Susanna and the Magical Orchestra: 3
After listening to Susanna And The Magical Orchestra's 3 the first few times, I was prepared to write it off as a sub-par follow-up to the Norwegian act's 2006 covers release Melody Mountain and Susanna Wallumrød's own 2008 covers album Flower of Evil. The vocalist, whether alone or paired with Magical Orchestra partner Morten Qvenild, seemed to fare better as an interpreter of other artists' songs than as a composer in her own right. It was hard to deny the boost of energy that 3 received when covers of Roy Harper's “Another Day” and Rush's “Subdivisions” appeared alongside the album's eight originals, even if the interpretations were no match for List Of Lights And Buoys' stunning version of Dolly Parton's “Jolene” and Melody Mountain's audacious renderings of AC/DC's “It's a Long Way to the Top” and Prince's “Condition of the Heart.”
Prolonged exposure to 3 has prompted a slightly revised impression, however. It now registers as one of those recordings that grows on the listener after multiple listens, with its songs' melodies insinuating themselves ever so surreptitiously into one's memory over time. The new recording also features electronics and synthetic textures more prominently than the group's previous releases (a move in keeping with the lyrical content, which in addition to the usual conerns about matters of the heart also deals with outer space, stars and planets, unknown galaxies, and more). The arrangements also have been beefed up without compromising the essence of the group's sound. Supplementing the material's keyboards-and-vocals core are guitar contributions from co-producer and Supersilent member Helge Sten plus vocals by Mariam Wallentin, vibraphone by Jaga Jazzist's Andreas Mjøs, and drumming by Erland Dahlen.
Even so, the main attraction for this outfit will always be Wallumrød's incandescent voice, and it takes no more than twenty seconds for the opening song “Recall” to cast a spell when the words roll off her tongue like a plume of cigarette smoke. Hearing her voice nakedly presented is one of the recording's main pleasures. “Game,” for instance, places it front and center with every quiver audible, backed by a funereal electronic support and a warbling synthesizer solo; her brother Fredrik doubles her vocal, with his lower-pitched whisper a lovely complement to her crystalline purity. Amidst the metallic clangour of a drum machine and gleaming synth chords, her voice in “Palpatine's Dream” is heard both in single and multi-tracked form, with the latter verging on soulful in its enraptured delivery. In the covers, her haunted reading of “Another Day” is presented in a piano-laden dirge style that would fit seamlessly into Melody Mountain's playlist. “Subdivisions” loses some of its dark allure when twisted into a synth-chiming, drum-machined confection yet can't help but stand out given its melodic charms. “Lost” (“I lost my mother/ I lost her at sea”) is delivered with all the overwrought drama of a prototypical Broadway ballad, while, graced with a lovely key transition from the verse to chorus, the wistful “Someday” (“Someday I hope we will meet again / Where I don't know, when I'm not sure”) likewise sounds like Susanna And The Magical Orchestra auditioning material for a Broadway production.
In general, 3's originals come across more like impressionistic musings than standard verse-chorus songs. “Deer Eyed Lady” is the weakest melodically, so much so that even Wallumrød's singing isn't enough to offset the song's odd meander. But even when the material is less than compelling, her voice exudes a siren-like allure that keeps one listening. The cliché is admittedly hoary, yet truer words were never spoken: she could sing the phone book and the result would still captivate.