14 January 2009

Susanna K. Wallumrød – Flower of Evil

(2009, Rune Grammafon)

Susanna has dropped her ‘magical orchestra’ for another solo jaunt. Flower of Evil is mostly cover versions: originally sad songs mix with ostensibly surprising choices for this Norwegian doyenne of the melancholy.

The record opens with Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’. It is a song that could easily have been reduced to ‘look, a sad version of “Jailbreak”’ in the wrong hands. However, Susanna has a knack of getting inside the lyric and either finding the original truth behind it, or a completely new one that’s no less valid.

Stripped of the boys’ own bravado Phil Lynott revelled in, Wallumrød’s ‘Jailbreak’ is conspiratorial and struck by the gravity of impending events. ‘Tonight there’s gonna be trouble’, she gently intones. ‘Some of us won’t survive’. It’s chilling.

Because the tone is unwavering throughout the hour-plus of the record, though, some pieces can sound like pastiche. The poignant raw wound of Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’ should be perfect source material for Susanna’s brand of sorrow. Instead, there is something missing.

Perhaps the purity of her voice is too at odds with the anguished howl Ozzy had in the early 1970s. This is the kind of song where Susanna strays worryingly close to the FM radio of Beverley Craven or Katie Melua.

For every lovely song, there is one too close to MOR. Do we need another version of ‘Without You’? While Wallumrød sings beautifully, her voice alone can only take you so far. Forty minutes would be sufficient to contain the better songs on here.

It all comes together on ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’, which ends the record. Susanna’s spare arrangement strips the original’s paranoid obsession of its synths and rhythm guitars, its delicate heart left bleeding right in front of you.

This leaves me in a quandary. While this is a lovely record, with moments of mournful beauty, the sheer amount of it dilutes its impact. Also frustrating is the quality of her own compositions. These are a pair of perfectly charming songs that give the listener an appetite for new material the album doesn’t satisfy.

Hopefully next time we’ll get all-new songs. Until then, this is an efficient set of what you’d expect from the Me First And The Gimme Gimmes of the sad music scene. For curious newcomers, Flower of Evil is a great place to start.

FACT version of the review is here, folks. Support the scene(sters)!

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