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Music Review: Bigbang – Edendale

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It’s axiomatic, even in the transitory life of rock ‘n’ roll, that one must have a home in which to hang your hat. You don’t want to get stuck in Lodi again, for one thing, without eventually being homeward bound, where your love lies waiting silently for you. As the group Bigbang contend, there must be at least some kind of pretention of permanency: “…my hat was hung there for a while/ on a pole set up Norwegian style/ ready to show them what I can."

The band from Norway, where it is popular in both record sales and concerts, is now with hat and home in America, in Los Angeles to be exact, and has reiterated this prior point in the down-home foot-stomper “Wild Bird,” most recently garnered on 2008’s From Acid to Zen, an eclectic grab-bag best-of intended to capture U.S. attention. As such, the album is a sampler of sorts, a modern twist on classic rock but really too diverse to classify. Among the raucous and rollicking rock, there’s a little bit of soul here, some psychedelia there, tracks imbued with mad dashes of everything from CSNY harmonies to Hüsker Dü energy and J. Mascis guitar gusts, and, more on the overt side – quick, name that derivative — lifts from the likes of Little Feat, Tom Petty, and Bad Company interspersed.

Nothing so slavish shows up on Edendale, Bigbang’s second full-length American release, that, while lacking audaciousness and vision, is a solid and cohesive work from front man and founder Øystein Greni (Guitar, vocals), Olaf Olsen (Drums, percussion and backing vocals), and Nikolai Eilertsen (Bass, backing vocals). Oh, “To the Max” is half-maxed with a Steve Miller-lite sonics and spirit, and everybody knows “Now is Not a Good Time” goes nowhere without its classic Neil Young moments. But the latter flows to such mesmerizing effect that I defy anyone to halt it mid-track, especially after the impressionistic lyrics – tossed-in forever Young allusions to Canadians and rust can be sussed if you strain – gives way to a sizzling electric guitar underlined with a prominent, propulsive bass.

In short, “Now” is one on those tracks to “Play Louder,” which happens to be the title of the kick-off cut, an accessible mid-tempo tune that poses the musical question: What if they gave an apocalypse (lowercase “a”) and nobody came?” Having grown up in Southern California, I appreciate the fact that the boys are having a bad day in L.A.:

There’s smoke in the city
A fire in the valley
Searching through the ashes
We tend to get irrational
Like nothing really happened

I find it hard to feel
I find it hard to make the illness disappear
And now the whole world’s comin’ down
And I’m not around
To help her when
The whole world’s
Comin’ down…

The following track “Call Me” is the standout to really make you hit the volume dial and turn it up all the way, a manic pop-rock thrill bursting at the seams. It’s virtually an isolated case, however, as the song comes to a close at the 2 1/2 minute mark — just as it hits it stride – and bumps up against “Swedish Television,” a yearning churner that’s a showcase for Greni’s smoky vocals about domestic disturbance and how “The billboards and the moon / Align a lot better than she thought they would.”

As an in-jest romantic term of endearment, the metaphoric “Freeway Flower” serves a dual purpose as a tuneful love/hate ode to Bigbang’s new environs (Los Angeles’ Echo Park/Silverlake area, by the way, the group’s adopted home, used to be called Edendale). I’m also convinced that, with a few heavyosity changes, we could go way back in the wayback machine and slip this song onto Deep Purple’s multi-platinum 1972 classic Machine Head and no one would notice. But maybe that’s an extreme case of “hearing something from the corner of your ear,” as the infectious and eccentric slide-guitar shuffle “Bag of Leaves,” another highlight of the album, puts it.

Among those songs amenable to near-misses in whatever corner of the ear it travels or travails — exacerbated by Edendale's hit-or-miss lyrics that sometimes amount to serviceable afterthoughts — are the dreary and heavy-handed 6 ½ minute “Isabel,” and another version (this one live) of Bigbang’s creaky and inexplicable hit “Wild Bird.” Perhaps if Øystein Greni and the group are looking for a direction now that they’re here – there’s enough variance in Edendale to beg the question of style-hopping – they may want to, if they haven’t already, take a cue from an artist whose name they directly mention in “To the Max” and whose instrumental trademark they mimic in a snippet right before “Bag of Leaves”: Lindsey Buckingham. He's certainly an adventurous and accomplished enough California-born and raised musician who has combined experimentalism with commercialism and accessibility, one who has given us, if you will, more bigbang for the buck.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • andrea oakes

    I found this review interesting … it’s always good to hear about BigBang in the press. However, I cannot agree with a lot of the comments made. ‘Isabel’ is one of the most addictive tracks on the album and I love every second of it’s 6 & 1/2 minutes.
    You also mentioned ‘Swedish Television’ – as someone who has lost her father many years ago, listening to the lyrics ‘trying to remember the warmth of my fathers hand’ really does have an impact. The album is diverse,full of fun as well as deep emotion – the band really do their own thing & it’s a fresh, joyful & wonderful thing. I saw them live recently & was humbled by their back catalogue of fantastic songs. BigBang never produce an album that sounds like the last one … and for this we are truly thankful! x

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks for your comments, Andrea. I’m willing to give ‘Isabel’ more of a chance – maybe it’ll grow on me with more listenings.