Review Summary: A great exercise in catchy pop, but not nearly as good as its dark-hearted predecessor.
Mysterious and secretive, the electronic duo that is Royksopp keep themselves to themselves. And we're not just talking about their social lives or interview tactics, no, we're talking about everything. Albums, tours, future plans. It's all kept under lock and key. Perhaps this was always the band's plan. After all, we're dealing with a group who's debut LP sold millions of copies around the world, but then who strangely chose to completely disappear for four years, only re-emerging after all the fuss had died down and they were only a fraction as popular as they used to be.
Whatever, all this exposition is to merely highlight the uncertainty surrounding the band's third LP 'Junior'. Word has it that 'Junior' is part of a two pronged Royksopp attack. The first prong is 'Junior' itself, an album filled with bouncy dance orientated tracks, whilst the second is a supposed counterpart album entitled 'Senior', which is to be home to the more atmospheric music that the band have been most noted for.
But... With Royksopp being Royksopp, 'Senior' might just be a rumour. Or a pun. Whatever the case may be, 'Senior' is still unannounced and thusly 'Junior' has to stand on its own two legs, stranded in the spotlight but already over-shadowed by the expectations of what the future holds. But the past holds no comfort for 'Junior' either, as Royksopp's prior sophomore album 'The Understanding' was a truly fantastic example of dark hearted atmosphere and epic electronica.
All this looking around and placing thoughts elsewhere is somewhat sad, because 'Junior' is an excellent album in its own right. Kicking off with 'Happy Up Here', the album immediately stamps itself with Royksopp's identity, featuring the kind of creaking bass effects that have typified the band's overall sound. More of the "traditional" Royksopp sound is spread around the album in fairly large quantities. The album highlights are great examples of this. The clicking bass and bleepy sequencers of 'Vision One' is pure 'The Understanding' era Royksopp, whilst the violin sporting instrumental 'Royksopp Forever' would have fit quite happily on their debut 'Melody A.M'.
'True To Life' is the closest the band gets to the darker parts of 'The Understanding'. Its slow build up and minimalist feel restrain the melody, fighting a losing battle against it until the final moments when all restraint is abandoned and the track blossoms into glacier synths and guitars. It's a beautiful moment, one that Royksopp pulls off quite regularly in their best moments and an absolute highlight here on 'Junior'. Another wonderful highlight is 'You Don't Have A Clue', which layers up the female vocal parts to make a giant echoey choral sound that lifts the whole tune into the stratosphere, and is without a doubt the most interesting vocal turn on the record.
Elsewhere things are played more straightforward. 'The Girl And The Robot' is an exercise in dance club beats and is only mildly entertaining. 'Tricky Tricky' sounds at first like a cousin to 'The Understanding's body shaking 'Circuit Breaker', but is, in fact, far more shallow. 'This Must Be It' is something of a minor classic, however, and hits all the right buttons. Booming beats, unobtrusive instrumentation and a catchy vocal performance. It's about as good as dance-mode Royksopp have ever been, and it wasn't at all surprising when the band issued the track as a single.
Rounding up the rag-tag loose ends, there's a humdrum but pleasant filler in the form of the closing 'It's What I want', a weaker grating track entitled 'Miss It So Much', and the guitar led instrumental 'Silver Cruiser' which is so unassumingly bland that I can't find anything to say about it either positive or negative.
Overall, 'Junior' is a strong album. There are enough outstanding numbers to make the album worth listening to, and even the weaker tracks are harmless enough. The only downfall is that it doesn't have anyway near the amount of atmosphere or intention as 'The Understanding'. That album whisks you away to Norway in a helicopter and deposits you on the Arctic tundra in the middle of the night with nothing but the aurora for company. 'Junior' drops you off into a heaving nightclub. Perhaps that's not a bad thing. We all need the light as well as the dark, after all.