Smart Art: Too Heady?
Why do some people loathe pop? It’s simple, really: Why would we want to hear a song that is lyrically mundane? Words that could come from the mind of anyone? We want to be challenged, to have our intellectualism pushed to new limits, to have something familiar presented in a new light. And we want a music that fits hand in glove with the words—a most holy union. We listen to more and more music, seeking this.
Our listen begins. Subtle screeching is quickly replaced by a warm bath of synthy strings. An uplifting beat and some brash chords liven things up. The mood is set. Our host slides in with a soothing rasp to inform us, “We are magnificent machineries of joy,” a three-word phrase billing the title track of British Sea Power’s sixth studio release. Continuing, more electro noise leads to a rock ’n’ roll shout, kicking of cymbals and fuzz. “I think I talk a little too much,” says our host, who has been “sucked into prudish megalomania” in “K-Hole,” which is a bit psychedelic but mostly rock-centric.
We take a breather on “Hail Holy Queen,” with a steady trot and bending strings. The sound is simple and nicely washed in reverb—perfect for a sea song. We hear a storm and drop fast into a rock beat, holding up a sassy delivery of “In for the kill / In for the kill / In for the kill.” Eventually we’ve been pitched up and down and informed, “Loving animals: I want you to know that it’s wrong, man.” Quite so. A flurry of strings, cymbals and hellish, heavenly voices take us away from any semblance of pop.
An acoustic lullaby begins, with the most unlikely of messages: “You were my Pyrex, baby.” Various glass metaphors continue insincerely, and you wonder if you really have understood what this group is trying to say. But then horns sound, and you are rushed on horseback, armed with triumphant guitars. “Monsters of Sunderland” is almost dance-worthy, with a great bass tone and a fitting whimper of a keyboard. Crescendos occur till once again we relax, this time to the pulsing and plucking of “Spring Has Sprung.”
“Radio Goddard” has the brooding, preachy delivery of a warm refrain, and you may still not know what any of it means. But it sounds nice. A distant percussion brings on our next stop. Beautiful high guitar and crisp drumming carry us musically, and that is the highlight. Toms and a rolling acoustic, along with a lulling viola, give us a whiff of the Middle East on “When a Warm Wind Blows.” “It’s always sad at the end of the day,” sings our host on this tense closing track, sounding very soundtrackish, indeed.
Machineries of Joy has plenty of sonic diversity, but its lyrical themes rest comfortably on the opaque side of things. This is not uncommon for one of the more literate groups in British music, who have been “making us think” for over a decade. But at the end of that thinking, do we understand? Or are we standing and scratching our heads as we sway to the beautiful music?