2009 trivia time! What famous pop star died in 2009? If you it took you more than .0002 seconds to answer, you probably shouldn’t be reading this article. Actually, you’re probably not even alive. Healthcare, Afganastan, the crumbling economy and subsequent recession… sorry, but 2009 will not be remembered for these things. So, excuse me if I mention the king of pop about a dozen times throughout the course of this review, but sliding in at tail end of the year, Lindstrøm & Christabelle have produced the most fitting tribute to Michael Jackson’s best work I can think of. For a man who sadly made himself most famous many years, slip-ups, scandals, and embarrassments after his fabled hey-day, L & C seemed focused on the true gifts Jackson gave to his fans and the music world at large: that of ass-shakin’, toe-tappin, fun-lovin’, and truly brilliant songsmanship.
One thing I think a lot of people have seem to forget about the best work Jackson produced: he didn’t produce it. Quincy Jones did. Now, there’s no questioning that the songwriting and delivery of Thriller is still without parallel (and shall remain so for quite some time). But it’s absolutely crucial to remember that without Jones’ skillful arranging of the various parts and pieces that make up the epic symphonies of pop Jackson sang over, the album simply could never have held it’s own weight. Jones found a way to balance Jackson’s charismatic bravado by firing back on all cylinders with blasting horns, tight rhythm sections, and exuberant, brilliant layers of sonorous texture.
It’s in this spirit of the fully-formed, lush dance tune that Lindstrøm takes his cue, filtering this sensibility through a truly 2009 vibe (if not forward-thinking, or even futuristically ahead of its time), and in doing so, by pairing with a highly skilled vocalist in Christabelle, he has succeeded in the crafting of 2009’s finest pop album (this record was released in Europe December of last year, stateside this month)… even though it’s not exactly pop. And the most impressive thing about Lindstrøm’s effort here is that, unlike Jones, he doesn’t have the benefit of a studio’s worth of equipment, and an industry’s worth of musicians at his disposal. Real Life is No Cool ends a year shrouded in the loss of pop music’s most-tragic of stars by paying tribute to not the man, but the music behind the man, and the real reason Michael Jackson was so great.
But Real Life is No Cool is an interesting, if not somehow puzzling career move for Lindstrøm, who made perhaps his biggest splash to date with last year’s brilliant Where You Go I Go Too – a magnum-opus of space disco meanderings, three sprawling tracks totaling almost an hours worth of unstoppable dance beats and hypnotically breathing (even psychedelic) textures. It’s arguable that Lindstrøm thrives best in these more open modes (the pop song is admittedly a quite “closed” form in and of itself), and what’s important here is that he doesn’t lose complete sight of his signature sound with Christabelle by his side. “Looking for What,” opens the album with Christabelle’s voice seismically splashing like waves against a coast of nothingness, all backwards and doubled, and looped. It’s a full minute before she finally makes some intelligible sense as the beat slowly solidifies into that classic Morodor pulse. “What should we do? Should we start?” She repeats as if the two are treading on somewhat unfamiliar ground. The song lasts a full six minutes, which is a healthy-dose for anything with the “pop” tag on it, yet it’s uniquely relatable in the pop forum.
The song ends with a ramschackle of sampled ideas, as if the duo truly is searching for that quintessential “what,” before finding it, sliding quickly into the stomping-raver “Lovesick.” It’s an immensely satisfying track with a throbbing forward motion, yet relaxed and sloooooowly lurching beat. A word of caution: watch your head on this one. By no fault of your own, you may find it slamming uncontrollably into the nearest solid object directly in front of you (try not to listen to it in front of, say, a brick wall). Christabelle is at her flirtiest, most luscious, absolute sexiest on this cut, snuggling her whisper right up against your ear – a tantalizing siren’s call to the dance floor.
If the ghost of Thriller haunts any one particular track, it’s “Baby Can’t Stop.” It’s got a stretchy bass line and some supremely tight horn hits that hammer down a hook so sharp it’s guaranteed to make Peter Pan pee his pants. Lindstrøm’s never had a track quite like it, dead solid proof that he, however near-perfect in the space-disco format, can throw down in the radio, club-ready ring with some serious authority.
Overall, Christabelle – while solid – is not the album’s true draw, as Lindstrøm kind of over-shines the vocals throughout the album. He sounds great with a vocalist, but this still feels more like a Lindstrøm album than it does a collaboration, especially when he recycles an old single, 2003’s “Music In My Mind,” which originally appeared on the It’s a Feedelity Affair singles collection, and reappears here as a new mix with the Christabelle’s vocals included, which seems almost like an afterthought.
Though 2009 may go down in history with the stain of tragedy painted across the old man’s sash (out with the old…), the cold and final chapter of December has brought the warmth of a fun, sweaty night’s out to the club with Real Life is No Cool. It’s a record to to listen to and remember why we love to dance, and stands tall and strong among the Gwen Stafani’s of our generation, who seem to toss dance music’s more important innovators in the waste basket. Lindstrøm’s take on the style is simultaneously old and new, as though looking back in time has opened a wonderful and exciting new door. With each subsequent release, Lindstrøm has miraculously improved and is ever-closer to making leaving his mark permanently stamped in the history books.