Music Reviews
Valhalla Dancehall

British Sea Power Valhalla Dancehall

(Rough Trade) Rating - 7/10

Every nation needs a shamelessly zealous, heart-pounding guitar troupe to satisfy a screaming cast of thousands. They exist to enrich our otherwise droning lives - a night of riff splendor and light sweeps is really all it takes for the general public to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. With a genuine belief that more is more, the godly responsibility behind such a task is meant to accomplish both an otherworldly experience and the justification of shelling a scraping sum of three figures.

British Sea Power weren’t just questioning the validity of rock music to its audience. By devising a master plan very much parallel to their arena rock commissaries – U2, The Who, Echo & the Bunnymen – they subtly raised their hands by raising the stakes with each subsequent release. The Decline of British Sea Power will always be remembered as the call-and-response, post punk gunshot that shook the Britrock militia. However, those with a deft ear can deduce how BSP were already flirting with the idea of excess, as if they knew it was their true calling. After much practice and refinement, it was the right time to navigate to all the destination points they hadn’t discovered.

The supposedly blasphemous Do You Like Rock Music? was the logical transformation – a bigger-than life, Kong-like behemoth of chanting choruses and authoritative chord progressions growling with hunger. Valhalla Dancehall continues this streak by altering their sonic approach, but no less continuing a sweltering sound. The marching, running-across-the-stage antics on We Are Sound and Observe the Skies are instantly familiar, emphasizing the potent rhythmic section to produce rousing bouts of hysteria. Growing weary of wording literate and snotty verses, they’re winking at our insecurities, using planetary metaphors to divinize our place in Mother Earth.

Wrongfully accused of making a brash decision, British Sea Power had to deal with a discernible divide between praise and backbiting. If they only knew that DYLRM's greatest achievement was its histrionic sense of accomplishment. This is precisely the reason why Valhalla Dancehall is a lesser release - they can’t figure out how to deliver a batch of massive tunes with a touch of introspection. While a straightforward rocker like Who’s In Control speaks directly and with a rebellious tone about their homeland, more esoteric tracks about predicting a looming collapse like Georgie Ray and Strunde Null may struggle trying to connect since they’re too idiosyncratic. A desire for careless phrasing and political incorrectness doesn’t mesh well.

Despite their enigmatic ways of communicating, British Sea Power were certain about how they wanted to further their melodic ambitions. A synth-driven track like Mongk II assaults with tasteful sonic textures, ready to take the dive with its pulverizing beat. Later, the dreamy wobble on Luna regroups their poise until letting it all out with the commanding two-minute rush that is Thin Black Sail. Cleaning out the Rooms is the combination of both, taking the Joshua Tree approach of gently gliding across a haze of lovely strings and subtle distortion.  Valhalla Dancehall proves how they’re hardly one-dimensional flukes, always ready to curve expectations with a robust assortment of ideas. 

If one group is ready to step into the realms of superstardom, it’s hard to think of a more deserving bunch than British Sea Power. The Brighton foursome may have abandoned a signature punk sound to pursue a grander stance, but their benevolence remains unchanged. Sure, there’s no doubt that Valhalla Dancehall is a monumental mess of unfocused talent. And their brainy songwriting approach may scare away those who simply want some careless amusement. Nevertheless, they’re always willing to invest on either side of the coin, driven to earn their place inside the majestic hall.