Röyksopp Junior

[Astralwerks; 2009]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: disco, chill-out, Norway
Others: Air, Erlend Øye, Annie

The jury's been out on Röyksopp ever since the duo released The Understanding in 2005. While some fans were happy to see Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge branch out towards a more mainstream, club-friendly direction similar to their remix work, those who went in expecting Melody A.M. part deux were, excuse the pun, less understanding. Junior is their third official album (not counting the literally-titled live album Röyksopp's Night Out), and the results will likely be more satisfying for those who were willing to follow the group as they evolved rather than those who wanted the group to stick to the formula.

Indeed, Junior has little in common with the low-key chill-out of Melody A.M. The songs here are loud and the hooks obvious. In fact, the album takes its basic template from The Understanding: sharp, bright beats, tight pop structure, and Karin from The Knife. But what distinguishes it from the Norwegian duo's enjoyable (but flawed) second effort isn't a return to formula or an entirely new direction, but simply a stronger sense of revision.

The Understanding, despite its effervescent tone, was curiously slack; Junior is anything but. From the first seconds of "Happy Up Here," it’s obvious that Röyksopp are out to move bodies, not just play synthesized lullabies. Take "Miss It So Much" as an example: the song could easily rely on the endearingly wispy talents of ever-present guest-vocalist Lykke Li, but it instead swells and deflates, achieving a sonic density that runs contrary to any impressions of slightness.

Although the introductory melody of "You Don't Have A Clue" might be reminiscent of Melody A.M.'s "Remind Me," the backing track makes literal the operatic ambitions that are a constant undercurrent on Röyksopp's post-Melody output. Junior is a pure pop album; out, loud, and proud. The best songs on the album, such as closer "It's What I Want," possess a brash, throbbingly queer energy. Even queerer (and better), "The Girl And The Robot" comes across like a remake of Sarah Brightman's camp ’70s classic "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper."

In fact, the weakest moments on Junior occur when Röyksopp split the difference between their first two albums. "True To Life" eventually finds some, but it takes several minutes of low-key meandering before the song's pulse is distinctly felt. Perhaps it isn't that the softer, slower songs are disappointing; you need to come down at some point, if you ever want to get high again.

Regardless of critical consensus, few people — other than over-enthusiastic dance fans — would dare consider Junior a potential classic. In this light, the rise in Melody A.M's reputation has never felt quite accurate; it remains a modest effort that plays to Röyksopp's true strengths. Yet Brundtland and Berge don’t practice Balearic alchemy; they make trade with more dependable currencies, and Junior is about as sturdy as a disco album can be, which is a remarkable achievement itself. One deliberately-paced decade in and Röyksopp are showing no signs of creative fatigue or self-cannibalization. The duo appears to be feeling so positive as to even name one song "Röyksopp Forever." We should be so lucky.

1. Happy Up Here
2. The Girl and the Robot
3. Vision One
4. This Must Be It
5. Röyksopp Forever
6. Miss It So Much
7. Tricky Tricky
8. You Don't Have a Clue
9. Silver Cruiser
10. True to Life
11. It's What I Want

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