The Decline of British Sea Power, the 2003 debut from British
Sea Power, is such an assured, mysterious, and flat out brilliant record that their follow-up, Open Season, was destined for disappointment. The first album's beguiling mix of moods and tones is not the most immediate of masterpieces, but almost every one of its thirteen (or eleven, on the UK copy) songs has a combination of grandeur and ferocity, refreshingly sharp lyrics and a genuine, justified, sense of great ambition. It's a tremendous album, the best released in this decade.
Open Season is more modest, and less eager to announce its own brilliance (literally: just look at the two covers). There are a lot of softer songs here that don't snarl like "Carrion" or "Remember Me," let
alone "Apologies to Insect Life." "Oh Larsen B," the best song on the second album, would fit right with "Fear of Drowning" in its controlled insensity, building for five minutes the tension the first album sustained throughout. "How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?" blends a jaunty tune with some ferocious guitars and defiant lyrics to match the invention of some of the first album's best moments, while the sweeping closer "True Adventures" recalls the contours of "Lately," the first album's similar epic. And despite one of BSP's least inspired lyrics, "Like A Honeycomb" struts along towards a terrific climax.
Those four songs are some of Open Season's brightest spots, especially for a fan of the debut like myself, but the most interesting feature of the album are the songs where BSP appropriate more traditional song structures for their obscure ends. "It Ended On An Oily Stage," the superbly titled first single, combines wonderful breathy vocals and a fairly traditional pop-rock tune to make something quite inspired. "Victorian Ice" has the catchiest melody of their career, and sounds, frighteningly for this band, cheerful. "Totally wicked and equally ace," indeed. Best of all is "Please Stand Up," destined to find its way to some inattentive classic
rock station, a song so joyous it breathes life into a tired, worn-out brand of trite rock songs. Like the line on "Blackout" about the Casio electric piano, these songs are a bit smirky and ironic, but also entirely serious, and totally effective.
As for the rest of the album? I neglected to mention "To Get To Sleep," which fits somewhere between those first two categories, without fully distinguishing itself like the others. There's not much to say about the others really: sadly, about a quarter of the album is innocuous, timid, and slow, fading into the background between the highlights. It's a measure of this band's excellence that good, plain songs damage their reputation, as they have so many astonishing tracks, but that's the way it is. Because the album never really builds momentum as a whole, it fails to reach the
heights of their debut.
Still, BSP are a fantastic band, and Open Season has a number of
tracks better than most others will ever records. You should go and buy
this record, but make sure you get the first album first.