The first time I listened to the new album by Norwegian Sondre Lerche, I was unimpressed. I thought it was a cheesy, overdone pop record. I was reminded of so much of the bubble gum crap that Scandinavia has become infamous for producing. It was a disappointment. It really was. For some reason, though, I persisted. There were hooks on the album that kept me coming back. I'd think, "You know, I don't really think I like this album, but it's weird, I want to listen to it again." The first time you put this album on, it latches onto you. Songs get stuck in your head and rear their ugly heads when you least expect it. Next thing you know, you're singing along. It's infuriating.
This is a talent, though, and after giving it many more chances, I've concluded that Lerche's second album is actually good. It's pop music. Pure freaking pop music. I am not a huge fan of most pop music, but some of it is so intrinsically good that you can't help but get into it. It's amazing that he is in his early 20s because he has a grasp of melody well beyond his years. It's not easy to take music that is simple like this and dress it up enough to make it interesting, but Lerche does.
On tracks like "It's Over" and "Maybe You're Gone," the drama of his life slowly unfolds. "It's Over" is based around his voice and simple piano chords. It's been done, right? But Lerche's lyrics are top notch and his voice is like a lullaby. It draws you in and wins you over. To increase the drama, violins and horns are added to give it an almost soap opera feel as he sings, "We know the stars go out one night." Orchestrations flow in and out of the background like extras in a '40s love story. There are many film-like qualities on this record. "Maybe You're Gone" plays out like a person writing a Dear John letter to their now distant lover. "I may turn around / to see if you're still there / but as for now it's just not safe," he sings as "What if?" scenarios creep up in his head. Additional instrumentation from horns and harmoniums accent his voice and electric guitar. There's remorse here, but not enough to change his mind.
But Lerche is at his best when he's sticking to upbeat, pop songs. "Track You Down" was the first track to weasel its way into my memory. I was lying in bed one night and just started humming it after only hearing it twice. That's how catchy it is. It sounds like it was recorded in the '70s, and it wouldn't have been out of place on the "Boogie Nights" soundtrack or on a Nick Drake album. Which brings up one of the most audible influences on this album. Drake had a whimsical nature to him, and Lerche has it too. When I listen to Nick Drake, I feel like I'm floating around in the clouds. It's like I'm supposed to space out. I get that same feeling from "Two Way Monologue."
The title track is the best. There's a lot of energy on this song, albeit in subdued form, and when the distorted electric guitar drops in on the chorus, the song explodes. Baritone saxophones and synthesizers layer the song even more as Lerche weaves his way through a maze of wonderful lyrics. The arrangements are complex and rich in texture and tone. Never has he sounded like he's having so much fun as he does here. I would love to hear this song performed live; I imagine this scraggly Norwegian hopping around onstage like he's got an alien inside of him that he must get out. This song is the best, though, because it takes an unexpected turn in the outro. It slows down and lets the listener take a breath. Acoustic guitar and piano lull the track into near sleep state before exploding again into the chorus. The song is full of a thousand hooks, and once you really get into it, you can't help but love it. It's these moments that made me realize Lerche isn't some mediocre hack riding a huge wave of hype. He's extremely talented.
"Two Way Monologue" trumps everything else he's put out. This is an album that artists hope to make after an already long career. It's an album that someone makes when he?s in his mid-to-late 30s, has a wife and kid, and has an epiphany one day that inspires him. It's unfathomable to me that someone younger than me wrote this, and for that I tip my hat. From the Sgt. Pepper-ish "Days That Are Over" to the Beach Boys-drenched "Wet Ground," Lerche has created a wonderful pop record. This is someone that's truly wise beyond his years. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)