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"Zeus EP"

British Sea Power – Zeus EP
05 October 2010, 14:00 Written by Alex Wisgard

British Sea Power’s guide to dealing with success:

Just had your biggest hit single to date? Follow it up with a limited 10″ rerecorded version of your best track that entirely omits its gargantuan hook! Got your fans waiting in anticipation for your follow-up to your Mercury-nominated breakthrough album? Release a new soundtrack to a silent film! Just announced that your new album is ready for public consumption? Release an album of outtakes from that album instead!

Whatever works, right?

Still, BSP are also not a band to do things by halves, and the notion of a collection of songs that were deemed “not right” for the band’s fourth album proper (out early 2011) is hardly going to be marred by lack of effort; Zeus is certainly no different in that respect, and its meatier tracks are well worth getting stuck into. The opening title track, a recent live favourite, is a multi-part monster – a mix of ‘Lust for Life’ drums, T. Rex guitars and . Its lyrics, meanwhile, are classic BSP, taking the imaginary dinner party game to new levels of freaky, with invitees including Rick Stein, Nikita Kreuschev and Worzel Gummidge. Still, it all seems a bit too much to handle, even after repeated listens, with nothing quite working together in the way it should do; when Yan enquires ‘Does this sound weird?’ during the second verse, you can’t help but agree. Far more agreeable is ‘Bear’, one of the best ballads the band have yet written; lush to the point of saturation, with buried brass and a celestial synth coda, it’s almost novel in itself to hear Yan singing this openly about…well, anything, let alone relationships. That said, his reasons for leaving his lady seem to revolve around her populist taste in culture; on paper, a lyric like “I saw you reading the Daily Star, saw you watching the X Factor, and I was wondering how could you fall so far?” may look crass, and from any other singer, it would sound that way too, but Yan manages to wring just the right amount of emotion from the words, making for the band’s most immediately loveable moment for a while.

A couple of tracks here are almost too sketchy for their own good, and are the points at which the EP runs closest to sounding like a collection of context-free songs the band simply wanted to release; yet, the two biggest departures – shoved at the tail-end of the record – are wonderful. The Can-channeling ‘Mongk’ is absolutely spot on; sure, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine where it would fit in on one of the band’s albums, but within Zeus‘s dusty closet, its propulsive rhythm and freaky vocals (“sacrifice your eyes to blind mice” may just be one of their most disturbing lines) work like a charm. Likewise, while the notion of British Sea Power experimenting with Glitter Band drums and Yan’s vocals slathered in autotune would strike terror into purists, ‘kW-h’ is a romp and a half, mapping the kind of freaky territory that Super Furry Animals started to chart on their last album. Like much of the EP, it’s inessential at worst, but never anything less than damn good fun.

Only one of the tracks from Zeus is due to resurface on the band’s as-yet-untitled new album; ‘Cleaning Out the Rooms’ was written and sung by bassist Hamilton, responsible for every single highlight from their last album, and carries on the trend he started on that record for penning dreamily epic ballads. It’s a heartmelting slow-burner, riding on a wave of tom-toms which never quite breaks, but is almost more satisfying for its National-like ability to carry all that tension without any form of release. Still, after the balls-to-the-wall assault of Do You Like Rock Music?, it hardly seems suggestive of what direction the band will be taking on the new LP. Sounds confounding? They probably call it business as usual.

Welcome back, British Sea Power. Never change.

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