I remember listening to Paul Hardcastle’s “19” when I was not too far off that age and thinking how brilliant an idea it was. I found the use of documentary narration in song to be an effective tool to tell story in music especially when it seemed a lot of music I listened to was lacking in that department. If you had a direction you wanted to go musically, but couldn’t quite find the right vibe lyrically, why not mine actual recorded stories to do the work for you? I realized though there was a reason “19’ doesn’t quite hold up today. The music from the 80’s about a subject matter in the 70’s dates the music, keeping it rooted to just a nostalgic curiosity. Public Service Broadcasting obviously had the same feelings I did, and have created an entire concept that revolves around using samples of old stock footage, documentaries, and educational films. The result is their debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain which is immediately intriguing and will garner the band attention, but just how long though will it be until the album feels dated?
The album starts off with an overture of sorts in the title track “Inform – Educate – Entertain”. It’s a well put together track of beats, big drums, and of course samples. The samples though are all bits from longer tracks that will appear later in the album. “Spitfire” gets the album going with a tale of WWII planes, a track that has a much lighter tone than you’d think, evoking a time when war memories were about celebration. The samples are taken from a documentary about the Spitfire plane, and perhaps a man that’s building the flying machine. The timing and choices of the samples, are really the key to success for PSB. In the beginning of the track we hear a plane whizzing by, then the voice “See how the birds fly better than we do?”. Curiously though, they throw in “Theme From PSB” which repeats a lot of the ideas from the title track, it’s catchy, but seems like overkill.
“Signal 30” is all about driving safety, a more energetic track, reminiscent of the driving safety video in the Simpsons Troy MacClure introduces when Homer is busted for drunk driving. “Night Mail” hits on something interesting with samples of a documentary on the mail system, which of course would have really started to become a big industry in the middle of the century.
It’s a relic of a pre-digital age, and makes the contemplative track work quite well. “Qomolangma” is a music intermission that preludes the best tracks on the album “ROYGBIV”, “Lit Up”, and “Everest”. Reminiscent of educational films watched in school, the accompanying music is simple enough to not overpower the main focus of these tracks which is the source material. The album ends on a more ominous note in “Late Night Final” which brings Simon and Garfunkle’s “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” to mind. It feels like a typical propaganda-scare-tactic piece from the war era that is easy to lampoon now, but doesn’t quite fit with the more upbeat mood felt with the rest of the album.
Inform – Educate – Entertain is a fun record that feels smarter than it probably is. The songs never really make any comment or add anything new to the short snippets from these documentaries. Instead they rely heavily on those samples to make the tracks work. The songs that do work best are the ones with the best source material, but since the album is not chock full of them, I wonder how much life Public Service Broadcasting will have on the air before becoming dated and obsolete, ironically just like its source material.
– Michael Unger