Dusted Reviews

Fra Lippo Lippi - The Early Years & The Best of

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Fra Lippo Lippi

Album: The Early Years & The Best of

Label: Rune Arkiv

Review date: Nov. 4, 2003

Before he stole my heart as the head of Norway’s Rune Grammofon records, Rune Kristoffersen was a constituent part of lost ’80s popsters Fra Lippo Lippi. As a sidebar to his aforementioned label, Kristoffersen recently started a subsidiary called Rune Arkiv to re-release some of the duo’s works, most of which are long out of print everywhere in the world save for Norway and the Philippines (where they are apparently, oddly, and almost inexplicably frickin’ huge). Given both Rune Grammofon’s collected output from people as diverse and exemplary as Supersilent, Maja Ratjke, Arne Nordheim, and Kristoffersen’s great solo outings under the Monolight moniker, rational logic would sort of indicate that The Best of Fra Lippo Lippi and The Early Years could be a great look at the formative years of the man behind some of the best experimental/electronic/improv/classical music releases of the past few years. Unfortunately, logic and reason get tossed out of a 60-story window on this one. At their best, Fra Lippo Lippi was an interesting post-punk derived combo. But at their worst (and at their height of commercial success, obviously), they’re over-produced, purely banal, and utterly cringeworthy.

To be fair, The Early Years is pretty decent, especially when stacked up against the dreck of their “hits” collection. In Silence, from 1981, marks the debut of a band obviously influenced by the doom and gloom of the Factory Records camp from around the same time. “Out of the Ruins” sports a nice bass-driven groove, followed up by “In Silence” and its skyward synth. “Recession” is pretty good as well, with a bare-bones bass and toms simplicity that’s pretty endearing. The duo spends the rest of the album working minor variations on these themes and sounds, with Kristofferson handling the vocals with a deeply buried baritone. Towards the end of the second act it starts to wear, as the band loses the ability to make their despair swing with any of the conviction of Ian Curtis and Co. Still, the tracks at least showed some promise. Unfortunately, Kristofferson and drummer Martin Sjoberg opted to hire singer-songwriter Per Oystein Sorensen with the initial fruits of their labor born as Small Mercies. And thus began the gradual process of transition, eliminating all the stark, gray elements shown earlier in favor of thin pop tunes with disco beats and a whole lot of over-emoting. If you don’t listen to the lyrics, tracks like “Some Things Never Change”, “The Treasure”, and “Now and Forever” aren’t half-bad, as Sorensen’s vocals are still somewhat muted by reverb and sound like a more up-front version of Kristofferson’s efforts from the first album. And “French Painter Dead” is a surprisingly effective instrumental.

The Best of Fra Lippo Lippi sadly strips away all the intrigue of the earlier material. Instead of darker instrumentals foreshadowing denser moods and textures, you get crystal clear, over-produced (or maybe ’twas simply the style at the time) radio-ready pop schmaltz. For Christ’s sake, Walter-fucking-Becker not only produced a track here, but adds his “jazz guitar as the ultimate soundtrack to a dentist’s visit” on it as well. I could go on for hours about the dippy, cliché cul-de-sacs that the lyrics sink themselves into, but I’ll spare you. Essentially, Fra Lippo Lippi worked the whole Joy Division-into-New Order transition from gloomy, downtrodden rock to catchy New Wave pop with half the conviction and absolutely zero great dance beats. And what isn’t forgettable here is instead mired in overwrought vocals and boring arrangements.

But hey, maybe it’s just me. After all, I’m not one for this type of material to begin with, nor are my ears easily attuned to glossy pop music (save for modern rap radio programming, of course). Those enticed by the allure of the recent Rune Grammofon output will most likely be disappointed, as there are precious few moments of promise on The Early Years, and even less on the conspicuous Best of. Then again, maybe it’s just that thousands upon thousands of Filipinos are hip to something that I sadly am not. They did, after all, convince me to give General MacArthur another shot.

By Michael Crumsho

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Rune Arkiv

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.