The Duper Sessions
n the world of the wistfully winsome former phenom Sondre Lerche melodies race up the down escalator and “fuck” is replaced by “romance.” He’s still boyishly charming as ever, still valiantly trying to make Cole Porter safe for people who still breathe, but The Duper Sessions, Lerche’s latest, finds our blond-haired blue-eyed Norwegian prince all too often exchanging his deceptively simple perfect-pop genius for a used copy of Jazz for Dummies. Lerche, it would seem, on his previous releases has only been merely hinting at his affection for traditional pop, opting with The Duper Sessions to stretch his fetish to its furthermost extreme. To be sure it’s all grand and (de)lovely stuff, but given his admiration for Elvis Costello, isn’t it a bit early to hit the Diana Krall phase?
Fortunately and for the most part, Lerche’s pleasant broken-English innocence remains intact, his gentle sophisticated melodies still irresistibly endearing above the brush-stroked snares and plucked upright bass., but unlike the jazz-tinged pop of Faces Down and Two May Monologues, the pop-tinged jazz of The Duper Sessions often comes off as simulacrum—grabbing merely at the shadow of those heady days when pop songs weren’t written by people just guessing about, when a minor shift or diminished chord wouldn’t bowl you over with how foreign yet utterly perfect it sounded.
Lerche’s appeal has always been in his seeming anachronism and his reading here of Porter’s “Night and Day,” strikingly more confident than its previous appearance on the Don’t Be Shallow EP, should prove he is more than up for the task, but its stripped down for-solo-guitar arrangement is the exception to The Duper Sessions’ rule.
Most of The Duper Sessions finds Lerche with his trusted gang of Norwegian ringers the Faces Down Quartet tackling originals “Everyone’s Rooting For You,” and “Across the Land” like they want to romance its brains out. “(I Wanna) Call it Love” opens with just Lerche and his Gretsch, singing tender twirling melodies, only to be suddenly and rudely interrupted by an intrusive string arrangement. It’s subtraction by addition.
When Lerche and his band relax they fare far better. “You Sure Look Swell” (the best Roy Orbison song Richard Hawley hasn’t written yet) and the gentle “Dead End Mystery,” with its haunting hovering guitar melody accented by simple piano droplets both place Lerche back in his comfort zone. He’s the better for it. When Lerche slows things down (TWM’s “Maybe You’re Gone,” It’s Our Job,” Faces Down’s “Virtue and Wine”) he’s completely arresting. When he speeds things up (propulsive rockers “Sleep on Needles,” “Johnny Johnny Ooh Ooh”) he’s utterly exhilarating. Mid-tempo numbers have always been his Achilles heel and The Duper Sessions is mad mid-tempo, yo. It’s almost enough to call it a bad look.
But then out comes a song like “(You Knocked Me) Off My Feet,” as close to a standard as a modern record can possibly be, a perfect pocket-sized gem, completely new yet instantly familiar. Sweetly placid piano accompanies Lerche’s lament through its verse. He sings: “Never thought of heaven as a relevant spot.” They sloooooowly meander their way across the progression until simple hushed drums and warm jazz guitar join in oh so gently for the song’s resigned chorus, “You knocked me off my feet / Heaven is from / Where you have gone / Now I’m safe.” The only thing missing is Sondre Lerche in a red dress with some Galois cigarettes. Cole Porter, or at the very least Kevin Kline, would most certainly approve, and it’s easily the best thing he’s done since “You Know So Well.”
Still, a bit uneven The Duper Sessions remains. It’s the record Lerche was bound to make, but it wasn’t expected this soon. Autumn tentatively promises the release of yet another Lerche album, this one slated to be a collection of more “primitive” and punchy propulsive Costello-inspired rock. Now that’s more like it: Be gone the beguine.
Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2006-03-30