Rotten in the State of Norway
During Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992, the idea of “staying on message” spread like wildfire: Talk about one thing, and people hear one thing. Try to cover more than one topic at a time, and you effectively say nothing. It’s not quite the politics of dancing, but that little civics lesson could have benefited Royksopp’s sophomore effort The Understanding.
Royksopp were never the most original electronic act under the sun — they could have been Air without the 1970s fetish, or a not-so-eerie version of Boards of Canada. What resonated about their 2001 debut Melody A.M. was its cohesiveness, a straight shot of end-of-the-set house and downtempo as crisp as Scandinavian vodka. Much of The Understanding instead sounds like B-sides from, or remixes of, other artists ranging from Jem (the instrumental “Triumphant”) and Craig David (“49 Percent”) to Pink Floyd and the Crystal Method (both seem to inspire the wannabe epic “Alpha Male”).
Royksopp haven’t made techno so much as a record company’s poor excuse for a movie soundtrack: 12 songs thrown at listeners with the hope that something sticks. The Understanding finds Royksopp failing to stay on message, tossing aside vision — even a derivative one — in favor of being all things to all people. The results will ultimately please very few.