Calling it “the turn of the century” makes it sound a very, very long time ago. But why not? Let’s take a trip back to the turn of the century and look at Röyksopp‘s Melody AM. It was the album which put Norway on the musical map for the first time since A-ha, and reintroduced us to the idea that those Scandinavian types were all a little bit crazy, and also extraordinarily good at making music.
Melody AM was initially unleashed late in 2001, but it wasn’t until nearly a year later that it finally became the word-of-mouth success it deserved to be. Well, not solely word-of-mouth – So Easy was the music from “the advert with the baby”, Eple was “that weird bleepy one”, and Remind Me was all over the radio.
So it was that I came across the album. People had been telling me how great it was for a long time, but it was Remind Me that spurred me into buying it. And of course, it turned out to be excellent. Melody AM opens with So Easy, with its curious dub-based samples. I believe it was also their first single two or three years earlier, and there is a certain naïve simplicity to it – the whole song is built around relatively few samples. But despite its repetitiveness, it makes for a rather beautiful track.
So Easy mixes, via an extremely odd telephone call, into Eple. On reflection I find it hard to explain why I like this track so much. It’s repetitive, simple, and actually not especially interesting. But it’s also extremely catchy, and somehow totally brilliant, which soon starts to become a bit of a theme for this album.
The third track is the first of the traditional “songs”, Sparks, featuring a beautifully Nordic vocal from Anneli Drecker. This was also the final single from the album, an odd choice in many ways, and it wasn’t particularly improved by the remix from Roni Size either. On the album, though, it fits perfectly, and is an exceptionally gentle trippy little number.
Röyksopp (which incidentally, in its original Norwegian form “røyksopp” rather charmingly means “puffball”, as in the mushroom) were, at the stage of Melody AM, clearly in an early stage of their career, trying to find what their sound might be. The sound that they found is extremely evocative, with elements of the French music explosion of a few years earlier, but echoing with all the stereotypical Nordic charms of pine trees and fjords (I should probably make it clear at this stage that I’ve never been to Norway – sorry if that wasn’t obvious!)
My favourite track on the album is the single Poor Leno, featuring the brilliant Erlend Øye on vocals. Whilst not the huge hit it deserved to be, it’s an excellent song, which unusually for me is only made all the stronger by its beautiful video, featuring a “leno”, trapped behind bars in its zoo and dreaming of the northern pine forests where it used to roam.
The second half begins with the wailing, somehow angst-ridden beauty of A Higher Place, before picking up the pace in a still-remarkably-laid-back way with b-side Röyksopp’s Night Out.
Next up is Remind Me, another track with lyrics and vocals by Erlend Øye, and very much in his particular vein of oddly evocative songs. I think I can say with some confidence that it’s not as good as the single version, with its almost anthemic raw analogue power, but it’s still a wonderful track which is impossible to dislike. It just feels a little lacking once you’ve heard the other version, and I wish they had found a way to squeeze that onto the album, even if it had been ratcheted onto the end.
Another beautifully atmospheric instrumental follows, in the form of She’s So, and leads us into the final track, the bizarrely named 40 Years Back \ Come. There are a number of recurring motifs throughout the album, such as the echoes of Eple in A Higher Place, and the final track is no exception, starting as it does with more hints of Poor Leno. This lasts a couple of minutes, before switching to the excellent, almost backwards-sounding half of the track, which gently falls apart and closes the album with flanges and other effects.
Melody AM is very easy on the ears, but there’s plenty to challenge you if you listen hard enough. And it comes highly recommended.
If you don’t have this album already, I really don’t know why you’re reading this. Go and buy it.