Sigur Ros - Takk
Have you ever wondered what happens when a band regarded as avant garde, with a reputation for the unconventional, signs to a major label? Well for one thing, their music starts getting played by the BBC as backing for its programme tasters and if I hear "Hoppipolla" used in this way for another wildlife documentary I shall scream. But seriously, what happens is simple. The answer is Tákk...
Sigur Rós took post-rock in a direction which, if it had not been carefully controlled, would have landed them with labels like pretentious and prog rockers. After all, inventing a dialect of your own native language, not a language in itself which is widely spoken, and then singing it in a falsetto voice to the accompaniment of twinkling keyboards and long droning guitar chords has the potential for pomposity written all over it. With Agætis Byrjun Sigur Rós managed to avoid the trap by the novelty and the scope of what they had done. With their follow up, they walked straight into the hole they had dug themselves, a deep, dark hole where no track names were able to guide you around, and an album title of empty parentheses unable to suggest where you were.
And now they've signed to EMI. That's right, EMI. You remember them? Thirty years ago Johnny Rotten sneered their name with a voice dripping with venom as the label which tried to kill punk rock. Yes, that EMI, the one which thought it had beaten off the new wave and celebrated by putting out a series of bland and vapid Cliff Richard singles only to have the complacent, self-satisfied smugness wiped from their faces by Tubeway Army. Yes, THAT EMI!
So, Sigur Rós have gone mainstream pop then? Well, no, but Tákk... marks some significant but subtle changes in their style. For a start, track names are back - and that can only be a good thing. For seconds, they have some almost hummable melodies now and actually sing in a language which is spoken by more than five people. The droning guitars are not as obvious and in some places have disappeared, and while the twinkling keyboards and falsetto voice remain, the songs are now as likely to be in bite-size, digestible chunks as potential snooze fests. Above all, Sigur Rós seem to have discovered that elusive holy grail of post rock - the recognisable song structure. Is this what happens when avant-garde music is infected by the artistic compromises imposed by EMI?
Well, not quite. The Empty Parentheses was exceptional insofar as it seemed to be a deliberate exercise in obscurantism. Tákk... makes a return to the firmer ground of Agætis Byrjun but with a lighter touch to it. As usual, Sigur Rós open with a short, largely featureless track and then slip into "Glosoli" which segues into "Hoppipolla", the album's most memorable track, a near ecstatic uplifting piece which is an ideal accompaniment to anyone who climbs the ridge and peers over the edge at the vista below, hence the BBC's fascination with it. The band's new found interest in musical form rears its head again on "Se Lest" and "Sæglopur", which lead into the more reflective and quieter tracks of "Með Bloðnasir" and "Milano". These return to the sense of wonder at being alive which the band seem to wish to convey with much of the rest of the album. No doubt the title, Tákk... (meaning thank you in Icelandic) is intended to express gratitude for being alive.
Yet if that is the intention, then ultimately Tákk... fails. Far from being uplifted and infused with the joys of living, I quickly tire of it. There is only so much (WARNING: cliché alert) ethereal beauty in music I can take before I want to hear a thunderous drum roll or a blistering guitar solo. Tákk... is great as one of those relaxation and meditation CD's you buy if you want to use deep breathing techniques to wash away the tension in your body and mind, but an album of it is just too much to take. Individually, the tracks can be listened to with some pleasure and even excitement. Collectively it becomes soporific.
I wonder how much EMI advanced them as a signing on fee?
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