Norway - Full Moon 231 - 07/02/15
Orkaner og fuglesang
I remember once as a young man when I practised the noble art of rock-journalism, I went to a small gathering held by the rock magazine I was writing for. Norwegian The Last James and a Scottish pop band that I don't remember the name of was on the bill. The Last James (they had cunningly "loaned" their name from the by now newly deceased German orchestra leader James Last...) was fronted by Lars Pedersen, well-known as a member of the avant-exploring new wave band Holy Toy and his solo alter-ego project When that he has kept going to this very day. The band had just released their second album so this must have been round 1993. By that time Last James had been augmented by very well-known Norwegian pop-poet Lars Lillo Stenberg of deLillos fame and the lesser known Haakon Ellingsen. The latter seemed young and unexperienced at the time, at least compared to the other two, but he had written five of the most excellent songs of the somewhat uneven album. The two other more profiled band members only four each. Haakon was also a vital part in the making of Last James' third, even more playful and best album Kindergarten. Since then Haakon has pursued a solo career and Orkaner Og Fuglesang is his fifth solo album. We missed out on his second album (more like a band constellation of his) at the Luna Towers, but the other three received closer scrutinizing here in 2001, 2005 and 2008.
The great difference compared to earlier albums is the lyrics. He has been faithful to the original pop language, i.e. English, until now, but Orkaner Og Fuglesang (Hurricanes And Birds' Song) is filled with songs in his mother tongue, Norwegian. At first I didn't approve on the change. For a Norwegian it is obviously easier to spot the clichés in Norwegian than in any other language. And the opening song "Herr Sol" (Mister Sun) included some of them ('Mister Sun, come in... No more rain and snow...'). The fourth song "Mandolin" fared even worse, 'I bought an old mandolin, ... it is so fine'. Well, it rhymes better in Norwegian, but anyhow... And the string arrangement of "Herr Sol" also seemed a bit calculated, aimed at adult oriented morning radio. Finally, those two songs included a steel guitar, quite discreet, but anyhow... I can very seldom approve on that in a pop connection, and not here either.
However. Listening closer to the album, the above seem to sum up all my objections. The album includes 11 songs and even the chorus of "Herr Sol" with vocal phaser effect made me nod approvingly. And by the irresistible 1960s flavoured guitar two-chord constellation at the start of track three "Alltid Rett" (Always Right) I was convinced. The rest of the song with power rhythm guitar and swirling keyboards made me think of one of my favourite songs by Julian Cope from the 1980s when he tried to be a psychedelic flavoured pop star and hadn't succumbed to eccentricities yet. And that can never be bad. After listening more extensively to the album, "Alltid Rett" is a firm favourite, the closest we get to rock here, though power-pop with mediocre power and sad reflective lyrics might be closer to the truth. The remaining tracks are closer to singer-songwriter stuff, with Haakon's trademarks which means delightful, inventive and sometimes funny and quirky arrangements. And he utilises instruments not that frequently used in the world of pop and rock like ukulele, flute, classical strings and Mellotron. The baroque-pop of "Drømme Om Et Gullslott" (Dream About A Golden Castle), the title track and "Du Sier" (You Say) with string arrangements somewhere between The Left Banke of the 1960s and Electric Light Orchestra of the mid 1970s are exquisite. The former is a re-recording of the favourite "Tonight" from Haakon's previous Plum Album in a more mute arrangement and has a mellow mystic string intro, whereas "Du Sier" stand out augmented with a bit of drama caused by the heavy strings. "Ode Til En Sommerfugl" (Ode To A Butterfly) dominated by acoustic guitar, flute, Mellotron, strings and suitable harmony vocals in the middle interlude is pure summer delight before a warped waltzy fun-fair Mellotron and some undistinguishable singing finishes the song off. "Du Og Nei" (You And No) another seemingly personal song about a relationship that doesn't work anymore, is mainly hushed-down with acoustic guitar. But the melancholia is underlined by a sublime string arrangement and electric guitar coming and going throughout half the song. The funny "Alle Gode Mennesker Er Slektninger I Kveld" (All Good People Are Relatives Tonight) is an introvert gentle party-song, if that's possible, the most hushed-down and acoustic throughout, but with a playful and creaky Mellotron in between.
The gloriously arranged "Katter Uten Hale" (Cats Without Tails) with wind and strings that reverberates "There Is Loving" at the start of Kevin Ayers' classic third album Whatevershebringswesing. I guess it's about the only Norwegian pop song with pretensions in that direction. The 1981 version of the same song that finishes off the album is also worth mentioning. It starts with the disharmonic bells from John Lennon's "Mother" (with some manual speed manipulation involved, I suspect, to make it even more disharmonic) and then - after a click when the cassette recorder is started - a very young Haakon singing accompanied by nice finger-picking acoustic guitar. Charming, to say the least! And the part about hungry homeless cats that tend to throw up when they are fed, certainly is no cliché! This is not the first time he dives into his archive of old home recordings. Let's hope it's not the last.
Orkaner Og Fuglesang was produced and engineered by Lars Fredrik Frøislie (of Wobbler, In Lingua Mortua, White Willow) who also played keyboards and drums. Haakon has also been helped out by Jacob Holm-Lupo (also of White Willow and the Opium Cartel), Einar Baldursson (of Swedish Gösta Berlings Saga), Hanna Furuseth (of Mopti and Cold Mailman), Andreas Vilthagen (of Wobbler and ex-Lukas Kasha) and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (yet another from White Willow and ex-Jaga Jazzist). Ketil has participated on every solo album by Haakon.
There always seem to be a few songs on Haakon's albums I don't approve on whereas the remaining are pure delight. So also with Orkaner Og Fuglesang. In this respect it reminds of Brian Wilson's (one of Haakon's idols, I suspect) first real classic, Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (11 gems out of 13 in all). This is about the second time Haakon has released an album of the Pet Sounds standard. Definitely an album for long and light summer days (and summer nights!!).
Copyright © 2015 JP