As with its predecessors’ focus on the space race and the British coal industry, there’s a strong thematic concept to Public Service Broadcasting’s Bright Magic. This time it’s a selective history of Berlin, split into three distinct movements: the city’s rise, a celebration of Weimar-era hedonism and a more abstract three-track requiem. Every Valley, released in 2017, felt like a transitional record: the artfully chosen speech samples that had so defined their first two albums were complemented then by a handful of guest singers.
Bright Magic feels like a logical next step, with fewer samples, and the likes of Blixa Bargeld, Nina Hoss and Eera much more foregrounded. The downside is that, for all the invention on display here, J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth have lost some of their USP with this shift in focus.
The Low-era Bowie-inspired The Visitor and Hoss’s reading of a Kurt Tucholsky poem atop an ambient background (Ich und die Stadt) are powerfully melancholic. An impassioned Bargeld is a good match for the industrial throbbing of the Metropolis-referencing Der Rhythmus der Maschinen. But the Weimar-influenced songs are largely unremarkable, and you find yourself yearning for the earlier euphoria of Go! or Spitfire.