'The Understanding' is the sequel we all hoped for.
Adam Smith 2002-11-20
Having beautifully contrasted frost bitten beauty with weightless, sparkling grooves on their debut Melody AM, Royksopp return with The Understanding, a next-level follow up that doesn't sound like Royksopp at all.
There are tell-tale connections between the two records: the film music influences, electronic blippery, soft-porn vocals, 70s analogue warmth and solid beat programming. But the "hip hop meets happiness" schtick that made "Eple" and other Melody AM cuts such a joy have seemingly been replaced with less frivolous, more 'mature' material.
A large reason for this is the duo's decision to delve simultaneously into the worlds of electronic music and song writing. Tricky territory at the best of times, though Royksopp tackle the challenge with aplomb.
Opener "Triumphant" reminds of their prowess in the realm of pretty, beat-driven, instrumental cinematics, but their new approach transpires when the tune's relentless build veers toward the epic.
The song-based vibe of the album then begins in earnest with lead single "Only This Moment", a track whose signature synth glissandos and celestial vocals of Kate Havnevik create a very Air-esque ambience.
It's an ambitious track, but successful in that it makes sense of the duo's decision to follow up their breezy debut with something a little less superficial.
From there, the album unfolds in confident and enigmatic combinations; "49 Percent" sees Prince meet MJ Cole for a cup of two-step tea while a heartbeat later the shadowy electro of "Sombre Deluxe" is punctuated with rhythmic breaths.
"What Else Is There" (featuring Karin Dreijer from The Knife) and "Alpha Male" provide extra edge and contrast to the large doses of ethereal pop found on tracks like "Follow My Ruin" and "Beautiful Day Without You", the latter of which unfortunately disappears into a void of vapid mawkishness.
By the time we reach the truncated ambient finale "Tristesse Globalle" it's reasonably apparent that, occasional over-egging aside, The Understanding is a well-conceived and deftly-executed step out of the huge shadow cast by their ultra-bright debut.