A Kiss Before You Go
As a band, Katzenjammer are primarily distinguished by their complete lack of facial hair, despite, to their lasting chagrin, hailing from Norway, the land of the Vikings. In fact, all four members belong to a unique subset of the male race which scientitians term “FE-males”, who are genetically unable to grow beards.
Their latest album, 'A Kiss Before You Go', was released September 2011. It is their second album, following 2009’s 'Le Pop'. The band insist that this entire album is visually and lyrically inspired by the French film The City of Lost Children, a maritime fantasy adventure from the creators of Delicatessen, which matches the band’s sense of adventure and love of sea shanties. I personally derive great satisfaction each time I type the word 'Katzenjammer' into my phone (which is the German word for caterwauling, in case you were wondering, and hence not in my phone’s predictive text dictionary), because I have to type the four three letter syllables separately: 'Kat Zen Jam Mer', now sounding like a meditative feline sea shanty, which couldn’t be more appropriate for the band.
'Le Pop' was the band’s debut, and is a fusion of all of their disparate musical influences (folk music from Scandinavia, The Balkans and France; twee 80’s pop, and blues and soul shining through), made on the four girls’ 15 shared instruments, including their signature contrabass balalaika which, if you haven’t seen it, is an absolutely enormous lemon-coloured triangle with a grinning Cheshire cat face on it. 'A Kiss Before You Go' has a similarly dramatic composition, but, as Anne Marit-Bergheim puts it, “If the first album was more woods and countryside, the new album is more metal bars and urban. More rough edges and rock´n´roll.” This possibly has something to do with the fact, as the band told the website Aviva-Berlin, that they spent a large part of 2011 in Berlin. However, when I saw them live in London last year, Solveig, the blonde bombshell of the group, also divulged that they had been writing in Nashville, Tennessee. This influence which can clearly be heard in the album’s two singles, 'I Will Dance (When I Walk Away)', and 'Rock, Paper, Scissors', both of which are foot-stomping country and western hoedowns straight out of the Dolly Parton songbook (there’s even a video of a group of professional line dancers line dancing to I Will Dance on Youtube), and both of which see Solveig taking the lead vocals.
However, the notion of the band writing in Nashville raises an interesting point: a large number of the song writing credits on Le Pop go to the band’s good friend Mats Rybø. All of the more poppy numbers are written either entirely or in collaboration with him, and when Solveig said that the band had been writing I assumed that they had found their musical feet, not so: both of the singles, and in my opinion, all the best songs on 'A Kiss Before You Go', are credited to Rybø, who has a knack for writing catchy hooks. The other songs, written by the ladies, tend to showcase their respective and more niche tastes, whether gypsy folk or rhythm and blues. Curiously, the band members are reticent on the subject of Rybø in interview, preferring perhaps to give the impression that they are the song writers. Not that they need to lie to seem talented: I can confirm that they really do all play all the instruments on stage, swapping for each song between the drum kit with a dustbin duct taped to a cymbal stand, the xylophone, the banjo, and of course the contrabass balalaika, and all singing in perfect harmony on every song. In fact, the stand out track from this album is almost entirely a-cappella, namely 'God’s Great Dust Storm', a haunting and awesome gospel hymn (lyrics and melody Mats Rybø), recorded live in a church.
Other highlights include 'Cocktails and Ruby Slippers', which flips schizophrenically between 80’s punk verses and a 60’s girl group chorus, and the tooth-rottingly saccharine 'Cherry Pie', the lyrics for which are...a recipe for cherry pie. That song also perfectly mirrors 'Demon Kitty Rag' from Le Pop, which comes at the same position, track three, on the album. Formulaic it might be, but as Marianne Sveen’s grandma probably used to say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 'A Kiss Before You Go' is an ADD romp through some of the best pop music genres of the 20th century, and every bit as enjoyable as their debut.
Posted: Wed 18 January 2012