LABEL: TEST CARD RECORDINGS / PIAS
ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: Deeper than a bus tour ride around the city of lights.
Public Service Broadcasting are a band with an uncanny knack for giving the public what they want while making music you didn’t know you needed. The group, headed by J. Willgoose Esq, have built a career out of making historical concept albums. Although their new release, Bright Magic, is a very personal response to Willgoose’s time spent living in and researching Berlin, culminating with recording at the seminal Hansa studio, it is also a musical open-topped bus tour around the city.
As tourists grasping our travel guides, it’s hard not to be swept away by the sights and sounds. Kind of like if you saw London for the first time, you would want red buses and bearskin hats, so with Bright Magic you want the greatest hits. Are there vocoders? Yes, and they sound great. Are there machines and railways? All in working order. Is Bowie in the mix? Ja Dankeschön. When the motorik beats fire up on the Marlene Dietrich based ‘Blue Heaven’ does the roof lift? Of course it does, it’s the most euphoric moment in the Public Service Broadcasting catalogue since ‘Go!’
This is the starting point for the album. In some ways, even those of us who have never actually set foot there, like all great cities Berlin exists as an imaginary construct onto which we project our aspirations and comprehend the wider world. Of course, Public Service Broadcasting take us further than the bus tour. The band have done their research and lived into the city too. There are references to expressionist films, and an exploration of the tension between the swamp that was before the city and the vision of Berlin as a city of light. There is also more space, more showing and less telling, created by a greater commitment to instrumental work than on previous albums. Bright Magic is a light filled record, enamoured with rising swells and lifting chords.
In its synthesised symphonic, romantic, tweed-clad way, Bright Magic gently brings a challenge to a British audience with its insistence on Berlin as a place of colour, a city of light. The album continues the conversation about Brexit continued by previous album Every Valley. Whereas their last album searched for hope and continued dignity in a story of British industrial decline, Bright Magic leads the collective imagination beyond the shallow puddle stereotypes that still hold sway over our understanding of German life. It tells of a city aware of its heritage, good and evil, but still a human project, pulsing forward with every heartbeat. Public Service Broadcasting are the equal and opposite reaction to the ghost of Jim Bowen, still haunting the nation on Challenge TV stuck in a catchphrase loop saying ‘look at what you could have won’.
Public Service Broadcasting live up to their name on this album. Bright Magic is a public service, pointing the way towards hope and light. They remind us to look at what we could have won.