Norman Palm - Shore to Shore

by Rich Morris Rating:4 Release Date:2011-02-28

This is Berlin-based designer turned singer-songwriter Norman Palm's second album, although many will not have heard of his first. An art-book accompanied by 11 tracks, Songs was an underground success but had little exposure beyond that. It was followed, however, by YouTube-posted covers of The Cure's 'Boys Don't Cry' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Girl's Just Want to Have Fun' which garnered wider acclaim, even from attention-grabbing blog bitch Perez Hilton - something of a poisoned chalice perhaps.

What surprises on Shore to Shore is how conventional Palm's music is, given his art background. There are some inventive and leftfield moments - the way 'Phantom Lover's lachrymose, saturated melody drops away to leave just a compressed, minimalist beat which gradually builds up into something quite magical. Elsewhere, however, much of Shore to Shore sounds like a folk singer pursuing an ill-advised mid-80s MOR direction.

Songs such as opener 'Start/Stop' and 'Sleeper' are pretty run of the mill daytime radio tunes given a twist thanks to production and dynamics. In this way, the would probably make sense on Take That's recent album, Progress. Fine if you like that kind of thing, but then you probably also like The Feeling and Scissor Sister's last album. A particular irritant is his voice - a honking approximation of impassioned soul singing. Then there's the fact that Palm frequently employs dance and synth-pop sounds, such as on 'Easy', but never uses them to actually make you want to dance. This, of course, is nothing new - just cock an ear to chillwave. But Shore to Shore is so relentlessly mid-paced, and often downbeat, that coupled with syrupy synths and gloopy 80s keyboards, listening to the entire album in one go gives one a sickly feeling.

It's possible Palm has drawn inspiration from Related by Gayngs, one of 2010's most curious and likeable albums, which also stole unashamedly from mid-80s MOR. But whereas Gayngs used psychedelia and dissonance to puncture the slick sound, Palm merely simpers safely from one track to the next. In fact, the only time things really come alive is when Palm steps away from the formula altogether on 'Landslide', a alt-country ditty which bares a strange but rather brilliant resemblance to R.E.M.'s '(Don't Go Back to) Rockville'. With its breezy acoustic guitar and big chorus, it's a blessed relief from the rest of the album. It still has a maudlin air, but this time the effect is bittersweet and light rather than treacle thick. It's addictive and even fun.

Palm should take 'Landslide' as his cue for where to head on album three. As for the rest... Well, if you loved Ellie Goulding's album but wished it was a little more depressing, there's some good news.

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