From Sweden’s Robyn and Lykke Li to Norway’s Annie, our Nordic cousins are out to prove that pop music need not begin and end with the latest winner of some reality talent show.
Add to that group Finland’s Heidi Kilpelainen, aka HK119, a visual arts graduate whose album Fast Cheap and Out of Control looks at the increasing alienation of modern man through the themes of celebrity culture, space travel, cloning and surveillance. Phew. Leona Lewis she most definitely isn’t.
So, Fast Cheap and Out of Control is an electro-pop concept album, sung by a former art student that deals with themes not unlike those featured on the pages of Heat magazine or the Daily Mail. But as with many a concept album, the enjoyment is greatly increased if you ignore the big picture and focus on the tunes, and luckily for HK119 tunes are something she does quite well.
Co-produced by Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling of I Monster / All Seeing I, the album manages to sound both dated and modern, usually in the same three minute song. Opener Mind begins with a basic drum pattern and a cheap vocoder sound, before swaths of synths emerge from nowhere and Kilpelainen’s voice rings out crystal clear. It’s a brilliant opener.
Recent single C’est La Vie is another electro-pop gem, all squelching keyboard sounds and robotic backing vocals. It brings to mind the best bits from Roisin Murphy‘s woefully underrated Overpowered album or anything from Supernature by Goldfrapp. It’s also testament to the power of pop music when the parameters are shifted or bent into new and exciting shapes.
However, unlike Murphy or Alison Goldfrapp, Kilpelainen doesn’t possess a voice that anyone could call versatile, and as the album goes on (and it really does at sixteen songs long) her blunt singing/speaking style resembles a disgruntled Finnish newsreader as opposed to a bona fide pop star.
It doesn’t help either that the lyrics can feel hamstrung by the impositions of the concept, as the otherwise rather fun Liberty shows – “Do you remember when it was possible to smoke in cinemas, cafes and planes?” is hardly the greatest opening gambit to a song that musically screams G.A.Y on a Saturday night.
Elsewhere, Celeb attempts a strange first with a lounge-jazz-electro hybrid complete with sound effects of champagne bottles popping and lyrics that read like Amy Winehouse’s daily drug intake. It doesn’t quite work, but as with most art it feels like the experiment and the idea are what matter here.
Ultimately, that’s the main problem with Fast Cheap and Out of Control. Whilst there are great moments and songs that stick in the mind, it can feel like too much of a chore then an all out pop pleasure. Being clever in pop is never a bad thing, and some of the best pop singles of recent years have been those that look outside the box, but there is also such a thing as being too clever for your own good and alienating the listener.
It will be interesting to see where HK119 goes once she ditches the concepts and engages the heart as well as the head.