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Rhonda Harris - Under The Satellite

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 30 / 1 / 2004



Rhonda Harris - Under The Satellite
Label: Auditorium
Format: CD

intro

Thoughtful and well-crafted melodic pop on second album from Danish group Rhonda Harris, which has been released concurrently with frontman Nikolaj Norlund's own debut solo album


Following up Auditorium's 2001 release of ‘The Trouble With Rhonda Harris’ with 2 albums released simultaneously shows that Rhonda Harris main man Nikolaj Norlund has been a busy man these last few years. The 38 year old Danish producer/musician/songwriter has also occupied his time touring and producing other bands. This is a review of Norlund’s ‘band album’, his other current release being the solo album ‘Tandstik’ (trans. Matchstick). Apparently ‘Tandstik’ has a Neil Young and Crazy Horse feel to it. That would account for the omission this time of any such songs on ‘Under The Satellite’. ‘Flatlined’, one of the outstanding tracks on ‘The Trouble With Rhonda Harris’, definitely had a Crazy Horse vibe going on and I felt it was sadly missing on this new album. Now I know why. Norlund has obviously rounded up all the rockier songs and contained them into a separate album this time. But that’s not to say that ‘Under The Satellite’ is the same song repeated 10 times. Like its predecessor there are a range of styles and moods covered throughout the 9 Norlund originals. The cover version this time is not as inspired as Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ was on ‘The Trouble With…’. Covering what could arguably be David Bowie’s best vocal performance on the Iggy Pop / Bowie composition ‘China Girl’ was not a good move. Norlund’s version is a plodding jazz tinged emotionless bore of a song full of acoustic guitar and brushed drums. There is nothing wrong with the playing, which is up to Norlund’s usual impeccable standards, and he manages to sound like at least 2 different vocalists on the track, but we are all so used to Bowie’s performance, even more so than the Iggy Pop original, that a version so radically different from what we have heard many times on the radio just doesn’t work. I can see what Norlund was trying to achieve but it doesn’t come off. Norlund is such an accomplished songwriter who composes beautiful songs with so many unexpected twists and turns that he doesn’t need to recreate classics of the past. Like his previous work it is hard to pigeon hole the sound Norlund produces. With his Crazy Horse tendencies confined to a solo album, the only touchstone is the old Prefab Sprout / Paddy McAloon one. With a different band, for the most part, than the one on ‘Trouble With..’ the sound is still that of intelligent, lush pop music full of the unexpected musical touches which make Norlund’s songs so interesting. He seems to pluck unforgettable melodies out of the air with ease. One listen is all that is needed to any one of these nine originals to register. The opening song, ‘Your Best Bet’, catches the attention from the first few seconds. Some gorgeous plucked guitar backed by what could either be a heavenly choir or keyboards and vocals that sound uncannily like those of Norlund but are apparently by Claus Hempler. The melody is picked out throughout the song by that guitar and is simply stunning. The same can also be said about the following track, ‘Let Me Run It By George’, this time with keyboards being the main instrument. Norlund is definitely singing the lead on this one, his sombre, dark vocals sounding world weary and I’m sure that if his melodies weren’t so outstanding I’d be singing the praises about his lyrics. They are always interesting (with titles like the above and ‘Mary, I Would Eat Right Out Of Your Hand’ it’s not surprising) but Norlund’s melodies are the first thing that one notices. In time, once I’ve lived inside these tunes for, oh let’s say 6 months or so, I’m sure that I’ll pay more attention to the lyrics but right now it’s those melodies and the musical touches ( each play reveals more sounds which I could swear were not there last time) which are so captivating. Apart from the drums, some bass and lap steel Norlund plays all the instruments on this album. To add some shade and light to the songs he has vocal help from the above mentioned Hempler as well as Mark Robinson and Neil Henderson and in Aud Wilken has found a more than suitable replacement for the female vocals handled so well by Lise W. on the previous Rhonda Harris album. One of the album’s highpoints is the song on which Wilken takes the lead vocals,’ Mary, I Would Eat Right Out Of Your Hand’; an almost ghostly but beautiful sound collage, the melody being delicate and then twisting into something more sinister. There is a lot on offer here, not least those gorgeous melodies, and it’s not an album that is going to lose its appeal over the repeated playing it deserves. There is no doubt that Norlund is a master at crafting thoughtful pop songs and a talented producer and musician as well. This album comes highly recommended to anyone who likes well produced pop with a harder edge than that offered by the likes of Prefab Sprout. But next time Hr. Norlund please steer clear of any cover versions; your own songs tower over them.



Track Listing:-
1 Your Best Bet
2 Let Me Run It by George
3 Under the Satellite
4 Karen
5 Joy Is Everywhere
6 Min Ven Bongo
7 No Tomorrow
8 China Girl
9 Mary, I Would Eat Right out of Your Hand
10 Adrenaline



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