Norway - Full Moon 189 - 02/07/12
En sang for åtte kroner... & Blått
Plastic Strip Press
A reissue of both The Beste's albums from the distant 1980s. Not too early, never too late...
I have fond memories of this band and especially the first album. It was a wet Friday afternoon in the autumn of '85. A fanzine friend and I had interviewed a foreign underground celebrity (Blaine Reininger of Tuxedomoon fame, I think) and had some hours to kill before the gig with the same celebrity should start at the legendary (well, for some of us it is) Renegat rock club in Oslo. We went to Café Vera next door and someone told us that a new band with members from the legendary (most certainly!) The Aller Værste (The Very
Worst) and Wannskrækk were launching their debut LP a couple of floors above. We went upstairs, the event was really over, but Sverre Knudsen (bass, vocals) and Lasse Myrvold (guitars, keyboards, vocals, RIP!) were very kind, handed out LPs and posters (most of the flowers were gone) and took time to sit down for a quick interview. I saw the band several times live in the following months. They behaved like the antithesis of the successful and pastel coloured mid 1980s.
Here were no synthesizers or make-up. The guys seemed relaxed, used a lot of time between the songs to strum instruments or find out what instrument to play on the next one. They included double bass, acoustic piano and xylophone in addition to drums and electric guitars.
And, of course, the songs were great, more mature and reflective than The Aller Værste's; some of the guys had started family life with kids and all (check the cover photo of this reissue), while others were more of the restless kind, trying to get over relationships that have come to a dead end. And as always they were worried about the state of the planet. The music seemed more inspired by Tom Waits than British punk and beyond. Rain Dogs by Waits was released around the same time and sounded like the American cousin of The Beste's En Sang For Åtte Kroner... (A Song That Costs Eight Kroner - Norwegian kroner that is, which is about the same as one Euro or about the price of downloading one song these days).
One and a half years later, in the summer of 1987, I was involved in a small festival in the town where I grew up. By then The Beste was reduced to a quartet. Kjartan Kristiansen (guitar, vocals) was gone to concentrate on the up-and-coming and soon-to-be very successful DumDum Boys. The band surprised with more stable instrumentation, no keyboards, xylophone or upright bass around, new songs and two Bob Dylan covers (one of them was a cover of Hendrix' version of "All Along The Watchtower"). In the autumn they were back with the second LP Blått (Blue). By then Hammond organ veteran Geir Wentzel had joined the gang.
The debut album was recorded and mixed in only four days and produced by the band members. The second was more of a hi-tech affair, recorded and mixed in five, and produced by another veteran Nils Bjarne Kvam (producer of Junipher Greene's legendary double album, the first of its kind in Norway, Friendship onwards to this very day).
Both albums were recorded with old-fashioned tube equipment which might explain the original (organic...) sound, especially of the first album.
On Blått, Sverre seems to be more in charge. He is the main lyricist and front vocalist throughout. This means a more cohesive album and less variation.
I was a bit disappointed at first when I bought the LP. It's a long time since last I played it. Listening to the relaunched version now, it sounds splendid. The band steals from the entire rock history and easily gets away with it. And some of the best songs that I thought belonged on En Sang For Åtte Kroner... in fact come from Blått. Though I miss the voices and lyrics of Harald Øhrn (bass, keyboards, vocals) and Lasse. What really makes The Beste different in the Norwegian band flora is the importance of the lyrics. Sverre's are inspired by surrealism and Dadaism (well, not as much as on his two previous band projects).
'The little growl-growl-growl, Meets little croak-croak-croak, And since they are rats, They can swim in the sewer, Oh life, life, life, Life is a party!' Harald's are more down to earth.
Still they have more meanings and need more time to digest than your average pop or rock song. He was appointed Norway's greatest lyricist by some serious young men around 1986. 'There's a rumour going through town, Someone has disappeared, but no one is reported missing.' Lasse's are somewhere in between. He was a master to twist and chew the Norwegian language without losing the meaning of the song; on the contrary, he made the meaning more precise and ambiguous at the same time this way. Which make them impossible to translate to any other language without losing a lot. 'Dead life without you, I get angry with everyday matters, All I see are shades, Between grey and orange, A cross between nothing.' There are two by Kjartan here as well, but his songs were to improve in the following years. Pity then, that the lyrics sheets of the two original LPs have not been included in the booklet of the reissue.
But you can at least find Sverre's at his home pages.
The guitars also need special mentioning. We're dealing with two of the greatest six string handlers of the nation in the 1980s here, Kjartan and Lasse. The most delightful moment is two very different sounding playful guitars meeting in "Folk Behandler Folk" (People Treats People) after a creaking double bass into. And the start of "Hundedagene" (The Hound Days..?), etc. etc. The Tom Waits' guitar inspiration is obvious in "Ut I Lyset" (Out In The Light).
This is Plastic Strip's second reissue of albums involving ex-The Aller Værste members.
(The first being a great version
with several live bonus tracks of Grr by Løver & Tigre a couple of years ago with Sverre, Chris Erichsen and the Django Reinhardt jazz combo Hot Club de Norvège.) The remastring of the albums sounds great. The booklet includes the original essay by author Ola Bauer (RIP!) from the En Sang For Åtte Kroner... LP back cover, a new one from Audun Vinger and some nice domestic photos of band members by Sverre. Of course it would've been nice with some bonus material. There was a song from the first line-up only released on a compilation cassette for a good cause. And the band got a grant to shoot a video and ended with low budget videos for four or five songs from the first album. But of course, the most important issue is that this great and almost forgotten treasures are made available again after twentysomething years. After all it includes some of the best songs from some of Norway's most central songsmiths of the 1980s, and of all times if you ask me.
And: 'Remember that the heart is a muscle more vulnerable than any other!'
Copyright © 2012 JP