In Praise of Norwegian Pop

If you don't know A-Ha's music other than the fantastic "Take On Me," one of the best music videoes ever made, you should. And Chris Martin thinks so, too.

Rivaled only by Duran Duran as the best pop band of the 80s, A-Ha escaped the decade of greed and big hair, producing more stellar tunes. Since 2000, they have recorded two fantastic albums (Minor Earth, Major Sky, plus half each of Lifelines and Analogue). Fronted by Morten Harket, the man NME described as "supernaturally good-looking", they blend melody, style, grace, emotion, and thought into delicious pop music cookies.

As continued proof as to why we're married, Keven and I share a persistent desire to go see A-Ha live, if only to be surrounded by thousands of other people who also know all the words to their songs. Alas, they're only performing in Norway this year. And we both love the video for "The Blood That Moves the Body." (Here you go, Kev, I found it). He oogles the cute Norwegian brunette, and I watch Morten with a happy little smile on my face.

So when we watched the one-off "World Idol" back in 2004, we rooted for gap-toothed wonder Kurt Nilsen to beat Kelly Clarkson -- and he did by singing "Beautiful Day" by U2. Now, mind you, covering U2 is dangerous territory in my world, but he blew it out of the water. Absolutely amazing. That's how Bono would have sung it if he could still sing like his Unforgettable Fire days. The whole world loves an angelic Hobbit singing Europop classics.

While his debut album, I, was not memorable, the song "Breathe You In" is made of awesome. His cover of "She's So High" is also a lot of fun. His inherent understanding of melody -- what it can and cannot do, how to make it original while remaining within the framework of the song -- prove that his talent extends beyond a well-meaning cover artist with a fantastic falsetto.

Imagine our joy, then, when we discovered the Norwegian pop phenomenon that is "The New Guitar Buddies," a quartet formed of Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Alejandro Fuentes (a Chilean who finished third in the 2006 Idol Norway), and Askil Holm. Who?? Don't know! Must find out more!

So we did. Turns out, all four men are with the same recording company, and they put on a few low-key concerts in 2006, concerts that proved massively successful. They wound up staging 30+ shows, which I assume means most of Norway saw them live. The resulting recordings became the best-selling album and music DVD in Norwegian history, knocking A-Ha off the top stop.

What impresses me so much about their performances is the individuality of their harmonies. Most times, to find really good harmonies (which I adore), you have to resort to boy bands with their computer-enhanced perfection. You may as well use the "voice" function on a synthesizer for all of their personality.
Among this unlikely quartet, Fuentes, at least, would never be allowed in a boy band because of his rough voice, and Kurt obviously wouldn't make it because of his Hobbit qualities. But dang, for them just to sit in their chairs and lay down shivery magic like that -- great.

Narrow-minded and xenophobic American music companies have shown a complete lack of foresight and consideration by NOT distributing this phenom. I am forced to piracy. And YouTube.


Jess said...

OMG!!! He did a fabulous job on "Beautiful Day"!!!! You're righ though, total hobbit. Too bad, cuz he rocks. Then again, far to many people have proven that you do not have to be good looking to be a popstar. Example: Michael Stipe, Seal, the guy form B52s... Maybe there is hope for him yet??

Anonymous said...


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