Last updated: 05/23/2012 12:00:00 PM
One of the hallmarks of a great band is the consumate ease with which that group constantly strive to adapt, to evolve, to innovate; thereby ensuring that they never repeat themselves or do something tepid or commonplace.
After the inordinate success of their debut album, the electronic shot in the arm that was Melody A.M., Royksopp could have easily rested on their laurels, be content to shine their halos and just knocked out Melody A.M. part deux.
Why just look at the riches that unfolded in the wake of that album's release in October 2001: 1,000,000 copies sold worldwide, 500,000 of them in the UK alone; tours with Basement Jaxx and Moby, not to mention headline tours of their own, culminating in two ecstatic nights at London's Somerset House and an appearance at Glastonbury; a Brit nomination for Best International Group; an MTV Europe Award for Best Video and remixes for A-list artists as disparate as The Streets, Coldplay and Felix Da Housecat.
Thankfully, Torbjörn Brundtland and Svein Berge belong in the aforementioned group of venerated artists. That's why The Understanding, the duo's supposed 'difficult second album' lest we forget, is so special. Once more defying easy categorisation - it lurches from delicate widescreen cinerama to haunting house by way of boisterous electro bug outs - it is resolutely different to their first opus, but reassuringly the same in excellence. The same then, but even better.
And whereas their curiosity on Melody A.M. took them from the producer's studio to the live arena, here their undeniable wanderlust has seen them assume the mantle of 21st Century electronic singer-songwriters.
'We needed to do something different,' explains Svein. 'Something that was new to us, hence the lyrical approach.'
'We had to change our hairstyles though, we had to have bigger hair,' says Torbjørn, thus confirming in one instant that their surreal humour remains intact. 'At one point we even had proper beards, some of it still remains.' Adds Svein. 'You see, it's part of the process you go through: the longer the hair and the beard, the more beaujolais you drink. It's stage three of the seven stages of songwriting.'
Stage seven, the attainment of songwriting enlightenment, is still unclear should you ask. But no matter, emboldened by their forays into playing live - 'You can pop 'On The Road' on your CV,' Svein helpfully states. 'It's an icebreaker, it shows you've got life experience,' - the confidence that they achieved 'On The Road!' meant that the only pressure they felt going into the studio to record The Understanding was that which was applied by the studio building's odd job man. Eh?
'He was always trying to find repair work,' Torbjörn says. 'He would tell us that the bass drum was broken so we couldn't use it. He was the only one adding pressure. Seriously, who was supposed to add the pressure? The record buying public? I don't think so. The critics? We're not afraid of them. Our mindset, even on Melody A.M., has always been to do our own thing.'
It's an ethos that's served them well. First track, Triumphant, serves notice of their 'own thing': a highly charged, Eno-esque, piece of emotional ambience it sets the scene for the multi-textual layers that follow. Lead single Only This Moment, featuring new vocalist Kate Havnevik, is joyous robotic soul soaked in a sunshine irridesence, while the stretched grooves of 49 Percent betray a Prince-like fascination with Paisley Park psychedelic electro.
Sombre Detune shows a darker side while Follow My Ruin is electronic body music gone pop, which by rights should sound dreadful. It doesn't. It's sublime. What Else Is There, fronted by Karin Dreijer from The Knife, evokes an eerie Kate Bush meets Bjõrk coupling and Alpha Male is this album's riposte to Royksopp's Night Out, a gradual epic sweep redolent of John Carpenter giving way to a high octane rush.
The shimmering narcolepsy of Dead To The World and Tristesse Globalle rounds affairs off beautifully, but with a title as playful as The Understanding, what does it all mean? For their part, Torbjørn and Svein aren't saying. Not for the time being anyway.
'Yes there is meaning,' Svein says. 'But we believe there's room for your own interpretation. Listen to the album and see if you can come up with your own.'
Torbjørn: 'It's like a classical painting like the Mona Lisa. When you tell people what they should look for, they only look at that thing.' A cop out? Not a bit. Anyway, they plan to let everyone know the real meaning of the album at a symposium a few months down the line. 'We'll hold the conference in Asia,' Torbjørn proffers.
So, having side-stepped the thorny issue of making Melody A.M. II - The Understanding is generated in a rawer, more direct way they suggest - which album do the pair prefer?
'That would be like comparing my children,' Torbjørn retorts. 'Not that I have any.'
Svein takes the analogy one step further. Towards the gutter. 'It's like trying to compare two testicles. One is not better than the other. Both are vital to the Royksopp anatomy.'
Royksopp: The Understanding. It's good to have them back. Different, but the same. The same, but better. Onwards and upwards...