Wolfgang Petersen’s film adaptation of The NeverEnding Story features a musical score by Klaus Doldinger, as well as a pop-smash single bearing the film’s name. The song is heavy on synthesizers, decidedly heavy on cheese, and positively overflowing with Limahl. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how the song was the hit it was, but those were the days when Limahl and others of his ilk reigned supreme over the musical landscape. Some pop-synth acts remain held in high regard (Pet Shop Boys, New Order), while others disappeared into the ether (Flock of Seagulls and, of course, Limahl).
Cut to 2011. With the release of the album Moment Bends, Architecture in Helsinki has decided the best course of action to take in its young-ish career is to recreate Limahl’s “The NeverEnding Story” over the course of 11 songs (12 if you count bonus track “Out of Focus”). There are different lyrics for copyright purposes and the speeding up and slowing down of certain tracks to avoid any pesky lawsuits. Is this paragraph full of conjecture and out-and-out lies? Yes. Is it a believable paragraph, nonetheless? Sadly, yes. For (current) band members Cameron Bird, Gus Franklin, Jamie Mildren, Sam Perry, and Kellie Sutherland, this is quite the misfire.
Oh, Architecture in Helsinki’s new album isn’t terrible. Much of the following will concentrate on three songs that fall into the category of “quite good.” They don’t make the album worth purchasing, but that’s why god (or just Steve Jobs) created the “Buy Song” option on iTunes. After all, Architecture in Helsinki didn’t gain popularity by skating by as a group of untalented Australians in search of success by any means possible. Look at Moment Bends as a miscalculation and its creators are more forgivable. We’ll focus on the positive, because if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t talk about 72% of Moment Bends.
“Desert Island” is certainly one of the good tracks up for discovery. If its placement in the tracklisting was anything other than the lead song, perhaps its quality would diminish. As the album continues on through its 43-minute run time, the sound of synths and drum machines wears itself out. However, the first four minutes and fifteen seconds of Moment Bends are perfectly pleasant. With digital pan flutes and “NeverEnding Story” synths (that movie just keeps coming back, doesn’t it?), Cameron Bird’s voice lifts the song into the “utopia playground” the song invokes. The absolute positivity that emanates from not only this track but much of the entire album is undeniable. It’s ultimately the lack of variety that does the album in.
The best track by far is Moment Bends’ midway mark, “Sleep Talkin’”. A proper acoustic guitar strums in the background, as Bird sings of how “sleep talkin’s almost letting go.” A heartbeat of a drumbeat welcomes the listener in for the most soothing track on the record. The synthesizers are not intrusive in the least; they only lend in lilting us to sleep in our auditory hammocks and ridiculous analogies. The buildup leading into the track’s breakdown is another indicator of how good this band can be when everything is clicking. Pity there is only one more keeper after this track.
The last bit of good news pertaining to Moment Bends comes in the form of “Everything’s Blue”. It’s got a seductive beat to it that resembles Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, and the chorus features a musical arrangement straight out of 1978. With about a minute left, the big production drops out and leaves Bird revealing that he’s “found a universe to call my own.” And that’s it folks. Three good songs, and they were given plenty of focus in this here review. Credit is given where credit is due.
The rest is simply forgettable. Much of Moment Bends feels like it was left in the hands of a producer, who ran off to Rave, drank and smoked way too much, then ran to the studio at four in the morning. Sometimes, this leads to greatness! With Architecture in Helsinki’s latest, we’re left with half-baked ideas, culled from Hot Chips’ digital recycling bin (“Contact High” being the biggest offender). Okay, so “W.O.W.” has potential to be a great mid-tempo track (with lovely female vocals courtesy of Sutherland), but the vocal setup in the chorus plummets into a rehash of Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts”. Sutherland can’t save “That Beep”, and “I Know Deep Down” reaches AOR levels of pop depravity. That track and “Denial Style” could have been written by (insert Swedish hitmaker here). Plenty of blips, but no soul.
That sums up Moment Bends in a nutshell. It’s always admirable when an artist or a band attempts to create a piece of music that differs from what came before. Unfortunately for Architecture in Helsinki, their new work fails as a cohesive whole, salvaged only by two or three songs here and there. The NeverEnding Story jokes aside, there isn’t enough variety here to keep the momentum going. Dance music should cause the listener to tap his or her feet on the floor, or bob one’s head back and forth, back and forth. Causing the listener to squint their eyes and shake their head in displeasure? Not so much.