The Kings of Convenience
Riot on an Empty Street
2004
B+



imagine for a moment that, after splitting up the first time before their debut album, Simon and Garfunkel had never re-teamed to make Wednesday Morning, 3 AM in 1964. Now, imagine that, after moving to England to record his first solo album, Paul Simon ended up meeting a group of young Englanders calling themselves Pink Floyd. They grew to be friends, respecting each others work, but, alas, Syd Barrett’s wild imagery and psychedelic freak-outs didn’t impress Paul and his trusty acoustic too much, and he kept his distance. Over the next few years, Paul kept working the local music venues waiting for his big break, while his friends, Syd, Roger, Nick and Rick, were doing great with a hit single about a cross-dresser named Arnold, a wonderful debut album about space travel and children’s books, and a growing cult of followers. Months pass, then finally, one day, young Paul gets a phone call:

Roger: Paul! How the hell are you?
Paul: Oh, hello Roger. Fine, just fine. You?
Roger: Well . . . things aren’t going so great.
Paul: Really?
Roger: Yeah . . . Apparently, our lead singer and head songwriter has gone completely mad, so, me and the guys were wondering . . .
Paul: Yes?
Roger: Well . . .
Paul: Go on.
Roger: It’s just that . . . Well, there’s this guy David here. He says he’s interested, but I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t ask you first . . .

You get the idea.

If history had taken this course, Pink Floyd would have sounded like The Kings of Convenience do on Riot on an Empty Street. The KOC’s fourth album rings of Simon and Garfunkel classics like “Scarborough Fair” and post-Saucerful of Secrets and pre-Dark Side of the Moon era Floyd album favorites like Meddle’s “A Pillow of Winds”, but still manages churn out original love songs.

They never sound depressed, but there’s plenty of heartbreak in this duo’s world. Whether they’re looking for the perfect song to mend their troubled heart, even though they’re on the job (“Homesick”), or comparing a relationship to prison and theater (“Sorry or Please”), The KOC keep those guitar’s bouncy and upbeat. In “Stay Out of Trouble”, Erlend and Eirik say goodbye to someone they care deeply about. With lines like, “I was along and freezing”, it’s amazing how I find myself bouncing my head merrily side to side to the beat of the upright bass.

The Kings of Convenience don’t stray too far from their basic formula of guitars, upright bass, twinkling piano, viola, cello and soft percussion in the background. It’s consistent and it works. Nevertheless, they’re smart enough to throw a banjo or a trumpet into the end of a song to keep things interesting. But, like Simon and Garfunkel, the hooks and melodies of the songs are created with the harmonizing voices, credited to Erlend and Eirik in the liner notes as “high voice” and “low voice”, respectively.

Any one of the first eight tracks could’ve been singles. After that, it becomes great background music. In my opinion, that’s a fine album. If you listen to “Gold In the Air of Summer”, you can consciously feel yourself being sung to sleep, while “Surprise Ice” actually sounds like a setting sun. The album comes to a perfect end with the ironically titled, “The Build Up”, ending with female vocals crooning about a spinning top slowly coming to a stop.

Just looking at the cover of the album gives you an indication of what you’re in for: two skinny white boys from Norway, dressed in autumn colors, planted in front of a chess board on a fluffy white rug. One is looking at a smirking brunette reading a hardcover book while the other stares right back at you . . .

It’s the type of music to listen to while drinking hazelnut cappuccinos and watching a rain shower from the porch. And, of course, playing chess.



Reviewed by: Nick Mims
Reviewed on: 2004-12-16
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