Royksopp – The Understanding

Royksopp - The UnderstandingRoyksopp’s debut album, the mesmerizing Melody A.M., made enough waves to get attention outside of dance music circles, and in the weeks leading up to the release of The Understanding, I found myself wondering if the Norwegian duo’s first outing might not be as much a curse as a blessing – raising expectations too high for the follow-up. The good news is, The Understanding isn’t Melody A.M. Part 2, nor is it even trying to be. It takes off in a whole different direction – probably the smartest thing Royksopp could so.

Where Melody A.M. was an interesting experiment in achieving a kind of timelessness by mixing modern electronic dance music with influences such as 50s torch songs and Bacharach ballads, The Understanding fast-forwards a bit. The chief influence here is clearly 80s new wave, with a dash of 70s funk thrown into the mix. If anything, the test run for The Understanding was the unabashedly new wave-esque radio edit of Melody A.M.’s single “Remind Me”. Royksopp unapologetically paints the new album in similar shades of bright, day-glo Euro-synth sound. Anyone who spent some quality time with the radio anytime from 1979 to 1984 will probably experience a strange sense of familiarity here, despite never having heard these songs before.

Another unusual phenomenon on The Understanding: more of this album’s songs have vocals, and while there’s a retinue of talented guest vocalists on hand for some songs, many of them are sung by the two band members themselves, and sung well; the group’s own vocals are a low-key near-whisper that fits the retro sound of some of the tunes. It serves especially well on “Someone Like You”, “Only This Moment” and “Beautiful Day Without You”, among others, though for those who splurged on the two-disc limited edition, Go Away gives you a chance to hear the band’s own vocals on a more forceful level. I have nothing against the guest artists on The Understanding, but I daresay Royksopp could’ve been completely self-contained on this album and everything would’ve been fine. And if you don’t care to hear anyone’s vocals, fear not, for there are plenty of instrumental tracks as well, though I have to say, there’s nothing to compare to Epie or “Royksopp’s Night Out” here. Somehow, The Understanding‘s instrumentals just didn’t hit me on the same level as Melody A.M.‘s – it’s not that they aren’t good, rating: 4 out of 4but they just haven’t stuck in my head the way the first album’s instrumentals did.

Overall, it’s a nice sophomore effort which may confound a few fan expectations from the first album, but the diversity and adaptability that Royksopp shows off here is part of the duo’s charm. Now I wonder what they’ll do next.

Order this CD

  1. Triumphant (4:20)
  2. Only This Moment (3:55)
  3. 49 Percent (5:11)
  4. Sombre Detune (4:52)
  5. Follow My Ruin (3:51)
  6. Beautiful Day Without You (5:29)
  7. What Else Is There? (5:17)
  8. Circuit Breaker (5:24)
  9. Alpha Male (8:11)
  10. Someone Like Me (5:23)
  11. Dead To The World (5:20)
  12. Tristesse Globale (1:24)

Bonus disc:

  1. Go Away (3:53)
  2. Clean Sweep (5:17)
  3. Boys (4:46)
  4. Head (5:04)
  5. Looser Now (6:04)

Released by: Wall Of Sound
Release date: 2005
Disc one total running time: 58:43
Disc two total running time: 25:05