An all-female folk band from Norway, comprised of four sexy ladies playing no less than twenty-odd different instruments between them, swapping between those and musical styles every night on stage. Logic dictates that Katzenjammer’s novelty should have worn off by now. Rockland, however, will make you guess again.
Who’d have thought that Katzenjammer would be able to keep things this fresh over the course of nine years three albums and a live dvd? I know I didn’t. Sure, Le Pop was a fun little record, combining folk, country and a certain brash bravoure akin to the Dresden Dolls. The live concerts were (and are) great too, with the band members swapping instruments on a whim and turning things in a sort of musical roulette. They followed up by A Kiss Before You Go, and it was a better, more polished and more musically acclaimed record. The concerts also got better and better. I went to see them in Paradiso Amsterdam in 2012 and it still easily ranks up as one of the most fun, magical concerts I have ever attended. But still, they can never keep this up. The hype, the novelty, the freshness, it will all wear off, right? Wrong. January 2015 sees the release of Katzenjammer’s third album, Rockland, and for the third time in a row, Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo, Turid Jørgensen and Anne Marit Bergheim knock it out of the park.
First thing’s first, though. For an album called Rockland, Katzenjammer’s third record does not rock all that much. In fact, it might be the least rocking album they ever released, and it gets off to a particularly crawling start with Old de Spain, which is perhaps the most country/bluegrass song these ladies have ever recorded. The first in a slew of songs prominently featuring the banjo, it’s anything else than a kick in the teeth. Luckily, it’s also anything else than a bad song, it’s just not the usual way in which Katzenjammer roars it’s albums into existence. A Bar in Amsterdam (Le Pop) and I Will Dance (When I Walk Away) (from A Kiss Before You Go) were both terrific album openers, and Old de Spain seems lacklustre in comparison. It does set the tone nicely for what is ultimately a more laid-back but overall more solid record.
Things pick up with the deliciously rockabilly-esque Curvaceous Needs, before Rockland hits on its first (and only real) stumbling block, Oh My God. Katzenjammer has been known to venture into uncommon pastures before, and here they try to tackle some type of alternative, electronic rap. It just about works because Solveig’s English accent and intonation makes the track just a bit otherworldly with its lyrics about snuffleuphaguses and Hello Kitty first aid kits, but it’s a definite show-stopper in an otherwise nicely flowing set of songs. Oh My God is what Guns ‘n Roses’ My World was to November Rain on their Use Your Illusion albums; poles apart and not really compatible. Luckily, things pick up again with the first single outing Lady Grey and the upbeat My Own Tune, which see Katzenjammer doing what they do best again, which is marrying memorable melodies with great musicianship and that slight hint of syrupy madness.
Other album highlights are the bluesy Driving After You (Marianne Sveen, as always, has the vocal abilities to pull these kind of gospel blues songs off, and she shines here once again), the title track, the poppy, up-tempo Flash in the Dark and the cute, Irish folk type ditty My Dear. The only song that doesn’t quite gel (so far) is Shine Like Neon Rays, which sees Solveig in a type of vocal overdrive I sort of can’t stand, with semi-sexy screams and moans at the end of every other line.
Oh My God and Shine Like Neon Rays aside, Rockland is another rock solid album by this Norwegian all-female ensemble, and arguably their best and most constant yet. It might not be as daring or surprising as Le Pop was when it first came out, and perhaps it’s not as diverse as A Kiss Before You Go, but it shows a definite growth over that album and its successor, and delivers set of damn good folk songs played by people who know very well what they’re doing. But the best thing about it is that it will also bring Katzenjammer back to international stages, and live is where it’s at for these women anyway.
Label: Propeller Recordings
- Old de Spain
- Curvaceous Needs
- Oh My God
- Lady Grey
- My Own Tune
- Shine Like Neon Rays
- Driving After You
- Flash in the Dark
- My Dear
- Bad Girl
- Marianne Sveen – vocals, instruments
- Solveig Heilo – vocals, instruments
- Turid Jørgensen – vocals, instruments
- Anne Marit Bergheim – vocals, instruments
Review by Ralph Plug