In the years immediately following the release of Air's landmark Moon Safari, Europe produced wave after wave of lounge-y chill-out acts, often indistinguishable in name and content. Norway's Röyksopp was one of the best. Its hits "Eple" and "Poor Leno" built on Air's soul-sick sophistication and arid '70s nostalgia, adding a kind of radiant warmth meant to beat back the Scandinavian frost. But like Airand like a lot of the best post-Air chill-out practitionersRöyksopp has moved away from the light, likeable music that made it an international success. The Norwegians' second album, The Understanding, drops a lot of the easy-listening pastiche of their debut, Melody A.M., in favor of an icier blend of straight-up techno and Europop.
The Understanding retains Röyksopp's essential softness, as evoked in the single "Only This Moment," which knits computer blips and breathy voices into a peppy salute to passion. But the somewhat generic, processed electronic sound works against the song's messageand not in an ironic way. "Only This Moment" is skillful, but rote. The nightclub pump and aloof cooing continues through "49 Percent" (which riffs on Prince but lacks his brittle soul) and "Follow My Ruin" (which sounds like a Melody A.M. track with all the quirks leeched out). The Understanding's best songs"Sombre Detune," "Beautiful Day Without You," "Alpha Male," and "Dead To The World"leave aside the monster hooks and grinding beats, and work more like evocative movie-soundtrack pieces from the mid-'80s. Even in its migration from the groovy '70s to the technocratic '80s, though, Röyksopp has become a lot cooler than it has to be.