Nowhere on Valhalla Dancehall is there music that sounds like a mythical Scandinavian dance party. It’s none of those words at all. In fact, there is little here that indicates any change in British Sea Power’s usual formula. This comes as a surprise after 2009’s Man of Aran OST and 2010’s Zeus EP, both showcasing alternate sides to the band and promising a more experimental and fully-fleshed full-length.
The album opens with a poppy number about the cut protests in the UK, which wouldn’t be too bad of a song if the lead riff had an actual melody and the chorus wasn’t absolutely awful. Complete with chanting behind vocalist Yan singing “over here, over there, over here, every-fucking-where,” it’s unfortunately in this way that “Who’s in Control” makes itself the most immediately memorable track on the whole album. Luckily, “We Are Sound” immediately turns things around, starting a string of solid tracks representing the various facets of the group’s style. “Georgie Ray” is a slow-burning ballad and “Stunde Node” is a short post-punk powerhouse leading into highpoint “Mongk II,” a buzzing remake of “Mongk” off the Zeus EP.
British Sea Power so obviously aims to be epic that they often forget what it means to write a good song.
These guys want to sound huge. They want to write a powerful melodic rock song like U2’s “Beautiful Day.” The problem is they try too hard. This is why British Sea Power will likely never stand among contemporary greats such as Arcade Fire and Radiohead. Those bands are huge, but their material sounds so natural. Every song starts with a great tune and they build from there. Valhalla Dancehall often sounds like the band started with their effects pedals on and they just went into it hoping that the song would follow. British Sea Power so obviously aims to be epic that they often forget what it means to just write a good song.
This has never been so apparent as in the back end of the album. The sprawling eleven minutes of “Once More Now,” whose title is more a cue for the band than what the listener will say when it’s done, is a decent track stretched out in order to create something grand (it isn’t). This is made worse with the inclusion of “Cleaning out the Rooms,” again from Zeus, which does exactly what the band aims to do here but in four fewer minutes. Preceding it is the short, raucous punch of “Thin Black Sail.” This song sounds terribly out of place, thrown in there for the sake of diversity and forcing the sense of urgency they had on their debut to make up for the languid tracks surrounding it. The album does however end on what may be the best track: “Heavy Water.” Though clearly another nod to U2, its steady beat, guitar swells and passionately crooned vocals actually outdo anything Bono & Co. have recorded in the past decade. It’s quite moving.
At 14 tracks and 60 minutes long, they could stand to trim some of the fat. Removing some of the unnecessary later tracks and meandering a bit less elsewhere would render a pretty good album. The tones are well thought out and though there is nary a standout hook or riff to be found amidst the billowy reverb, the lyrics and performances usually do enough to sustain interest.
British Sea Power was poised to be a unique force when they released The Decline of British Sea Power. 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music earned them a Mercury Prize nomination, but still suggested there was more in them. Maybe there really wasn’t. So the question is do you like Do You Like Rock Music? If so, you’ll probably like Valhalla Dancehall.
Valhalla Dancehall Tracklisting
- Who’s In Control
- We Are Sound
- Georgie Ray
- Stunde Null
- Mongk II
- Life Is So Easy
- Observe the Skies
- Cleaning Out the Rooms
- Thin Black Sail
- Once More Now
- Heavy Water