With the promise of commercial space flight and talks of humanity trying to colonise Mars, it seems with some prescience that Public Service Broadcasting have done a concept album concentrating on the human endeavour to reach the stars.
The album begins with the titular track sampling JFK’s historic moon speech, itself a call back to the band’s previous track Everest, as it has the same spirit of exploration and JFK references George Mallory’s words “Why do I want to climb it? Because it is there.” The soaring chorus of the choir in the background lends the speech an almost evangelical tone, linking the idea that the race for space is akin to establishing communication with God and establishing JFK as some kind of technological prophet for a new age.
Gagarin is a disco tinged track laden with funk about the first human cosmonaut launched into space, about how he symbolised the sum total of human endeavour and became a hero of the world and not just Soviet Russia. You can feel the sheer optimism and unifying spirit of the time when the radio announcer on the sample says “Every one of us was with Yuri Gagarin as he orbited the Earth 190 miles above us.”
If The Race for Space and Gagarin are about the bright new hope of space exploration, then Fire in the Cockpit illustrates with grieving violins and the sample of a news report the risk and tragedy of when space exploration goes badly wrong, recalling the tragedy of the air cabin fire in the Apollo 1 mission that claimed the lives of three astronauts due to a lethal design flaw in the vehicle.
In choosing to make a concept album, Public Service Broadcasting has made every song feel unified and made it feel like a more compelling narrative, although I personally feel that in doing so they have lost something in the variety of samples they use in comparison to their debut album Inform, Educate, Entertain. However, I have no hesitation in recommending The Race for Space, as it is still some of the most ambitious and experimental work being performed with sampling since The Avalanches.
P.S: If you’re in Liverpool remember that on 20th March there will be a solar eclipse visible between the hours of 8.26am-10.41 am, so don’t miss this most spectacular and rare event. Just don’t forget to use your eclipse glasses.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.