British Sea Power don't do small or subtle. They make statement indie, macroscopic music which aims for the stars. It's hardly surprising that the band have played gigs inside the Arctic circle and on top of The Great Wall Of China; for the majority of their career, they seem to have been striving to create songs perfectly suited to just such an occasion, songs which capture man's astonishment and wonder when faced with the beauty of the Arctic or The Great Wall's monumental scale. They haven't always succeeded, because their ambition often outstrips their ability to write memorable songs, but they can't be faulted for trying.
Valhalla Dancehall doesn't break any new ground for the group. Their claim that it sounds like 'a mixture of Serge Gainsbourg and Ralf and Florian era Kraftwerk with a sprinkle of Stock, Aitken and Waterman' is presumably tongue-in-cheek, because the album sounds nothing like any of those figures. It sounds like British Sea Power. Long-standing fans will enjoys its self-consciously epic, slow-building tracks, its swelling guitars, lovelorn vocals and literate lyrics; most of the songs collected here wouldn't sound out of place on the second half of their debut album, The Decline Of British Sea Power. One track, the entertaining 'Thin Black Sail', nods to the relatively frantic and spiky first half of that record, a move which should please those wishing the band would write more songs along the lines of the Pixies-influenced 'Apologies To Insect Life'. The rest of the album, however, is consistently and determinedly capital-E Epic and capital-I Important.
It's perhaps unsurprising that the album's opening song, 'Who's In Control', makes a grab for the territory of another self-consciously Important band, their current tour mates the Manic Street Preachers, by bolting a topical political lyric onto unsubtle stadium-indie riffing. The anti-cuts lyrics are a little awkward ('sometimes I wish that protesting was sexy on a Saturday night'), but they pull off the look competently enough, and the song has enough about it to become a favourite of newly politicised students. After that, it's back to normal service lyrically, with romanticised tales of 'beautifully wounded' girls and watching 'the nebulae explode'.
The album lacks a stand-out track. There's nothing here on a par with 'Carrion' or 'No Lucifer'. It also sags a little in the middle: its central third is big on bluster and bilious guitars, but relatively light on memorable melodies or choruses. That aside it's a solid record, and anyone who's enthused by the idea of a group matching Hope Of The States-ish post-indie with the grand emotional statements made by the likes of U2 and REM will find something to enjoy.