From the synth piano arpeggio sequences of "Triumphant", a vaguely menacing Moonlight Sonata style piece, The Understanding is clearly darker than Royksopp's debut, Melody A.M.
As its title and odd cover implies, The Understanding is more chilly than chillled out. But it's beautiful and lush too. And with its steady builds, teasing bell sounds octaves above the main melodic line, and lush production, it's reassuring and odd in equal measures. Not pushing the tension too far, "Triumphant" collapses into trippy 70s flavoured keyboards, with a teasing pentatonic melody playing around it, before the build gets too big.
Electropop (a la Air and other French favourites) has a stronger hold on Royksopp's sound now, which works if you like that kind of thing - think layers of voices lent a ghostly quality by the studio machines that transformed them.
Unfortunately, the lyrics aren't the best, so their increased use on this record may not be welcome. Only this moment / holds us together / close to perfection / nothing else out there ("Only this moment") works fine if you remember that this is music designed for the end of a clubbing night, or a lazy duvet day. But on the Prince-aping "49%" they seem to be rhyming at all costs, in particular at the cost of real meaning. And the bleating sheep sound in the background doesn't improve this dismal breakup song. Not so likely to make you want to dance, as skip.
Being depressing isn't a crime, though, if you do it well. And mostly they do.
Don't miss out on "Follow my ruin", with its bleak, snorting sound effects. The hyped up, in-the-moment lyrics of "Sombre detune" work well. The liquid locomotion, porno-friendly arrangements match its super smooth, lazy vocals.
"Beautiful Day Without You" goes for a similar synth pop style, and sticks with those themes of loss. But as ever, Royksopp put pretty before pain, and this is what will ultimately save this album from obscurity. "What else is there"'s melody is a simple killer, and the weirdly accented vocals and scrunchy musical textures only make it more interesting.
This is a strong song and its nightmarishness is glorious if you give in to it willingly. "Alpha Male"'s catchy cha cha cha beats lead easily to the gauzy layered vocal,s and enveloping hip hop flavoured hand claps, of "Someone like me" - one of the album's cheerier musical moments.
"Dead to the world" and the closing "Tristesse globale," both ring of the opening track's weird stroking piano, and may remind 80s survivors of the Twin Peaks theme song.
Overall, a gorgeous album. Not what fans may have been hoping for, but wonderfully full of woe. - Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
The Understanding is a well-conceived and deftly-executed step out of the huge shadow cast by their ultra-bright debut.- Paul Sullivan for BBC.co.uk
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