Our world is raised up and grounded by the sediment of history, of myriad moments, small and large, in which opposing forces have clashed and left shattered fragments, not the least of which are the bodies of human beings, in the deadzone between competing ideologies. Art awkwardly straddles this crust. Harold Macmillan’s most famous comment, when asked what was most likely to blow a government off course ("Events, dear boy. Events."), captures some of the inevitability of conflict and the dysfunction of societies. These days, because of the heightened communication landscape we inhabit, we can barely move for events. To be glib, how artists approach and respond to these events varies enormously.

Public Service Broadcasting must be fans of those BBC4 documentaries that turn up on midweek evenings when there’s very little else to show; black and white stock footage of British Leyland factories churning out second-rate motors that they proudly trumpet as "putting the Great back in Great Britain." Off camera meanwhile, the remaining colonies are hastily being handed back to the locals, the pound plummets, and the increasing irrelevance of the country drips like a running sore into the splintering national consciousness of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

A concept album about the end of mining in South Wales has the potential, then, to end up somewhere between two poles; either a) a touristy jaunt through the valleys picturing saintly miners and their long suffering but resolute wives and families, while, in the background, the Emperor in Whitehall sends in the storm troopers, or b) a bilious, fiercely socialist screech cloaked in misery, violence and entropy. What we actually get is a curiously disjointed affair with a few obvious reference points (a bookend of miners chirping like nightingales, an Orgreave-inspired bit of turgid angst-rock) and some less predictable fare.

The centrepiece, in my mind, is the near five-minute long 'People Will Always Need Coal'. Public Service Broadcasting's access to the BFI's archive enables them to draw out numerous hubristic statements of the sustenance that coal would continue to provide to the fathers, sons and grandsons of generations of Brits. The musical accompaniment is a cosy, rambling instrumental that foregrounds the clipped tones of public information films and tries, politely, not to get too much in the way. That’s a curious decision for an album dealing with conflict, and a built-in upshot of including large chunks of untreated archive footage to tell, not show – the reverse of the old cinematic adage.

There is a great ambiguity to placing this track before 'Progress' - since what the mining unions and the communities they represented most definitely did not believe in was what we would today label 'progressive' ideology. The communities of the late 70s were little changed in many respects from those of the 19th century. If progress wasn’t quite the enemy, it was certainly an unwelcome visitor. ‘Progress’ at least doesn’t nail its colour to any particular political mast – a theme throughout the album. It’s refreshing to hear an artist trying to service the middle ground of the argument, although there is, predictably, zero commentary from the establishment side of the debate.

'All Out' represents the final, furious stab of resentment during the 1984-85 miners' strike. It's a dispute that continues to divide communities, and the samples wisely focus on broad issues such as the generational, creeping distrust of the police rather than getting into specifics of the massive variation in observance across the different regions or the government’s long-gestating tactics. Unfortunately it also sounds a bit like Audioslave.

There are softer moments. 'They Gave Me a Lamp' illustrates the stronger role women gained in communities as pressure began to tell on their family budgets and on the mental health of laid-off patriarchs. The backing track isn't the strongest on the record, recalling Apple's stock iMovie music, but the samples are fairly heartrending. 'You + Me' is a dual language ballad, not expressly political but suggestive of the relationships that would sustain communities through the worst days, weeks and months, as money stopped coming in and people began to starve. It works better than much of the rest of the record despite the melodrama.

Public Service Broadcasting have tried to do something important with Every Valley. It's not a straightforward matter to weave history into music, trying to make specific reference to the reality of the very local effects of economic hardship and the changing face of communities. Reactions to the album vary between the vitriolic and hugely enthusiastic, neither of which is earned. The album neither distorts history nor succeeds on a purely emotional level.

There is a responsibility on artists who want to translate history into art, in the same way as there is for historians taking bare facts and data and setting it into a context that carries not only ideology but emotional truth. Public Service Broadcasting's intentions are to be praised, even if the result is weak and unfocused. If the SDP leadership had formed a band, it would sound like this.