(18 April 2005) Fifteen months after their second album Everything's Fine, and only a month before Kemopetrol were due to begin the recording of their third album, Play For Me, Kari Myöhänen left the band and was replaced on bass in the studio by Kalle Chydenius. Recording began on schedule in August 2003, the album being released in March 2004.
The first noticeable difference between Play For Me (Plastinka MusicMakers (Finland) 82876606652, 2004) and its predecessors is the artwork. The natural look of the previous two albums is
jettisoned for a much more glossy and posed series of photographs. Maybe this reflects more confidence in their position as a top Nordic band, for the music on this CD also shows a greater certainty than on Everything's fine.
It opens with "Seagulls," a song with a classic Kemopetrol groove backed with a luscious string-laden chorus. The dynamics on this song--and the album as a whole--are well thought out and executed, the half-minute mid-point build from Laura's voice plus sparse strings to the full band and guitar solo is a master class of how to do this simply and effectively. The repeated chorus at the end is also handled well, though the play out seems a little weak by comparison.
Nevertheless it's a great way to start the album.
The strength of the songwriting and the greater emphasis on chorus hooks continues on the engaging "From An Aeroplane" which has some nice vocal harmonies, something the band have used only sporadically in the past.
It's clear that with this album Kemopetrol have totally embraced the notion of pop and are, by sheer talent, powerful songwriting, thoughtful arrangements and their own originality, attempting to lift it from it's current
poor-relation status in much the same way that say ABC's "The Lexicon Of Love" did at the start of the 1980s. So it may not be entirely coincidental, that title track has a certain 80s sound in the opening keyboard.
The first single and video from the album, the brilliant "My Superstar," has yet another blisteringly singable chorus. The band manage to conjure up a variety of moods and references: the first short instrumental passage in the beautiful "Weekend Friend," for example, wouldn't have shamed Pink Floyd at their zenith, and the second break has dual leads which echo early exponents of that art, Wishbone Ash. The album's full of little echoes of the past while remaining solidly in the 21st century.
"End Of The Day" is simply another top draw pop song. "Two" is a wonderfully emotive love song built around piano, percussion and strings, the simple heartfelt lyrics perfectly delivered by Laura. The track also benefits from the
addition of some well thought out melodic woodwind lines in the instrumental passage. All in all, it's close to perfection.
The opening section of the album's closing track,
"Undying Love," has recent antecedents in the Bristol sound of Portishead and Massive Attack. At over seven minutes, it's the longest piece Kemopetrol have yet committed to disc
barring remixes and perhaps could best be described at prog pop. The second section has some acoustic guitar from the Anthony Phillips school and some understated vocals from Laura before strings kick in and together with some
early 70's keyboard sounds, it mutates even more closely towards an early Genesis sound and leaves one musing if this is the way the band may be heading for their next album. It's certainly an interesting and unexpected way to close the CD.
In an age where 'pop' has a become synonymous with music where the computer generated beat is more important than melody or lyrics and which is usually delivered by dance troupes rather than groups of musicians or by manufactured
vocal bands where the main criteria is that no-one has reached the age of majority and where concern over looks far outweighs that of talent, Kemopetrol make an unanswerable case that intelligent, mature, thoughtful pop music still has a place in the musical firmament. Play For Me is an exquisite, boundary-pushing, pop album reminding us of all that is best in a much-maligned genre.--Jamie Field in Hereford England and Russ Elliot in New York