Socialist Worker

The race for space: Optimistic songs that say it’s worth aiming high

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2444

Dancers in the video for single Gagarin

Dancers in the video for single Gagarin

A concept album with no major label backing and only vintage spoken word clips for vocals doesn’t exactly sound like a hit. 

Yet indie band Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space shows it can be done.

Each song portrays a major step forward, or backward, in space exploration. It goes from the Soviet Union launching the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, to US astronauts landing on the moon.

The music—both electronic and instrumental—lives up to the story behind the samples.

Cheery brass and guitars swagger with glee as Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to leave the earth. Humming and radio static on Fire in the Cockpit creates an effective sense of dread as the crew of Apollo One perish on the launch pad.

The album’s sense of wonder belies the military competition that drove early space flight. In some ways, the real race was for nuclear weapons that could still wipe us out.

US president John F Kennedy’s stirring words of peace and exploration open the album. Yet this is the man who started the Vietnam War.

The album may seem like it fits neatly into the already tiresome fashion for post war nostalgia. But it is the polar opposite of dreary austerity chic, which seems to limit the scope of the possible one glib poster at a time.

It’s also far from militaristic, ending with the starry-eyed and open-ended coda to Tomorrow.

There are currently more probes from more nations exploring space than ever before. 

And clearly there’s an audience for imagining that, for all the horrors of modern capitalism, a bright future is still possible.

The Race for Space
Public Service Broadcasting
Test Card Recordings and Believe Recordings
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Article information

Tue 10 Mar 2015, 16:47 GMT
Issue No. 2444
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