ‘Rock Music’ behind (even if ‘We Are Sound’ could have slotted in perfectly on that album), but that’s not to say they’ve forgotten how to pack a punch. ‘Who’s In Control?’ is proof of this, getting the album off to a superlative start with a three-minute firecracker that’s reminiscent of early Manic Street Preachers with its politically-inspired lyrics: ‘Did you not know? Were you not told? Everything around you is being sold.’ The album’s lyrical theme has become clear by the time its opener grinds to a halt. BSP are taking a look at a world in which ‘everybody else is going spare’ and there are fears that the current unrest could give rise to a new form of fascism (where ‘Europe’s own worst spectres come back to haunt us all’), and they’re not happy.

Such statements are everywhere on the album. Yan reckons that ‘it’s kind of unbelievable how we’re not all dead’ on ‘Georgie Ray’, while ‘Mongk II’, a reworking of a track from last year’s ‘Zeus’ EP and possibly the most intense song they’ve written to date, has this to say: ‘The human nature show has got no place to go, it’s all just effigies and girls in magazines.’ It’s hardly all doom and gloom, however; the band are too fond of having fun to create an album devoid of cheer. On the flipside there’s the synth-led lampooning of celebrity culture that is ‘Living Is So Easy’, and they let loose for ‘Thin Black Sail’, which finds them getting their punk rock on, coming closer to the zanier moments found on their debut, ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, than anything else they’ve released in years.

It also arrives at a crucial point: sandwiched between two Hamilton-led epics in the forms of ‘Cleaning Out The Rooms’ (seven minutes long, turned up on ‘Zeus’) and ‘Once More Now’ (eleven minutes long), serving to break things up a little but losing none of its impact. The latter of the two epics is a particular highlight, recalling some of the more expansive ‘Open Season’ material, mixed in with the atmospherics that defined their soundtrack venture. It would have made a fitting closer by itself, but it sets up ‘Heavy Water’ brilliantly. The final track is ‘Valhalla Dancehall”s last burst of energy, its driving rhythms and anthemic feel making sure the record finishes with a flourish.

Through just over an hour, we are treated to all kinds of material, but not once does ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ seem thrown together; one hell of a lot of care was taken with the sequencing this time around. Put it all together and what have you got? Well, there are those that will say the title of their debut was prophetic, but we reckon this is clearly their best album since that one; it does indeed deserve to be heard ‘over here, over there, over here, every fucking where.’