It is my first Glastonbury. A place of pilgrimage: new-age mysticism, rolling green hills, a haven of expressional freedom. True to form it pisses down. The new bands tent is a tepid reservoir, dazed and beery stragglers squelch reluctantly after the contents of their tents that, sensing freedom, flow out of reach in a streaky current. It is an image of classical hell: mud, shit, piss and sweat; the stoned few able to embrace the conditions seemingly intent on ensuring that contentment is their sole preserve by lurching at timid passers-by to spread the mud like a contagion. It is so wet that showering would actually make you drier, except that there aren’t even any fucking showers. I lurch through these alleys of filth, like Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ in the monsoon season, my numbed senses conscious only of the vital importance of staying doggedly on my feet. Suddenly I become aware that the invasive rain is no longer beating mercilessly down, there is an awning over my head, the ground is surprisingly firm, and, lo and behold, there they are, in front of me on a stage that seems insultingly mundane: Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band. This was worth the shit, piss, mud and sweat. Worth the slippery, slushy, sloppy, squelching, swirling soup. Here was my Mount Ararat.
Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band are quite simply the most fun band I have ever seen. In a lineup of superstars it is the thought of Erlend Sellevold providing the festival’s ‘Sexual Experience’ as he caressed his synth with a floppy belly, Thomas Lønnheim and Tarjei Strøm’s drum heroics, the unbeatable presence of Ralph Myerz, that I will cherish.
There has always been something of a divide between the live beast of the Jack Herren Band, if you will, and the funky downtempo of Ralph Myerz’ recorded work, but it generally works. They have never quite succeeded in translating the heady thrill of their live performances into the studio, but the chilled nostalgia of their output consistently bridges the gap between chillout and ‘party’. As if to confirm the divide between the live show dominated by the two Kiss-loving drummers and Sellevold’s beats Ralph Myerz is taking some time away from the Jack Herren Band to release Ralphorama, a solo effort that fills the void left by the percussionists with a string of second-rate US hip-hop artists.
Sellevold seems to be striving to craft a summery party album that panders to the Norwegian penchant for adopting American cultural ideals that are perhaps incompatible with the Norwegian reality. US notions of ‘party’; dumb machismo, hazy evenings chugging beer and getting high, are mashed with the more modest Norwegian ones – Ralph Myerz’ familiar sounds overlaid with Americans or Norwegian American-wannabes who constantly draw attention to this international solidarity. Even the numerous more local vocal guests seem to accord with this attitude. It comes across as an almost cynical concoction, as if Sellevold has drafted in the foreigners and mimicked US clichés in a bid to raise his profile abroad, and to make Norwegians both see him in a more international context and imbibe Ralphorama in a misdirected belief that it proves Norway’s compatibility with American culture and that America has an interest in and affinity with Norwegian culture. It is an attempt to make the Norwegian version of Timbaland’s recent solo effort, but by trying to capture that essence of the vapid American ‘party’ lifestyle Ralph Myerz offer up an album that just comes across as a bit dumb. In fact, it’s frankly stupid. Which would be fine if it was the fun ride that it wants to be, but it largely isn’t. Harsh words, I know, but the sad part of it all is that Sellevold’s contributions are consistently funky and interesting, indeed more diverse and exploratory than on Jack Herren Band efforts. It’s just that even the greatest beats wouldn’t survive vocal and lyrical contributions as inane as some of these are.
Ralphorama starts promisingly enough with an intro that sounds like old-school mobiles ringing over the James Bond credits, its framing nature suggesting a cohesiveness that is never actually achieved, before the start of the album proper is heralded by a suitable explosion. ‘Hello’ offers early confirmation of the dichotomy between Sellevold’s beats and the vocals. The music pleasingly hints at countryman Lindstrøm’s space-disco, all stargazing bleeps and echoes, but the vocal offering, presumably from Sellevold himself, is tuneless and grating, ‘hello, hello’ he repeatedly intones, until ‘goodbye’ can’t come soon enough. ‘Sometimes’ appears to pick up where that song irritatingly left off, local boy Leca spouting something trite about ‘reading magazines’ and ‘getting high’, but then the addictive ascending electronics and machine drum rolls are married to a killer chorus to create one of the highlights of the album – even the repeated bit about magazines doesn’t seem that bad next time round. Curiously the ‘bad verse, good chorus’ pattern is reversed on the next track, ‘Prison Break’. After a plonky eastern intro the song reveals itself to be built on foundations of grinding bass and dirty fly-zapper europop synths overlaid with the vocal talents of Bergen-girl Karin Park, who darkly muses that she ‘has to get away’, instantly recalling Karin Dreijer Andersson, of The Knife. Sadly the numerous similarities to that excellent band are thrust aside in a disappointingly twee refrain that claims it’s ‘bed time for all the children, gonna do it tonight.’ It seemed uncharacteristically dark, but I guess it was just about getting laid after all. It’s not bad, though, and there are several more high points on Ralphorama. ‘All Night Long’ is a delightful disco swinger that features a chorus that would slot seamlessly onto Annie’s first long-players, whilst the instrumental ‘Smokey’ and the prog noodling of ‘Stormy Weathers’ are pleasant if forgettable. Presumably the latter’s weather forecast chorus is a metaphor for something, but I can’t be sure.
Overall, though, it is the dud efforts that leave the strongest impression. ‘Montana’ is the bare bones of a song and ‘Grey Goose’ is a monochrome turkey; the addition of perhaps the most notable of the American guests, Talib Kweli, failing to elevate the track above such lyrical postulations as ‘we just want ass and big titties’. The double act of ‘We Don’t Give A Fuck’ (‘we don’t fuck in here, cos she don’t give a fuck’) and ‘Shit Talkin’ are about as good as you would expect, whilst the shout out of ‘from Norway to Cali’ that kicks off ‘Summertime Heat’ might tick the album’s ‘party without borders’ intentions, but it heralds a horrible song. ‘Summertime, getting high/ …at the barbecue/ a coupla brews/ you wanna fuck, suck the whole damn crew’ intones J Wells inspirationally. I feel for the poor Elise, I really do, as she is forced to gargle the song’s cringeworthy mantra: ‘summertime heat/ got me feeling so right/ …smoking weed all night.’ ‘Heatwave’, an attempt to replicate previous airy female vocal-led successes like ‘Nikita’ and ‘Think Twice’, is palatable, but by that stage of the album there can be no real recovery. Which is a shame, because the last two songs are positively meditative and eerie. ‘Sandviken’ in particular almost delving into welcome dubstep territory.
So basically Ralph, Erlend, Jack, whatever; I’d still wade through a river of shit to see you guys live, just as long as you (please) don’t invite any of your friends. You are soooo much better without them.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2008