Artist: I Was a King
Album: I Was a King
So first a word about power-pop: I’m a big fan of this type of music, because it essentially gives the listener what he or she wants upfront, tremendous hooks and fuzzed-out guitar. Or perhaps it only gives this particular listener what he wants. Nevertheless, it is not without its caveats. Foremost of these is the fact that power-pop has largely become a genre exercise, in which preservation and imitation often trump innovation.
If the reader will allow me a small digression, at some point in the mid-to-late sixties, a classical form was reached with rock music. This form solidified the two-guitar, bass and drums (and perhaps organ) lineup, the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/solo structure, and the general length of a catchy song, which generally hovered around the three-minute mark. This form was ingrained in the blueprints of many who came afterward, from Badfinger to the Bangles to Teenage Fan Club.
This form is what makes power-pop glorious, but also what makes it arguably redundant. That is, if the pool from which you are allowed to steal is already limited, the chances of the same songs being continuously rewritten only increase as time goes on. For every great record, there are countless that serve only to bore. Imagine building a Greek temple in the present day; an impressive technical feat to be sure, but there is nothing new to see here.
Which brings me to the self-titled second album from Norway’s I Was a King. I’m pretty sure it is power-pop, but then I have a lingering feeling that it is not. This is perhaps the best praise I can give it and I will try to explain why: What this album accomplishes is a pop form so subverted by noise and other chaos that it almost appears to have accidentally fallen perfectly into place. So while it may be a Greek temple, it is one assembled out of sheer coincidence by a tornado.
Take, for instance, the opening track, “Still,” in which the melody of the verse is hidden beneath metallic clanging, over-saturated drums and a bed of dissonant brass. Only at the chorus do all of these elements align into the power chords that give the listener the first fist-pumping hook, and even then, the direction the hook takes is unexpected. A second listen to the track makes clear that a well-crafted melody was always there.
Thankfully, much of the album continues in this vein. Free-floating and disassociated sounds line up at the exact moment that a minor chord needs to form around a melody. Sheets of guitar noise can be counted on to contain at least one underlying tone on which a guitar riff can bounce. One reason this approach works is that the vocals, which do not sound the slightest bit Norwegian to my ears, remain sugary-sweet and right on key. They provide a fixed point around which the rest of the album can swirl.
Toward the end of this relatively brief album (the brevity of which makes it perfect to spin repeatedly), I Was a King plays it straight just long enough to deliver “Norman Bleik,” a three-minute blast that scales back the haze and noise just long enough to graze all of the power-pop touchstones, reminding the listener that, while there may be nothing new under the sun, the angle of light has everything to do with making the familiar seem strange, alien, and utterly fascinating.
Ryan Harrell. HighStreet. Cleveland