My friend and luminary of this illustrious site, PostLibyan, suggested to me that I might enjoy reviewing this, based on another mutual friendís liking for it. "Fred says it sounds like Bjork," quoth he. Well, that comparison didnít really sway me. The only song by Icelandís queen of the idiosyncratic to do anything for me was Army Of Me, so it canít be said that I had any positive notions going in.
Iíve said this many times before, but Iíll say it again: when I review a CD, itís without the benefit (or detriment) of the accompanying PR material. In this instance, I could not help but at least have a cursory glance. Those clever promotional chaps at Mango + Sweet Rice produced a fetchingly attractive press release to include with the album. Printed on a kind of plasticized rice paper, it has the hazy gossamer quality of the insert of Sigur Rosís () and is very alluring. Steeling myself, however, I refrained from reading any of the contents. Well done, Sweet MangoÖyou almost had me.
So, yeah, anywayÖ.Bjork. I sensed things were not quite right with the diminutive squawker when she released Itís O So Quiet. Not that there was much preceding that particular hitchhike into Lawrence Welk territory that appealed to me (Army Of Me aside, as I mentioned). For me, Bjork has always had that aroma of Emperorís New Clothes about her music, and, like the smell of Ďburgers in an unventilated room, the aroma has never really lifted.
How intrigued I was, then, to listen to Nauru from Coppe. Apparently, according to a friend who is a fan, it's pronounced "Copp ya" as in ďItís a party! We MUST take a picture of my ass on the Copp Ya!" Are you with me or is that just a British thing? No? OK.
Anyway, the album sleeve informs me that Miss/Ms/Mrs (delete as applicable) Coppe is responsible for all vocals, toys and atmospherics. Whilst the thought of whole weather systems being summoned forth to precipitate over a collection of Cabbage Patch Dolls and "Ker-Plunk!" boards for the sake of a recording session does appeal to my bizarre side, I do think that itís a little pretentious, but thatís by the by.
Incidentally, someone else has told me that itís pronounced "Cop-ay", as in "So, TJ HookerÖyouíre a cop, eh?". I donít think it really matters.
Anyway, again, Nauru is a collection of mildly funky, bleep-pocked, delicately-voiced pieces, interwoven with sometimes inspired, but usually lack-lustre, pieces of experimental noodling. Sampled jazz brass weaves in and out of the mix here and there (and very nice it is, too). Electronica-fests such as the marvellously titled Humu Humu Picasso Fish tend to leave me a little cold as the aforesaid piscean.
Audiodolly had me rocking in my seat with its percussion line, which put me in mind of Sylvianís happier dalliances with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Only the lack of any real momentum prevented me from out and out liking this, even though the brief pauses included the jazz samples I mention above.
Track seven and I think we have the answer to the pronunciation of the artistís name. Sin Coppe TedÖ.geddit? Syncopated? Címon, peopleÖI know you all probably nodded off to sleep about three paragraphs ago, but do try and encourage me to get to the end of the review at least. Look, I promise Iíll take all my clothes off at the end, OK? Anyway, Sin Coppe Ted is a very pleasant, trippy, straight-ahead, jazzy outing. Real piano (featured on only three of the fifteen tracks on the album) tinkles away under the seductive vocal, with swelling synth lines and a kicking bass line over a straight 4/4 time signature. Great night driving music.
Ala Moana (Interlude) is a brief, 58-second spurt of ethnic percussion along with some reversed keyboards. For my money, this should have been expanded and explored, but itís over almost as soon as it kicks into gear. Then there's Paper Soap, and here comes that piano again, laid over another fairly ethnic, complex percussive layer and a long, sweeping synth. Coppeís vocal slips in and out of the mix like a phantom. Another great track to burn to that nighttime driving compilation CD. Think Blade Runner without Vangelisís pomp and youíll be there.
Wombat is another shorty. Iím not having a dig at that somewhat inoffensive antipodean creature here, but rather the brevity of track 10. You know, there must be someone at Sweet Mango, someone on the creative side of things, who could step in and say, "Coppe, luv, thereís a big difference between being arty and just playing about with your sequencing software, you know?" Even at seven seconds over a minute, Wombat is tedious
Durango starts and finishes with no let up from a repetitive series of Coppeís sampled, agonised vocals, mangled through electronic filters under a drum Ďní bass percussion section. The piano makes another appearance here, albeit as a brief interlude to the reintroduction of the beat/synths/agonised vocals. Iíll have to stop for a while, as I think the yawn that this track induced has dislocated my jaw, so cavernous was it.
In Frozen Fog, Coppe presents homage to this elusive comestible here. In five minutes and seventeen seconds, she fails to either kick off anything remotely interesting or to paint a soundscape of the meteorological occurrence she alludes to.
Track 13, Blue is the second remix on the album. This one is by Dr Jacobson, he of the piano playing adventures on the album. Track four is also a remix of Blue, attended in this instance by your friend and his, Plaid. Odd that there are two remixes of a song which are featured nowhere else on the album. How are we to appreciate the daredevil knob twiddling of Messrs Plaid and Jacobson, when we have no original source material with which to compare them? Itís rather like meeting someone youíve never met in your life and asking if they prefer your hair the way youíre wearing it today.
Flapper Girl finds Sister C sampling what can only be described as 1950s easy listening, whilst adding the sounds of someone tidying a closet to the rhythm of a black rhino farting in the bath. Whoa, stop, desist, go previous and listen for a second. Donít let this make you think I donít dig experimental stuff. I have a penchant for the quirky and weird. Itís just that there is an art to experimenting AND taking your audience with you. Merely laying down whatever wacky samples you may find on the web (such as the closing noise on this track, which is the first verse of Somewhere Over The Rainbow played on what sounds like a theramin) without any grace is just plain barbaric.
The album closes with the full length version of the interlude track, Ala Moana. The idea is explored and very nice it is too, but overlong at nine minutes plus. A little self-indulgence is just fine and dandy, but someone once told me that artistic self-indulgence and artistic masturbation are closely related.
So, bottom line. Hmm. Are you, gentle reader, familiar with the tale of The Curateís Egg? It involves a young curate (in Britain, a curate is usually a clergyman in training) who is invited to tea by the Bishop. The Bishopís staff serves a boiled egg to the curate that turns out to have gone off in storage. Not wishing to offend, the curate struggles through and eats it all. "How was the egg?" enquires the bishop.
"I assure you, My Lord," the curate blusters, "that it was excellent in parts!"
Nauru is, Iím afraid, a bit of a Curateís Egg. Lovely in parts, rancid in others, a testimony that the musical equivalent of the Emperorís New Clothes is not only sponsored, but also promoted by those who think that theyíll curry favour with the apostles of the avant garde. It makes Bjorkís output sound almost palatable. If you want people whose opinions really donít matter to think youíre sophisticated and enlightened, then buy this and play it at dinner parties. If, however, you donít seek approval from those who probably also think that Andy Warhol was gifted, then follow my advice and leave this alone.
Thanks for sticking with me and, as promised and as a reward for your tenacity, I am now completely naked and vulnerable.