Welcome to my review of ‘The Race for Space’ the latest release from UK band – Public Service Broadcasting. This concept LP explores the history of space exploration with original audio from the archives and original music.
Discovering the Public Broadcasting Service (PSB) was a genuine moment of excitement. As a fan of performed electronic music, I was instantly engaged, even before fully understanding the brilliant concept that underpins the band’s work.
Public Broadcasting Service produce music designed to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’. Telling stories through a mix of vintage public information recordings and emotive original music.
Stating their objectives with their debut album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain,’ the band have since released ‘The Race for Space‘ an album reliving the story of the American and Soviet space race.
Prepare for Launch
The first track on the album features the voice of John F Kennedy in a speech from 1962. Opening with a calming and optimistic choral crescendo, we are given a glimpse into the stratosphere as if the the sun is appearing from behind an eclipse.
As the scene setting introduction ends, we start the dance with the first satellite ‘Sputnik’. The immersive, deep house beats and hypnotic pulse of the Sputnik radio transmission capture a timeless ambience which builds to assert its dominance in the Space Race.
Launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 during the Cold War, Sputnik was the first artificial earth satellite, broadcasting radio pulses as it orbited the globe. Its unexpected success led to the ‘Space Race’ as the United States feared the achievements of the USSR when compared to their space program.
The drum roll leading into to the third track ‘Gagarin’ introduces the USSR as the winners of the next phase of space flight, launching the first human into space just four years later. With a strong riff and James Brown brass, this high energy funk track is enough to lift any mood. When the middle eight arrives, you can feel yourself floating with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
Fire in the Cockpit
We are quickly brought back to reality with ‘Fire in the Cockpit’ an emotive track which reports the cabin fire tragedy that took the lives of three astronauts during a launch rehearsal for Apollo 1.
E.V.A. the fifth track re-enforces the Russian dominance in the space race as it again lifts us into weightlessness before a moment of clarity as man takes his tentative first steps into space.
Alexey Leonov completed the 12-minute spacewalk in March 1965 on a mission plagued with difficulty. Read about it – its fascinating!. The music depicts the story perfectly, with orchestra and band blending beautifully.
The Other Side of the Moon
The staccato synthesiser gives clues to the tensions ahead of the United States seconded manned mission into space as Apollo 8 leaves Earths orbit before visiting the far side of the moon to witness earth rise.
Although shaded by some of the stronger pieces on the album, I still hold my breath as the broadcast awaits a response from the shuttle following its return from ‘The Other Side.’ Listeners are taken on a tense journey and rewarded with spine-tingling euphoria on re-connection with Euston.
‘Valentina’ is named after the first woman in space – Russian Valentina Tereshkova – while I understand the sentiment, it doesn’t seem to offer more than that and feels like a lingering filler.
The penultimate track highlights the credibility of the album by sensibly ignoring what is probably the most played public broadcast of all time “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” but we do explore Apolo 11 with ‘Go’. A speedy exploration of the descent process ahead of landing on the Moon, its driving beat and tight arrangement communicates the focus and determination from all involved.
The end of space exploration?
The final piece of music follows the most recent manned Moon landing in 1972. Covering the final words from the surface ‘Tomorrow’ delivers a sense of resignation as the optimistic choral hope from the opening track are overwhelmed by the death bell signalling the end of the ‘Space Race’.
However, if you wait right until the end… maybe hope isn’t lost?
I can’t wait for Little M or Baby A to say they are doing ‘space’ at school so I can bring out this album and sit them down to tell them the full story of space exploration!
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A musical journey into space
In my opinion, The Race for Space is the most complete and confident album by Public Service Broadcasting. The concept is clever, delivery engaging and most importantly for me, it is thought provoking, inspiring and brilliantly educational.
Not every track is to my taste musically. While each piece communicates a story, the success of this record is as a whole. The sum is definitely greater than its parts.