Real Ones. What’s in a name? In this credibility climate that followed the rejection of 90’s manufactured pop musical integrity is the indie holy grail. Almost more important than the tunes these days is being perceived as ‘real’. So these five Bergen boys calling themselves Real Ones is either a statement of intent from a cocky band assured of their own abilities and contribution (think The Music) or a nervous assurance to the hip end of the record-buying public; as if a casual browser will wade through all your McFly’s and James Blunt’s before spotting this band’s name emblazoned on the record cover and think, ‘oh, well that’s ok then…’. There is no denying the confidence that courses through Real Ones latest record All For The Neighbourhood, nor the desire to impress that is suggested by the vast array of instruments which sometimes seem to have been thrown into the mix solely to demonstrate the vast array of instruments the band can play.
Real Ones have been knocking around for over a decade, and have already released a couple of albums of their likeable folk-pop, but All For The Neighbourhood is essentially acting as their breakthrough to the Norwegian big-league. The album opens with a short whimsical instrumental ‘Hello’ before careering headlong into the tight banjo twang of ‘Every Dog Has His Day’. Combining barn-dance violins with a perfectly weighted ‘hey hey’ chorus I think this is probably my favourite single of the year until the urgent bass-line of next track ‘Outlaw’ kicks in. The driving rhythm section and SoCal harmonies on this effort confirm Real Ones as ploughing a similar furrow to fellow countrymen The Lionheart Brothers, but despite the ‘perfect summer soundtrack’ and ‘Beach boys harmonies’ plaudits levelled at the latter this is actually, whisper it, a lot more fun; a wonderfully infectious whooping refrain supplemented by boogie piano and more energetic strings.
These two songs are so good the rest of the album could hardly be blamed for faltering, and indeed Real Ones settle into a mellower groove thereafter. ‘The Neighbourhood’ opens with a 70’s throwback ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ organ jangle before a geriatric sitar joins in. These international musical interjections: the sitars, the afrobeat guitar shuffle of the lovely ‘Lonesome Town’, the oriental flavour of ‘Hello’, never really lend the record an exotic air. Rather they are somehow naturally integrated with the Real Ones sound, which, for all the banjos and violins, may really, I suspect, just be Scandinavian indie-pop. Lyrically though the influence is very much the small dusty Old West town, as evidenced by the song titles, but there are suggestions of a less sentimental stance at times. ‘It’s all for the common good/ I’d think that way if I only could’ Jørgen Sandvik sings in ‘The Neighbourhood’, as close as Real Ones get to being anti-establishment, whilst on ‘Every Dog Has His Day’ he laments that ‘all we care about is that America loves us back’, the one obvious assertion of national identity and a surprising one given the musical bent of Real Ones. Ultimately though, for all the American influence, they don’t actually sound very American. There’s something vaguely British about the whole affair; as if Paul McCartney and George Harrison (it would explain the sitar) moseyed off to live on a ranch with the Flaming Lips poppier bits.
All For The Neighbourhood is, at any rate, chock full of great songs. It’s a record brimming with, if not great originality, masses of invention and joyful abandon, from the euphoric (kazoo lead? Probably.) instrumental breakdown in ‘Tomorrow’, through the unashamedly Rufus Wainwright slow-dance verse of the twinkly ‘I Will Not Let You Down’, to the final Abbey Road wig-out of ‘Come On Over’, and of course those two killer tracks at the start. All For The Neighbourhood isn’t a groundbreaking, experimental, psychedelic ramble, despite the foreign touches. It’s not particularly cool, and it’s certainly not very 2008.
So not ‘real ones’? You know what, I think I was wrong in restricting their naming-motivation, lets add a third option: Real Ones couldn’t give a damn about credibility, they picked the name because they happened to like it, and they wouldn’t even know about the post-nineties credibility climate because they still think it’s 1973. And thank God for that. Arch-experimentalists and Real Ones heroes Wilco tried to make this album with their last effort Sky Blue Sky, blending McCartney-esque pop sensibilities with the alt-country of, well, Wilco. It was ok. This is a gem.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2008