British Sea Power get trumpets out for Sea of Brass

British Sea Power - Sea of BrassWhere next for our intrepid heroes? We return, of course, to the adventures of British Sea Power, a band for whom no amount of critical adulation in the broadsheets will ever translate to a decent festival billing. You sense there was a point around 2005, probably when "Please Stand Up" was released as a single, that they could have gone stellar; could perhaps have been an Arcade Fire, or at least The National. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. (Bittersweet, not least because Win Butler famously followed the English band around on tour, pre-Funeral.) Regardless, it was probably our gain.

In fact, it's the permanent outsider status that made them so loveable for a generation of fans looking to fill the Smiths, Pulp, and/or Manics-shaped holes in their lives. British Sea Power arrived at the turn of the century as an intellectual, literate young band, who forged a romantic aesthetic built around nature and history. The concept of the brass band, a black-and-white memory of both military and small-town English community past, could hardly be more on brand. And so we arrive at Sea of Brass: the thinking man's trumpet. (Cheers.)

Unsurprisingly, it's the more epic, orchestral numbers in their oeuvre that get the big band treatment here, with mixed results. "Once More Now", the outstanding track from 2011's Valhalla Dancehall, becomes a towering, shimmering behemoth, a clarion call to strength in the face of adversity. Nothing comes close to matching it, though several of the new interpretations offer interesting angles: the intro to classic pro-immigration single "Waving Flags", for example, ends up sounding like the climactic scene to an episode of Thunderbirds, opening the bonus disc in brilliantly camp fashion.

As with any additional instrumentation to a live set-up, the brass section feels complementary on some tracks, but unnecessary on others. The emotional force of early classic "Lately" rests on its quiet-loud dynamics; a shame, then, that the brooding guitar lines of the intro are needlessly compromised by additional parping. But the real successes come on those tracks that could perhaps have benefited from the upgrade first time around, such as "Machineries of Joy" and "When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass". I must confess, I hadn't given the uneven Machineries of Joy much thought since its 2013 release, but the album's bookends are a revelation on this outing, the brass providing a hearty steam-engine whistle to bolster the chugging originals.

Fans of the band will find a great deal to pore through here, particularly on the 4-disc boxset release. For those who are less familiar with the band, it also serves as an unusual 'best of' compilation - though the recent reissue of their superlative debut, not represented in great depth here, would perhaps make a better introduction. In any case, it's another fascinating chapter in the career of one of the country's finest bands, and a most welcome racket in our auditoriums and living rooms.


One Response to “British Sea Power get trumpets out for Sea of Brass”


    1. British Sea Power – Sea of Brass | Loud and Bright - 25/02/2016

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