Hand Me Down
Hold the Drum roll
Hyperactive synth-marathon sees Name try a little too hard.
Name is Jørgen Johansen from Fredrikstad, ex-DJ and former member of Norwegian hip hop crew Pass It. With Drum he is following up 2008's single-release Hand Me Down, an auto-tuned synth-pop affair that had the Norwegian music press sliding Name and international success into the same sentence. Name has hence had a hype to live up to with his album debut. But is Drum enough to elbow a-ha off the most-successful-Norwegian-pop-export throne?
Drum is an energetic release filled with shameless fondness for the 1980s. Power-production, multi-layered synths, squealing guitars and jumpy pop drums form the backdrop for Name's wide-ranging vocals. Thomas Eriksen isn't holding back on anything production-wise and all ten tracks stay in your head after just a few spins - always a good foundation for commercial success. It all sounds good on paper, but the audio version is a somewhat different experience.
Now, there's nothing wrong with borrowing from other artists. But you're only likely to get away with it if you do it well. Name, however, does little to hide his musical references and often resorts to mimicking rather than reworking. Alphabet Love is Name's take on OutKast's Hey Ya!, a similarity that becomes particularly uncanny in the hand-claps sequence towards the end. Name is also a devoted Prince lover. Sounds, phrases, vocals and build-ups have Prince-fan written all over them. But where Prince offers mind-blowing melodies, unpredictable arrangements, dripping sensuality and rawness, Name's strong ambition to inhabit the same qualities makes his debut sound forced. He's even thrown in a cover version of Darling Nikki, a soulless rendition that unfortunately only serves to remind us how far away Name is from his musical hero.
In addition to Prince, Name also likes synths. Lots and lots of them, towering on top of each other and the rapid beats. Nothing wrong with that, but with hardly any contrasting stripped-down parts the production gets naggy. Then there's Name's voice. Johansen possesses good pipes, but he constantly oscillates between different sounds and ways of singing, often within single phrases. This topped with frequent high-pitched squeals makes the vocals exhausting at times. Name and producer Eriksen are like two Duracell bunnies - they keep going and going, incorporating very little time to catch one's breath. Even the pauses between tracks are only a second long, leaving hardly enough time to digest one fast-tempoed block of sound before being hit with another.
There is, however, a moment of delight on Drum. Night is a promising and more chilled-out affair containing a suspense and sophistication that's sorely missed on the rest of the album. Licks and melodies are elegantly phrased around each other and Name holds back on the vocals, sounding cool, slick and, most importantly, interesting.
Drum is too much of a Prince pastiche, and as such reminiscent of Name's fellow countryman and Prince admirer Sway aka Espen Lind and his 1995 debut Mmm... Prepare to be Swayed. Both albums sound of someone with the desire to move up and forward with high speed, but somehow lacking the controlled coolness needed to make a mark on the international scene. Lind found his cool by dropping the Sway moniker. Name still has a bit more searching to do.