Röyksopp: The Inevitable End

Röyksopp are officially saying au revoir to the “traditional album format” with The Inevitable End, but they are definitely not disbanding anytime soon.
Cherrytree / Interscope

Chaucer once coined the phrase, “there is an end to everything, to good things as well”, thus illuminating the reality that all things under the sun have an expiration date. In the case of Röyksopp’s fifth and final studio album, the Norwegian electronic duo have not yet exhausted their seemingly boundless creativity. A door may be closed, but another is standing wide open beside it. Beginning with 2001’s downtempo masterpiece Melody A.M., and concluding with the vocoded chorus of The Inevitable End’s final track “Thank You”, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland are officially saying au revoir to the “traditional album format”. Whether the pair will venture into film scoring, produce records for other artists, or turn their focus towards releasing intermittent EPs instead is unknown, but longtime fans can let out a melodramatic sigh of relief. Röyksopp are definitely not disbanding anytime soon.

Their gorgeously produced, introspective new record integrates all the trademark Röyksopp elements the pair have utilized on past outings, but the focus has pivoted towards a more lyric-centric style of songwriting. After 2010’s subdued, moody instrumental album Senior failed to make much of an impact, the pair returned, guns blazing, with the commercial clout of the “Call Your Girlfriend” chanteuse in tow. Six months have passed since their Robyn-assisted Do It Again EP was met with rousing success and moderate critical acclaim, signaling a change in the inspirational winds. No one expected a full-length effort to appear so soon, but here it has arrived, beautiful warts and all.

Dark, portentous, and eerily menacing, “Skulls” kicks off The Inevitable End with a sinister synth passage ripped from the pages of a John Carpenter, John Harrison or Goblin score. This is the sound of a Röyksopp with razor-sharp, jagged teeth and a taste for blood. Layers of skittering, metallic percussion surround a cavernous, bouncing bass line, before giving way to an unsettling vocoder distortion that turns the duo into a motorcycle gang from hell. One can almost envision skeletal fingers wrapping themselves around jet black handlebars as their sinister voices sing, “We will make you scream our name forever… if you wanna ride with us tonight.” It is a shame that the nightmarish mood of this track doesn’t pervade the remainder of the record, as it is such an interesting detour from the group’s oeuvre .

“Skulls” sets a false tone for the remainder of the album, as every other offering that follows the squelchy, bass-heavy overhaul of Do It Again’s epic “Monument”, is either suited for neon-streaked dance floors or melancholic, after hours contemplation. The sleeker, radio-friendly “Monument (T.I.E. Version)” improves on its lengthy, saxophone-suffused precursor in almost every way possible, amping up the grainy synth lines and doubling Robyn’s assertive delivery down an octave. The uptempo mood is then dialed down after the song comes to a close, curiously settling into a glacial groove for the next 13 minutes.

Man Without Country singer Ryan James’s warm, gossamer instrument perfectly compliments the airy production and glistening synth chimes of “Sordid Affair”. Stark and barren, the lyrics mourn the loss of a great love, while the feathery vocal line recalls The Understanding’s sixth track “Beautiful Day Without You”. It is followed by the breathtaking “You Know I Have to Go”, featuring Jamie Irrepressible (formally McDermott) of UK art-pop collective the Irrepressibles. Why this track was planted squarely at the beginning of the record is a mystery, as it would be better suited for the tail end of the album. In turn, the placement of this mesmerizing track after “Sordid Affair”, kills the momentum previously established by the initial two offerings.

From the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bel Canto’s Anneli Drecker to Chelonis R. Jones, Lykke Li and Kings of Convenience singer Erlend Øye, Röyksopp have long held a tradition of incorporating immensely talented vocalists into their musical universe. Robyn entered the fold in 2009’s Junior and she is the only remaining artist to return on The Inevitable End, appearing on the utterly pointless track “Rong”. Phoning in the endlessly repetitive lyrics, she mumbles, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re just so fucking wrong,” surrounded by a spookily dirge-like, synth ambience. A string ensemble is tacked onto the end of the track, as if to somehow elevate the vulgarity to some raw, wounded place. It doesn’t work.

Fellow Norwegian Susanne Sundfør used to sing back up for none other than Björk. Five albums later and one in the oven for 2015, she has slowly established herself as a songwriting force to be reckoned with, and a vocalist of wildly impressive talent. She accompanied Röyksopp on their Late Night Tales compilation in 2013, delivering a brilliant interpretation of Depeche Mode’s “Ice Machine”, and returns here with the irresistably hard-driving, Timbaland-esque track “Save Me” and the pulsing electro-ballad “Running to the Sea”. The latter track slowly winds up the tension as Sundfør sings about running from “burning houses and trees”, before it explodes in a fiery cloud of electric guitars, pounding, frenetic beats and her wailing soprano.

The exquisite voice of Jamie Irrepressible returns three other times throughout the album. Like Antony, his instrument is an acquired taste, but one that is worth marinating within. Euphoric album highlight “I Had This Thing”, is the most straightforward Euro-house track Röyksopp has ever produced. It’s one hell of a glorious thing to behold. Sad disco songs have seldom been so emotionally wrought and lyrically sincere. The track begins with spaced-out synths straight out of an early ’80s sci-fi flick, before launching into a massive, four-to-the-floor beat that builds and builds to an immensely satisfying conclusion. The tense strings, cinematic choral effects, and jerky rhythmic motion of “Here She Comes Again” charms, but the track is heavy on mood and light on substance, while “Compulsion” is both deceptively tranquil and mildly unsettling. A quiet beat throbs and pulsates underneath Irrepressible’s lustful delivery, yet when the music grinds to a halt, the seductive nature of the lyrics takes on something much more sinister. Unhealthy obsession has rarely been this wickedly alluring.

The album concludes without the assistance of any guest vocalists. Instrumental track “Coup De Grace” begins as a woozy waltz and mutates into something that resembles a choral outtake from Klaus Doldinger’s Neverending Story soundtrack, while “Thank You” sounds like a b-side to the duo’s debut Melody A.M. If only the album had ended on a more interesting note. At least it was more inspired than last year’s similar, Daft Punk-esque track “Daddy’s Groove”. The deluxe version features an oddly defanged remix of “Do It Again”, a few instrumentals, including the delicious, gooey “Caramel Afternoon” and the exceptional Jamie Irrepressible track “Something in My Heart”, which served as a double single to Sundfør’s “Running to the Sea”.

This may be Röyksopp’s last LP, but it will certainly not be their final artistic statement. Consider this album part of Berge and Brundtland’s brief Blue Period. The Inevitable End will never be looked upon as a terribly uplifting experience, but its lyrical content treats heartache, despair, self-hatred, remorse, depression, and the fear of the unknown with utter respect. Life may not always be rose bouquets and endless laughter, but there is beauty even in the darkest of moments. It will be interesting to see what Röyksopp finds beyond that other open door. “All good things must come to an end”, but that doesn’t mean that the death of one thing cannot give wondrous birth to another.

RATING 8 / 10