With a title like that, you’d be convinced that British Sea Power’s ultimate goal for the 4th album was to make some kind of Caribbean-slash-Nordic party record. In truth it’s nothing of the sort. The party is there of course, and the after-party, naturally, is at Valhalla Dancehall. Recorded in Sussex and Isle Of Skye, Valhalla Dancehall is the follow-up to their breathtaking soundtrack to black and white silent film Man Of Aran in 2009. In press leading up to the album the band have called it their ‘most ambitious record yet’, a claim that would fallen easily on the windswept shoulders of Man Of Aran. The ambition in Valhalla Dancehall is simply to ring in a new Britpop. Actually, that’s pretty ambitious.
You could stand Valhalla Dancehall next to some of the defining English releases of the late 90’s — Blur’s 13, Manic Street Preachers’ Everything Must Go, Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and draw a direct link to the music British Sea Power are making now. With feet firmly placed in the past and present, they come out guns blazing/placards waving with “Who’s In Control?” and “We Are Sound”, both tracks laden with Manics guitar riffs and ooze stadium cool. If Pulp were to ever announce their recorded return, you would expect it to sound something like “Georgie Ray”, where Jarvis Cocker’s piano and vocal style looms large but doesn’t hide its perfect poise.
What to make of “Mongk II”‘s “You’re an animal, you’re a homorapien/There it is but you don’t know where it is/Elevated primatemaia” is up for debate and vote for bands not to include lyrics with the albums when they decide to speak their own language. From an outsider’s point of you, you could easily be mistaken into believing British Sea Power were the British Arcade Fire, albeit with the pop eccentricities of XTC flowing through their veins. The exuberance, the pacing, the confidence, the effortless ability to unveil one perfectly crafted song after another (the triad of “Luna”, “Baby” and “Living Is So Easy” being especially divine). Even its flawed moments here feel intentional.
The pinnacle of Valhalla Dancehall is its penultimate track, the sobering 11 minute epic “Once More Now”. A bleak post-party comedown it complements what has felt like a journey in song, almost a concept album in structure, from the rising up of “Who’s In Control?” and the falling down of “Once More Now” and the contemplative finale “Heavy Water”. In the band’s summation for Valhalla Dancehall, you could easily swap “ambitious” for “exceptional”. There are few bands today that threaten the firmament of English music like British Sea Power and come armed with an album like this. “Are you ready for Valhalla?/Are you ready for the Dancehall?”. Well, are you?