Åge Sten Nilsen - Smooth Seas (Don’t Make Good Sailors)

Åge Sten Nilsen - Smooth Seas (Don’t Make Good Sailors)
Åge Sten Nilsen
Smooth Seas (Don’t Make Good Sailors)
On the eve of releasing another Ammunition album – this time dropping his name from the band name, I suppose to show that it has become a “true” band effort, the former Wig Wam frontman has come forth with another solo effort and once more the results are sublime.
Choosing to make this “third” solo album, of solo material, a more relaxing, chiefly acoustic effort, things here are based on simple orchestrations, piano, strings, acoustic guitars and the like. A foray into the style was evident in the past with songs like “Don’t”, “Unconditional Love” and more, but here Åge decides to take things from 11 to maybe 6, to paraphrase Spinal Tap, and keeping the orchestrations to the bare essentials, reveals the ten songs to be excellent pieces that could have very easily been turned into quirky pop rockers in Åge’s usual style, but “naked” seem to work just as well as he effortlessly glides smoothly over the arrangements that might be acoustic and quite minimal for the most part, but are very poignant and effective; in fact every verse and every chorus is a testament to what a great singer the man is.
But do not “despair”… just because the songs are stripped back and the attitude is more laxxed, it doesn’t mean that things get boring. It means that if you added distortion half of them would rock like little hurricanes in a teacup. And what is lovely, is that you can’t very easily put your finger on the source of inspiration either, there’s Queen, Beatles, The Heep, Chris De Burg, The Waterboys, U2, Strawberry Alarm Clock, folk and a ton of other 60s and 70s rock referenced, but not copied, because it’s actually ASN dominating and updating those sounds of his childhood, some half a century later… magical how music can be timeless and also crystallize the moment into memories.
“Pipe Dreams” is a little melancholic as it unfolds but soon it turns somewhat epic and defiant, as it poignantly reaches its climax, without really reaching a crescendo as per se, just a few points of aural epiphany…
“Smooth Seas (Don’t Make Good Sailors)” lightens up things considerably, but feels as it is pondering on the way thing are and how we perceive them. It’s poignant, simple and manages to find a silver lining through all the bleakness.
Is that a Kazoo, I hear in “Trumpets and Trampolines”? It’s somewhat bittersweet at first, but it soon starts to lighten up with every verse; the vocals simply float sounding dreamy, but it’s also the nice little things that are going on in the background that give the song it’s particular charm.
“Sundance Kids” is based on a cool piano riff and is almost epic hippy pop. It’s got some fantastic verses, a great bridge that somewhat quotes the title – I suppose turning it into chorus? Ugh, a bit of a letdown there, as it doesn’t climax, but keeps this palindrome like a wave of cool and awesome vibes.
“Living Miracle” is a cool and smooth piece of pop that starts off a little awkwardly – only to triumphantly turn things around to a very euphoric climax during its chorus, celebrating the miracle of life.
“Heaven on Hold” reminded me a bit of how Mike Scott of the Waterboys goes about telling his stories… with the only exception being that well Åge is a somewhat better singer, which is beside the point as far as I’m concerned, because getting the “feel”, the “attitude” right is what matters most and both people seem to accomplish their missions in somewhat different ways.
“Mediterranean Sea” is a duet with Linda Kvam, a Norweigian singer that has a couple of albums to her name. It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s a bit sad in an almost anticlimactic way, about a summer fling that never flourished, but withered away, living the lovers to face the dark winter nights alone; the last verse makes a promise of making up, but only after it breaks your heart…
I suppose, the remaining three or so songs are “remade” versions of older songs… “Where the Good Times Grow”, from “Glammunition”, is presented here with a ton of strings over the guitars and almost waltzing feel about it. Weird and I still prefer the “original” but hey... it still manages to hit home as the original despite the different arrangement. Interesting.
“Wild Card”, from “Sangheid”, is poppy and percussive and I was somehow was expecting to hear the man banging a tambourine like crazy; it’s a more folklore soundtrack like arrangement that works just fine…
Last but not least, “Wolf & Butterfly” is not that far removed from the original, but it’s smoother, offering an interesting new perspective on it. I’m probably still liking the original take a tad more, but this is not bad at all, either. I suppose a mix and match of the two styles might have been optimal, but two versions are on offer to spoil us.
Åge Sten Nilsen has proven himself to be much more than a rock singer. He’s a real artist that can’t keep still and always involves himself with awesome projects. Now, he’s not the pope and never pretended to be that’s what some other guy from Sweden does for a dayjob, but so far he’s been almost infallible in his musical efforts so I can only say this: “In Age We Trust”, rock, acoustic or bust…
I am sure he will deliver another cool Ammunition album early next year, but this light “introductory course” he offered earlier in 2017 is a fine appetizer for what’s to come. Bon! (Pardon my French)
PS: Fans should try the specialist AOR online shops or click here to get directly this little “diamond”…