On several occasions I’ve mentioned the concept album, which was popular especially with the prog rock bands of the 1970s like ELP, Yes and Genesis, but which has largely died out these days when compared to its heyday. When I reviewed the first track from Solblomma’s new album ‘Tiptoe into Limbo’ that was released as a single, ‘Pale Moon’, I was able immediately to relate her style on this work to that of Genesis on their final album with Peter Gabriel at the helm, ‘The Lamb lies down on Broadway’.
‘Tiptoe into Limbo’ ‘s 11 compositions combine to tell a mystical tale set around Dante’s Divine Comedy but interwoven with the mundane reality of daily life in the 21st century in an epic production to rival that of the character Rael’s underworld adventures in ‘The Lamb’. The difference is that Rael inhabited the mysterious netherworld of New York while Solblomma’s characters abide in a much deeper, more threatening locale still.
The story takes place in Hell, in Dante Alighieri’s allegorical poem La Divina Commedia. In his comedy, set around Easter in the year 1300, Dante undertakes a journey through the three kingdoms that are thought to await man after death: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise).
But in Solblomma’s liberal interpretation of the work, the author is excluded. Instead, she initially makes the perilous journey herself, then with the Roman poet Virgil (he of the Aeneid) in tow, through two halls and the nine circles of Hell.
Together they encounter the underworld’s immortal ferryman Charon, cross the River Acheron, and voyage down through the funnel of Hell. They tiptoe into Limbo, meet Kerberos, the multi-headed Hound of Hades, fight with lions, hide in the Charles Wain (Big Dipper) and then…check into a hotel!
Anyone who knows of Solblomma’s work will immediately recognise the absurdity of that situation as being something that comes naturally to her. All is for the best in this strangest of all possible worlds.
Musically, this is undoubtedly Solblomma’s most satisfactory album to date.
Great imagination has been deployed in the use of synthesisers. I thought I’d heard most of what they are capable of at one time or another but there are sounds here I hadn’t previously encountered and ditto drum machines, producing here a heavier sound than you normally hear and some pieces that could have been penned by Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre.
There is a constant momentum to the album which rarely fluctuates, thus underlining the concept of a journey and the tracks range between soft vocal ones, one of which is a sombre ballad with pleading lyrics, to a lively, poppy, orchestral synths and booming percussion dance track, to laid back groove, to mysterious pieces with complex rhythms, to a fascinating one, ‘Charles’ Wain (Circle VI)’, a softer piano piece to open, set to trap beats, which is more poppy, with a big melody and with Polly Scattergood-like lyrics to finish it off and complete with her ‘delivery’.
Indeed I see much in common between the Essex girl and the Gävle girl.
Solblomma’s unique vocal suits this album perfectly, its lightness and at times almost childlike texture offsetting the sense of doom inherent in some of the music. It’s as if a Children’s TV show presenter was asked to comment on the funeral of a Head of State.
The only negative observations I’d make (as opposed to a criticism) is that on some of the tracks Solblomma comes within an ace of achieving a truly memorable hook but just falls short of it, with the main exception of ‘Charles’ Wain’, which nails it. If she could just move up that extra notch she would increase any of her works’ sale-ability, many-fold.
And perhaps a guitar might have been welcome on some of the tracks to substitute the ubiquitous synthesisers.
I’ve only had one quick listen to ‘Tiptoe into Limbo’, but I’ll surely be going back to it. It is an excellently conceived, written, recorded and produced album.
Solblomma has quite a history on the Swedish and international music scenes encompassing multiple genres including the extremes of death metal and Portuguese Fado until she finally settled on this, her own unique style, and I’m equally sure this album will garner a great deal of deserved attention to be focused on her.
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