In their thoughtful deconstruction of the very notion of “a band”, Public Service Broadcasting are an intriguing proposition. A three piece who go by pseudonyms (including the splendid “Wrigglesworth”), they play instrumental music and use snippets of old archival footage and—you guessed it—public service broadcasting to speak for them, creating a fascinating dichotomy between personal anonymity and the bold, cut-glass enunciations of the newsreaders and commentators who represent them, often collaged into a deeply political narrative.
This is especially true of “Every Valley”, the band’s third proper album, and effectively a concept record about the decline of the Welsh coal mining industry. Recorded in a hall formerly used by a workers’ institute in the defunct mining town of Ebbw Vale, the album feels steamed in smog and grime, particularly on atmospheric tracks like “All Out” and the ominous “The Pit”. Nonetheless, “Every Valley” is permeated with a deep sense of melancholy and loss, notably in the title track’s misty evocations of “the weekday pubs and Sunday chapels” that are now lost to time. On “Progress”, one of the album’s highlights, the gorgeous, wistful middle-eight is punctuated by the stony declaration that “These men look the same as they have always looked. They talk the same as they have always talked. But before your eyes, they are changing”.
Indeed, political themes and the spectre of Thatcher float a millimetre beneath the surface of “Every Valley”. The brassy “They Gave Me A Lamp” obliquely comments on the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike through the prism of a single female miner: “I’ve been in front, I have never given in… I’ll be proud to look back on it”. “All Out” simmers with resentment and betrayal in its assertion that “I thought they’d respect us… I don’t respect them now”. The remarks from the band’s primary songwriter J Willgoose, Esq. that the album serves as a microcosm for “abandoned and neglected communities across the western world” and the “malignant, cynical and calculating brand of politics” their decline has birthed will guarantee “Every Valley” divisiveness, but it can be nevertheless be appreciated as a vivid and heady time capsule, albeit one with a clear agenda of persuasion.
Moreover, it is easy to enjoy the album simply on a musical level. The jittery “People Will Always Need Coal” is warmed by a swooning string section and James Dean Bradfield roars furiously through “Turn No More”, his fame as a member of a left-leaning Welsh band in the Manic Street Preachers unlikely to be coincidental. However, a sense of powerlessness and futility pervades the album, crystallised in the massed choral voices of closing track “Take Me Home”. The choir provides a final note of noble, if doomed, solidarity but it is impossible to escape the truth that, for these men, the home they sing of no longer exists. CO
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1ZbdGBAqZQ