Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is perhaps best known for his work with fellow Norwegian Prins Thomas. Their collaborative efforts saw the duo producing spaced-out, twisted disco and placed them at the vanguard of the recent, much vaunted ‘nu disco’ movement.
Real Life Is No Cool sees the Oslo-based producer team up with singer Isabelle Haarseth Sandoo, aka Christabelle, but the results are more steeped in the ’80s than any updated, ’70s-influenced cosmic disco sound. Looking For What makes ears prick up from the start with Christabelle’s vocals reversed and twisted before a Giorgio Moroder-style synth line and electro beat take over. As Christabelle asks “Is it still hot? Does it feel stronger?”, the track opens up into an ’80s-edged, piano-flecked, mellow house track.
Lovestruck sees stripped back funk overlaid with sultry vocals but ends up plodding slightly. This is swept away by the Balearic warmth that shines through the core of Let It Happen, sonically nestling somewhere between the Beloved‘s Sun Rising and the Grid‘s Flotation. As each track flows into the next, Keep It Up slows the pace right down with its soulful, almost gospel feel coming across like an early era Prince track. While schmaltzy, it just about avoids veering into full-on cheese.
A reminder that Real Life Is No Cool has taken some years to come to fruition comes in the form of 2003 single Music In My Mind, also released on Lindstrøm’s own Feedelity label. Again heavily drenched in early ’80s synth stabs and a slow and steady synthesised backbeat, its uplifting melodies and smooth vocals make this a dreamlike journey back in time.
While there is a production sheen and many studio tricks and sound effects to keep listeners engaged, Lindstrøm does not overdress each composition. Rather than slipping into the contemporary producers’ trap of over-polishing and overworking an idea and blurring it by placing far too many sounds into a small space, each track is allowed to breathe without any unnecessary clutter obscuring the view. The only criticism could be that it is so referential and reverential towards the ’80s that there is little to indicate that this is a contemporary album being released in 2010. But perhaps that was the duo’s desired result.
Baby Can’t Stop is another fine example of this backward looking stance, but it matters little when the end product is so listenable, danceable and catchy. Another Moroder/Donna Summer styled electro-stomper comes in the form of Let’s Practise and, if the results weren’t so enjoyable, it could all become overwhelmingly retro, but somehow they carry it off. One of the best moments on the album is saved for finale, High & Low, which is as well a polished pop track as you’re likely to hear this side of 1985.
Real Life Is No Cool inhabits a place where pop, electro, house, funk and disco collide, and the results are accomplished, stylish and, above all, fun. If you think the ’80s is the decade musical taste forgot, you will probably hate this album. But if you enjoy slapping your deelyboppers or rara skirt on, or just appreciate well-constructed pop-edged dance, you will relish the carefree abandon that runs through the heart of each of these 10 tracks.