This is one mighty fine and classy debut album.
It’s hard to believe that ‘Understanding Electricity,’ is the first album released by Official Secrets Act, such is the ‘grandiose’ presentation. It’s a BIG album in every sense, with such variation in content and sound. They have put together some real classics and integrated a few ballad types into an album that is unashamedly ‘pop’ in its whole.
The album opens with what I would say is the best of the eleven tracks: ‘Mainstream,’ is an absolute floor-filler with fizzy, zippy synths flying in all directions and big anthemic “woah, woah” backing cries. The interplay between the vocals and the synth remind me of early Sparks. This is most definitely one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.
‘So Tomorrow’ maintains the tempo and the party mood with the vocals more along the lines of The Killers, I think. Older track, and earlier single release, ‘The Girl From The BBC’ is one of the band’s most well known songs. It pares back on the pace and relies on a more repetitive vocal delivery combining with a persistent and insistent bass line, while a mid-song guitar break is strong and yet subtle in that it lies alongside and not over the bass. Again, the “doo doo doo doo” backing provides a hook for listeners to grab onto.
‘Little Birds’ starts slowly like a schmaltzy, jazz-styled ballad, but soon bursts open with a bass-line like that from The Blues Brothers (‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’) and the song develops into a rather full on pop party dance track.
‘Hold The Line’ retains the mood before ‘A Head For Herod’ slows things down again. This is the longest of the eleven tracks at almost six and a half minutes and really takes the listener to another place altogether. It has a beautiful, almost religious, cleansing feel to it – but it is certainly so different and classy.
‘Momentary Sanctuary’ returns the out and out ‘pop’ sensibility. This time, the track is very dramatic and seems to morph from the form of Muse at the outset, to that of early James towards the conclusion.
‘Bloodsport’ is a slower, electro-based ballad type, akin to a Pet Shop Boys or Tears For Fears type of sound from the late 80s. ‘Victoria,’ is another established Official Secrets Act favourite that raises the tempo again and features a chorus that sounds like a modern day equivalent of a mid-Seventies ‘chart-topper’ / holiday hit.
‘December’ has elements and traces of The Byrds in a melodic, mid-tempo song with instant ‘hum-along-ability.’ ‘Under The Flightpath’ closes the album. It is generally a slower track again, and although it is one of those songs that require to be properly listened to for full appreciation, it is perhaps a little too similar in style to that of ‘A Head For Herod’ to make quite such an impact.
All in all, there is no denying that this is an album of majestic proportions, and should propel Official Secrets Act from the world of artrock to the mainstream.