Soundlab | 6 July 2017


D R Pautsch

Rating: 9
Release Date: 2017-07-07
Label: Play It Again Sam

When Public Service Broadcasting released their first album Inform-Educate-Entertain in 2013 it left many questions, despite its obvious brilliance.  Primarily it was difficult to see how this approach of instrumentals spiced with PSB dialogue would not grow very old very quickly.  On their first effort the approach was varied and covered such subjects as the SpitfireNight Mail and Everest.  However that question was largely answered with their excellent, rousing and more focused Race for Space follow up that came two years later.  This approach was to focus on a single subject and it told the story of the race for space from both US and USSR angles, being poignant, moving and at times as sparse as its subject matter.  It also showed that when marrying a piece of original music to an old John F Kennedy speech it could turn into almost propaganda.  There was also a move towards having original vocals with Smoke Faeries guesting on one track.  Their third album sees them further explore this approach on what at first might seem like a smaller scale but actually may have hidden depths and meanings and might just be one of the most timely albums released this year.  PSB have decamped to Wales and in particular Ebbw Vale to tell the story of the Welsh mining towns.  Hiring some Celtic vocals, including James Dean of the Manic Street Preachers they follow the rise, fall and aftermath of Welsh coal.

Of course it is nigh on impossible to remove any politics from this subject matter as it is so deeply entrenched in the whole fall of the Welsh mines.  And on first listen it would appear that this is a tale of Welsh mines alone.  However, the arc could depict Detroit with its demise of the motor industry or any other abandoned industrial powerhouse where progress has apparently left the workforce long behind, bereft of jobs, hope and a future.  In particular on this effort, the counterpoint of the elocutionary perfect delivery of Public Service Broadcasts telling the listener that there will always be a need for Welsh coal, as it does on People Will Always Need Coal, sounds both condescending and like the very kind of propaganda we are hearing on a daily basis from our current ruling classes.  The whole album has a very definite arc from the promise of jobs for centuries to the ruination of an entire industry and the broken promises and lives.  The centre of this is the attacking guitars and Welsh voiceovers of All Out.  This is an almost metallic riff that gives way to allow the workers to tell their story before the assault continues anew. It’s a snarling beast of a number which accurately depicts the confrontation and feelings at the time and perhaps ever since.

The guest vocals are interspersed between the instrumental numbers.  The most headline grabbing will be James Dean Bradfield’s turn on Turn No More which concerns the end of a pit and the final turn of the pit wheel.  Its ringing guitar almost sounds like MSP at times but with an undertone of foreboding that can only belong on an album such as this. That is until the denouement where the pride begins to return and with it the true grit and defiance that has been there since.  Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell gives a lighter to touch to the adrenaline filled Progress which is both welcome and needed.  You Me also sees PSB break from their rules where their leader J Willgoose Esq provides the English counterpoint to Jen Brown’s welsh vocals.  This is a light number full of strings and could be one of the most beautiful moments PSB have produced thus far.

Of the instrumental numbers They Gave Me A Lamp stands out alongside All Out as one of the most moving moments.  This tells the story of the women in the mines and how they stood shoulder to shoulder with the men. 

Of course there are still the odd nagging doubts about PSB.  Is the underlying music different enough each time?  Sometimes you almost feel it isn’t but this is often transcended by the subject matter and honestly how many bands plough the same furrow on each album anyway?  The inclusion of a voiceover by Richard Burton, telling of the pride of Welsh miners on the opening title track is a reminder of the lyrical honey that voice once lent to War of The Worlds and perhaps it’s too close for comfort.

This is an album which provides far more poignancy with its subject matter and approach than would on the face of it be expected.  That it is not laid on with a trowel is to be commended and actually makes it far more effective.  Of course the tail end of the album can only be a more mournful affair than the false promises contained at the start.  And inevitably this album ends the only way it can, with a Welsh voice choir.  The unique approach of PSB might have found a ream seam here and perhaps one that reflects as much on our past as our present and sadly our potential future.