Major Parkinson 🇳🇴 - ‘Valesa - Chapter 1: Velvet Prison’
As some of you know, I find it almost impossible to write about the bands I really love, proven I feel by the fact that this is the 17th redraft of my write up of Major Parkinson's 'Valesa Chapter 1, Velvet Prison', and it's about 2-3 months out of date. But l want to get straight to the biggest issue that we have to confront with 'Velvet Prison', the somewhat unfortunate reality that it follows on from 'Blackbox', their extraordinary 4th Album, which many rightly regard as one of the greatest albums ever to be released in rock history. I ended my review of that album by pointing out "I have no idea how and if 'Blackbox' can ever be 'bettered', but for now that hardly matters, because this is an album to be admired, loved and then cherished for ever." And it certainly has been at least for the last 5 years.
The harsh reality though is that at some point it would matter, because a 5th Album would be released, and inevitably it would be compared to 'Blackbox'. It's what we all do, whether it's comparing our favourite Beatles or Korea Kitten Riot album. But behind the scenes, deep in the Norwegian mountains, maybe in a cabin close to the sky, Major Parkinson were plotting their next steps, and somehow have now achieved the impossible, which is create an album that can never be compared to Blackbox. And of course, it's perfect.
We always knew Major Parkinson could write a good pop tune, each of their albums is packed full of them. So the Valesa journey has taken them back to the 80's, an era full of unashamedly big pop hits, perfect for the band to explore their natural melodic creativity. But it was also an era of huge political uncertainty. East / West relations were at their lowest, at least until now, and as always Major Parkinson love such contrasts, the bands name / personality split is based around this simple premise. Valesa Chapter 1 seizes on this, an album which is full of mystery and uncertainty, yet actually based around simpler and maybe bigger musical themes.
Vocalist Jon Ivar Kollbotn of course has the simplest way of describing it: "Synth anthems set in a disco of nuclear anxiety." And the result is that you can listen to the album in different ways, on some days it has an almost 'throwaway' pop quality, with hits perfect for your modern day playlists, alternatively you can dig deeper, explore the bigger themes, try to understand what's hidden behind the incredibly complex lyrics.
But either way the result is extradorinary, 17 tracks, exactly 1 hour long, opening with the lyrical themes in 'Behind the Next Door' that set out the bands new direction: "Behind the next door I’m starting again, Behind the next door you watch me unfold... I’m moving in time". And in 'Saturday Night' and 'Live Forever' we see the band at their most open, expansive and unrestrained, yet if you listen to the rhythms in the latter track, you will still hear the unmistakable complexities of Major Parkinson too.
The centre piece of the album is undoubtedly 'Jonah' a revamped album version of the single they released a couple of years back. How they had the patience to deconstruct the original and start again I'm not sure, but the result is a breathtaking, soulful 6 1/2 minutes concluding with hints of early Arcade Fire, an epic piano theme and an always tearful me - and I know I'm not the only one who is affected in the same way by the power of this track.
After that they could do quite frankly do whatever they want and I'd still be bought into the albums success, and actually it heads slightly leftfield. The manic 'The House' was fabulous live, whilst the sequence of 'Posh Apocalypse', 'Moma' and 'Lemon Symphony' is more post-apocalypse Cardiacs then anything else, with my favourite track 'Moma' a particular delight, courtesy of Peri Winkle's playful catchy vocals and as yet unpenetrable lyrics quoting Carles Casagemas and Gertrude Stein.
Of course I've barely scratched the surface, and that is one of the remarkable features of this album, which is I don't think any of us have quite fully appreciated the true depth, or the subtleties within it. There are 100's of hours of listening enjoyment, before we even consider the prospect of Chapter 2 . Will that take us into a new direction again? There's no rush. We can wait to find out. I would just suggest one thing, that we all simply step back, take a minute and remember we are the luckiest of humans to be here witnessing another incredible Major Parkinson release. And we thank and salute you all for it.
Find them on Facebook. Buy stuff on Bandcamp. And we of course wish Jon Ivar Kollbotn all the best as he continues his recovery. Everyone has so much love for the big man, we will all wait and be patient until he is 100% fit and healthy to resume his musical endeavours.