March 15, 2007

Not Quite Rock Solid

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Sondre Lerche wants to tell you how much of a badass he is. Unfortunately, those of us familiar with his work may not buy it so easily. Phantom Punch, Lerche’s newest release, is a departure from the Chet Baker-infused charming songs that fans of his are familiar with. Although the first track on Phantom Punch, “Airport Taxi Reception” is a typical Sondre Lerche tune, with playful lyrics and syncopated melodies, the second track is straight-up indie rock. The first time I listened to “The Tape” I hated it. I laughed when I heard Sondre Lerche attempt to be a hardcore rocker. That was wrong of me. I soon realized that I was stuck in the past. Once I accepted this new rocker, wanna-be-badass Sondre Lerche, “The Tape” quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album. Many of the tracks on Phantom Punch, including “The Tape” and “Face The Blood,” are almost opposites of the work he did on Two Way Monologues; they are edgier and more contemporary.

One of Lerche’s strengths as a musician is the delicate lyrics he writes. Even more impressive about his lyrical skills is that he is Norwegian and writes in English, a language that is not his own. He writes lyrics simply and beautifully — not many native speakers of English can compete with his songwriting skills. However, his lyrics, graceful though they are, have never been substantial. The delicate beauty of the lyrics on Phantom Punch simply do not stand up to the muscular guitar riffs that Lerche builds up behind them. Although the music of Phantom Punch tries to reincarnate Sondre Lerche as some rebellious rocker, Lerche’s lyrics are just too nice. There’s no other way to describe them. Sondre Lerche is a nice guy, and try as he will to hide under a veneer of distorted electric guitar riffs, his lyrics give him away. Unfortunately, the end result is an album with many good songs that sounds like a victim of over-production. Individually, the songs on Phantom Punch are very good. As an album, Phantom Punch is disjointed and confusing. The strongest tracks on Phantom Punch are the ones that use electric guitar without changing the typical Sondre Lerche style his fans are enamored with. “After All” combines an acoustic guitar riff with some truly beautiful electric guitar solos and simply lovely lyrics. Lerche croons, “Oh, this could be magic after all/ Oh, this could be trouble after all … Could I be so wrong?” Phantom Punch could be, and is, magic on tracks like “The Tape,” “Face the Blood” and “After All,” but Lerche runs into trouble when his new style clashes with his old lyrics on tracks like “Tragic Mirror,” “John Let Me Go” and “Happy Birthday Girl.” Ultimately, I don’t think Lerche was “so wrong.” Phantom Punch has more successful tracks than unsuccessful ones and, as I am a big Sondre Lerche fan, I will forgive him for the few mistakes he made on this album.