Happy Up Here
The Girl and the Robot
This Must Be It
Miss It So Much
You Don't Have a Clue
True to Life
It's What I Want
Skilled, but somewhat calculated
Röyksopp know how to tweak buttons, but fail to roll out the mind-blowers.
Röyksopp shot to fame with their debut Melody A.M. in 2001. Singles Poor Leno and Eple had immediate international appeal, confirmed by a live performance at the 2002 MTV Europe Music Awards.
While Melody A.M. was a well worked-through and fresh electronic breath at the time of release, Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge followed up with The Understanding in 2005 – a harder, less consistent album, but still with the big hits that audiences had come to expect. Only This Moment, 49 Percent and What Else Is There? ensured that the duo remained in the electronic elite. So what next?
Happy Up Here is the first single off Junior. It's a likable feel-good track in major, and one that people will undoubtedly put on their playlists as they celebrate warmer weather and their first pints of lager in the sun. It's catchy, and so it should be as it's following a recipe that's been tried and tested. The whimsical synth melody is a nifty Parliament sample, but hovering over the electronic scenery it sounds suspiciously like a variation of Eple. In other words, a calculated single choice.
And calculation seems to be a mantra on Junior. Some of Röyksopp's most successful tracks over the years have been collaborations with vocalists. Erlend Øye (Kings of Convenience, The Whitest Boy Alive) lent his luscious vocals to Poor Leno, and Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife, Fever Ray), made people dance in all corners with her quirky presence on What Else Is There?. On Junior the duo seems set to repeat the success formula by eating greedily off Scandinavia's smorgasbord of songstresses.
Vision One, a bossa tune based around a bass line shamelessly lifted from Stevie Wonder's Too High, sees the boys welcome back the ethereally-voiced Anneli Drecker, a familiar and flattering feature on all Röyksopp's studio releases. Lykke Li graces Miss It So Much, a sweet composition in style with the Swedish hotshot's soft vocal chords. Li's fellow countrywoman Robyn features on The Girl and the Robot, an up-tempo affair with euro dance elements and a whiff of radio hit to it. And last, but not least, Dreijer Andersson is back, lending her voice to This Must Be It and Tricky Tricky. The idiosyncrasy of Dreijer Andersson's vocals complements Röyksopp's compositions, and although the abovementioned tracks aren't close to stealing the crown from What Else Is There?, they're both hard and minimalist pieces with bundles of attitude.
However, one can't fail to notice that these women are individually working on material more interesting than what they've been given on Junior. In-fashion vocalists might have occupied a big space on Röyksopp's success-album ideas map, but Brundtland and Berge fail to match the innovation and charm that these ladies bring to their own music.
As all their releases are testaments of, Röyksopp know how to create dreamy soundscapes. Hard or soft or a mix of the two, they somehow manage to make sonic versions of blue glaciers and icy waters covered in fog. But having had Junior on heavy rotation for a week, one can't help but wish that they would've been more ballsy, introduced a few more new elements, wretched their souls for richer creative juices to sprinkle over the music-making process. The presence of strings, for example, lifts otherwise mundane compositions such as You Don't Have A Clue and Silver Cruiser dramatically. Röyksopp Forever starts off beautifully with a delicate string arrangement, and partly manages to satisfy a craving for something different. But the excitement vanishes one minute into the track when a dated 90s chill-out beat kicks in.
Brundtland and Berge are skilled to their toes. They know what sounds good and how to put the goods together, and as such they can never really fail. Neither is Junior a bad album, it just sounds a bit distanced and calculated, build around a shrewd idea of what will work rather than being truly heartfelt. It will keep clubbers clubbing and bring hits to the airwaves. It's just a bit unconvincing.