Crams more creativity into a dozen cuts than most bands exhibit over entire careers.
Mike Diver 2012-02-13
The Finnish ensemble Pepe Deluxé, ostensibly fronted by James Spectrum and Paul Malmström, are the kind of collective that piles its plates high come a turn at the buffet table. For these characters, spread across an album sold on its packaging as “an esoteric pop opera in three parts”, there is no fear in the coronation chicken spilling into the prawn cocktail: the more flavours, and the more mixed they become, the better. It’s a commendable approach, one borne by creative freedom and a refreshing ignorance of boundaries. But the results of such creative concocting can go down awkwardly – while it’s certain this album will win countless admirers, how many will still be playing Queen of the Wave in a few months is questionable.
The cornucopia of compositional characteristics on display is blinding – and Queen of the Wave isn’t backwards in delivering its message of everything-goes within its first moments. Opener Queenswave – an introduction to the revivalist sci-fi tale that unfolds across these three chapters, in turn spread over 12 tracks – begins by skirting technicolour-gone-sepia psychedelica, cleverly avoiding turning into a Kula Shaker mush of meaninglessness. It’s followed by A Night and a Day, which could pass for Sharon Jones collaborating with Super Furry Animals (a bloomin’ great idea) as heard through the earholes of big-in-the-late-90s indie-dance-crossover sorts Lionrock. Go Supersonic is bubblegum at its core but flexes some bulging rock’n’R’n’B muscles – it’s The Pipettes dragged through a hedge by Rocket from the Crypt while a wicked harpsichord dances atop the orchestrated chaos. And that’s the first three songs – what follows is just as hyperactive of behaviour, and never stalls short of providing compelling entertainment.
The problem with Queen of the Wave is also its USP: it’s simply so haphazard of design, however deliberately so, to stick in the head and the heart in the manner of truly great albums. Spectrum and Malmstöm conduct a merry cast that crams more creativity into these dozen cuts than most bands exhibit over the course of entire careers; but not once is the listener struck by magic manifesting a lasting impression. Several listens in and it’s a beautiful interlude, In the Cave, that’s the highlight, purely due to its elegant simplicity. The cacophony silenced, here is a chance for reflection; and, on it, there’s just too much noise here, and not enough cohesion, for a singular identity to sing clearly.