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coverpic flag Norway - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 12 - 10/16/97

Velvet Belly

Velvet Belly are one girl and four boys from the southern region of Norway. The boys take care of most of the instruments (drums, bass, guitar and keyboards) and the girl - surprise, surprise - handles the vocals. They are not particularly inspired by Velvet Underground. I believe they have taken their name from a song by This Mortal Coil, the British 4AD collective with members from groups such as Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. Velvet Belly's first couple of albums sounded embarrassingly like a low budget version of Cocteau Twins. Lucia is the band's fifth album and the third to be released by a multinational company. The company tried to launch Velvet Belly abroad with last year's The Landing. It didn't make any great impact it seems, though they had a successful gig at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in summer 1996, by far the biggest and most prestigious rock festival in Scandinavia.

I guess Lucia will have a better chance to succeed abroad. The melodies are better, there are some strong pop-tunes in between, and less strictly mood music. Though the moods are still there. The Cocteau Twins inspiration is not obvious any more. In my opinion they sound closer to Bel Canto - Norway's prime pop-pride if we ever had one (not counting a-ha). There are lots of keyboads on Lucia, and probably quite a lot of treated guitars and effects that sound like keyboards, too, combined with Indian sounding percussion (tablas) now and again which is the trademark of B.C. And singer Anne Marie Almedal's voice is not that far away from Anneli Drecker's of Bel Canto. But some of the best songs on Lucia are more straight pop-oriented, mostly calm songs. I am particularly fond of the ballads Standstill and Unreal where they are helped out by a string quartet. Very melancholic and longing stuff! The strings are a clever move, they are present on several tracks to great effect. The opening track Trick is also a goodie with lots of contrasts between calm verses and haunting and powerful wordless choruses. The only real downer of the album is the dull and monotonous Oyster Catcher. Well, the closing song Our Happiness might have been improved with a stronger melody, too.

Lucia is a great soundtrack for cold and dark winter mornings when you want to shut away the world and stay in bed all day, or when your loved one is gone far away or gone forever. It's even suitable for painting. I tried it out myself in white; don't paint it black. Though Velvet Belly ought to have chosen a more suitable cover photo than an ugly doll in almost black and white. The photo may seem trendy today, but in 10-15 years' time it will probably look very 90s and very outdated.

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