Norway - Full Moon 146 - 08/16/08
White Lord Jesus
...Into That Good Night
Kong Tiki Records
This is WLJ's successor of their debut cassette album Amen!, originally released almost 24 years ago. We gave the duo a broad presentation in 2005 when Amen! was re-launched on disc simply titled White Lord Jesus with the odd bonus tracks and one brand new recording. To recapitulate: WLJ was formed early 1984 as a goth/synth duo inspired by darker and sinister sides of the rock underground at the time, like Birthday Party/Nick Cave, DAF and Virgin Prunes. They split in the second half of 1985 and resurrected 20 years later.
The secret of WLJ's success probably has to do with contrasts; keyboard player Tognazzi's sense for neat, simple and catchy pop melodies, whereas vocal and focal point Tristan Christ is the untamed beast. ...Into That Good Night includes several surprises. On the surface, the majority of songs sound prettier, less noisy and scary than I expected. Only a few tracks towards the end of the album let loose the beast. But it doesn't mean the beast is tamed in the quieter songs. He is growling the messages throughout, in his dramatic - sometimes theatrical - voice, with sharp teeth, in a restrained mood. For instance, "Black Horned Saint" has one of the sweetest melodies of the album, with a children's choir and all. The lyrics on the other hand...
Another surprise is the development since Amen! in 1984. In one sense ...Into That Good Night works as the logical successor that could've been released a year or two later. The songs aren't that different. Here's even a rerecording of the bloodstained ballad "Song For A Dark Girl" from the debut, even darker than the original with great guest vocals from Haddy N'jie. The definite version of the song. And we have an angst ridden cover version of "Frankie Teardrop" from Suicide's debut album of the late 1970s. Also, that sometimes annoying drum machine of old is present here and there and leaves a flavour of the mid 1980s. But, obviously, the new album is more mature. After all, we're dealing with two artists in their mid 40s. And the keyboards and recording technology has somehow developed since the happy analogue days with a 4-track cassette recorder in 1984. I guess the second cover version, of Bob Dylan, would've been out of the question back in the 80s. Now, Mr. Zimmerman's "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" (from around 1964) is given a treat with a mean banjo in the centre, straight out of the film Deliverance.
The musical direction of some songs, towards... laid-back gospel is also kind of surprising. Well, WLJ had one stint at something in the direction of a Negro spiritual, back then. Now it sounds more for real, mainly thanks to aforementioned guest Haddy N'jie's presence on two occasions. In a way, this direction is the opposite of the band's starting point and the intention of the band name. Still, the lyrics, of course, are not particularly divine. On the contrary. Other guests include Arve Henriksen (Supersilent), Martin Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist and The National Bank), Bård Torstensen (Clawfinger - he also guested on Amen! 24 years ago as a young local heavy rocker!), Geir Emanuelsen (Beat Tornados), Maja Ratkje and Hild Sofie Tafjord (both Spunk, Fe-mail and others), Rebekka Karijord (actor and solo artist), Bengt Hansen (The Colors Turned Red and Wholy Martin), Nils Økland (several bands, constellations and solo artist) - and The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on several tracks. They're essential to the variety and diversity of the album.
Favourite songs range from the soft-soft "Enigma" with a guest appearances by vocalist Maja Ratkje and a lazy-jazzy trumpet by Arve Henriksen, via excellent pop songs like "Redhead" and "Vinegar & Sun", to the frantic "Rat Attacks!". Keyboard player Tognazzi is renowned as a film producer and director. The soundscapes of the latter and "Crotalis Horridus" (another favourite) in particular, are very cinematic. Tognazzi might write soundtracks to his own films, if he wanted to. Still, the greatest surprise and achievement is that the duo has managed to write and record great songs for an ideal album after 20 years of almost no musical activities for the two main participants.
More info and samples at the WLJ home page.
Copyright © 2008 JP