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Röyksopp

The Understanding

On Röyksopp's disappointing follow-up to Melody A.M. , a selection of ear-friendly, soulless dance pop shows little of the band's former promise and spark. One wonders whether a few more years between albums would have been in order.

The album's opening Beethoven riff leads into a slow, mechanically driving build in "Triumphant," only to be abruptly interrupted by obvious single "Only This Moment," which seems out of place in the track order as it is on the current techno scene. The tune is worth a mini-diatribe. Its factory-built techno sound -- DDR-ready, post-house, post-Pet Shop, pre-jungle -- is insulting, given Röyksopp's demonstrated capabilities. It's a slab of nondescript and serviceable dance music, perfect for the 11 p.m. club crowd that's too drunk to pay attention, and unfortunately, it sets the tone for what's to come on this album.

"49 Percent," with its strained narrative and weak vocals, apes Underworld unsuccessfully, and like "Beautiful Day Without You," it's a bloated and overproduced track that contains a few neat ideas and hooks that the band should follow up with later. Sadly, here they are buried under that old, lazy house cliché: uninteresting songs for people on drugs.

Here's our understanding of this CD: NOW! That's 
What I Call Mainstream '90s Techno.
Here's our understanding of this CD: NOW! That's What I Call Mainstream '90s Techno.

The driving instrumental "Boys" is one of the better songs on the album, perfect for remixing or a high-octane mash-up, but the best is "What Else Is There?" The latter is a swirling, intriguing, effective, emotional mess, all New Wave vocals -- think 'Til Tuesday, Berlin or even really old Cyndi Lauper -- scratched out over a layered mix of harsh and smooth. A few minor beat adjustments could make it a viable mainstream single.

It's a rare highlight on The Understanding, which in the end is little more than a happy hunting ground for comps, or mixing filler -- very NOW! That's What I Call Mainstream '90s Techno. But what's difficult to figure out is the intended audience. This isn't techno for techno fans, as it is lightweight and relatively unintelligent. And it's not for DJs, as it's played out to the extreme.

So who's it for? Europeans alone?

 
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