By: Dylan Schink
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Released on February 23, 2015 via Test Card Recordings
When I learned Public Service Broadcasting’s new album was titled The Race For Space, I was immediately excited. The space race is a part of history that I’m passionate about, it’s one of the most exciting events in human history, with incredible achievements and tragic losses and a cast of colourful, fascinating characters. J. Willgoose, Esq. (guitar/samples) and Wrigglesworth (drums/piano) have turned this story into nine absolutely incredible, energetic songs, but something, some how, just doesn’t come together as well as it could.
I immediately realised The Race For Space is out of historical order, but I can understand some of the choices. The album opens with John F. Kennedy’s speech challenging the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, which is a great way to set the stage for the album, but most of the decisions about track order confuse me: putting the somber memorial to the Apollo 1 astronauts who died in a fire during training between the funking and frenetic ‘Gagarin’ and banjo-led ‘EVA’ is emotionally jarring for no reason. In reality, the fire happened shortly after the first space walk (‘EVA’) and before the first manned orbit of the moon (‘The Other Side’). ‘The Other Side’ is a triumphant but slower song, and leads out of ‘Fire In The Cockpit’ far better than ‘EVA’ does. Even ignoring the emotional whiplash surrounding ‘Fire In The Cockpit’, the album loses its way slightly in the second half, mostly because of the awkward positioning of ‘Valentina’, which puts itself between the first manned lunar orbit and the moon landing.
The most confusing thing about this is that every single problem with track order is solved by putting them in historical order. You lose Kennedy’s opening in favour of starting off with Sputnik’s launch and Gagarin’s flight, but then you lead out of the speech with the flight of Valentina, which feels out of place in its normal slot on the album. ‘Fire In The Cockpit’ separates the early triumphs of the race from the final push for the moon, which makes more emotional sense. The entire album comes together brilliantly in historical order, and I’m desperately trying to understand why Public Service Broadcasting didn’t realise that.
Put in historical order, the album goes from a lopsided collection of great songs to a cohesive, well paced whole. Fire in the Cockpit now separates the album into a beginning, first launching people into space, and a clear end, landing on the moon. It also separates the album into a Russian and American side, chronically the flights of Sputnik, Gagarin and Valentina as well as the first space walk and America’s response to Russia’s space program. After Fire, which was America’s first major misstep, it moves to America’s successful missions to the moon.
More than being a collection of absolutely superb songs, The Race For Space is a cautionary tale about track order, and while my last couple of paragraphs may seem like a lot of whining and what ifs, I don’t want to suggest for a moment than any component part of the album is less than superb, so here’s what I recommend: Buy the album and arrange the tracks in the following order, true to the incredible history of The Race For Space:
3: The Race for Space
6: Fire In The Cockpit
7: The Other Side