Röyksopp‘s career has never been defined by one style of electronica. The duo, alongside a starry-eyed selection of co-stars like Lykke Li, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Robyn, have made everything from club bangers to pulsating epics and moody ambience for the after-hours over four records. That’s why the news that The Inevitable End, their first album in four years, is set to be their final full-length release is particularly galling. Which begs the question: what kind of exit do they go for? Something low-key, or all out guns blazing?
On this farewell, it quickly becomes clear that Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland have decided to be completely open. They’ve said it’s their most honest and candid work and that is perhaps best reflected in the choice of collaborators, powerful singers who bring a wealth of emotion and drama to the material. In particular, Jamie McDermott from The Irrepressibles turns out to be a truly inspired choice – his compelling voice is what lifts relatively minimalist tunes like the spacey You Know I Have To Go and the slow crawl of Here She Comes Again, with trembling strings merely punctuating the sense of unease that is dominant. The only vocal refrain in Rong, featuring Robyn, is simple (“What the fuck is wrong with you?”) but the way the track builds is remarkably unsettling, creating a paranoid atmosphere.
That’s not to say that The Inevitable End is a completely downtrodden and crippled full-length. Scattered throughout are the kind of thumping tunes that fans of the Norwegian duo have come to treasure; it’s just that there’s a lot more soul-searching contained in them. It’s been a while since they’ve been this melancholic and the results are truly infectious. Monument, from the Do It Again mini-album with Robyn earlier this year, has been re-mixed into something considerably more radio-friendly – the synths shimmer and the low end is beefed up – but the emotional core remains intact. Save Me, sung by Susanne Sundfør, is an immaculate piece of electropop with a central hook that, despite the urgency and pleading of the song’s lyrics, is enough to make one go weak at the knees.
There’s also their trademark lengthy odysseys where you can just block out six minutes of your time and you’ll be transported into an entirely different universe. Case in point is the fantastic Sordid Affair, a collaboration with Man Without Country. Both his soft vocals and the washed out keyboards make for one of the dreamiest tracks that Röyksopp have ever conjured up.
The only thing that prevents The Inevitable End from being a career highlight is its final section, which drifts a bit too far into the ether. Compulsion and Coup De Grace are both songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor, but Thank You ensures that the finish isn’t a total anti-climax with its elastic bassline and contemplative piano. It’s hard to tell what’s being said through a thick vocoder but “Thank you for everything” is the key line that stands out. It feels like a definitive conclusion.
There is some sense for Röyksopp to release music in smaller batches. The Do It Again mini-album was full of ideas and it did spawn Do It Again, one of the songs of the year. However, it’s still a shame to see them turn away from the LP format. None of their previous four were shy and retiring – rather, they bounced around from hi-energy electro to ambient soundscapes in a heartbeat. The Inevitable End, whilst more reflective and introspective, is little different. If this is the end of this current stage of the Röyksopp story, it’s a pretty classy way to bow out.