‘The Race for Space’ is a craker of a concept album, taking the listener through eighteen years in the history of human space exploration from the first beeps of Sputnik to the last Apollo (17) Moon landing.
Kicking off with President Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard” (here backed by a heavenly chorus), through to a British announcer explaining, somewhat reluctantly, “We have added a new word to our vocabulary – Sputnik”, the Public Service Broadcasting boys have unearthed a treasure trove a space archive material to mix with their uplifting drum and guitar tunes, now with added orchestral accompanient from assorted Smoke Fairies.
Most dramatic of all, however, is the sixty seconds of near silence on ‘The Other Side’, when NASA’s mission control “stand by” as Apollo 8 orbits the dark side of the Moon for the first time. I must have listened to it ten times this week alone and I still get tense every time. “We’re looking at engine pressure and it looks good. Tank pressures looks good”, the synths and drums build up and then a slightly nervous, “Apollo 8. Apollo 8. This is mission control Houston. Houston. Over.”
Almost as satisfying as dramatic soundscape is the fact that PSB have rewarded vinyl buyers not only with voluminous and absorbing sleeve-notes, but two (yes, two) of the most beautfil album covers I have seen. On one side there is the Eagle moon lander and a single, tiny, astronaut next to an American flag, alone on a vast Moon-scape, its white/grey surface contrasting with the blue green disc of Home off in the distance. On the other, Sputnik majestically obrbits the Earth, triumphantly illuminated by the Sun, over-flying a sprawling red landmass emblazoned “CCCP”.
‘The Race for Space’ is a winner from start to finish and I can’t wait for the live shows.