Affair of the Heart
Noblesse Oblige’s new recordAffair of the Heart has an eight and a half minute electro-lounge cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” on it. My job would be much easier if I was able to honestly say that your reaction to that statement would govern how much you enjoy the album, but it’s actually bit more complex than that; the Berlin-based electro-duo have always played it fairly coy when it comes to their Continental mix of camp and class, turning a bad idea into a good song more than once. With that in mind, I actually find Affair of the Heart to be a lot more middle-of-the-road than I was expecting; while well executed and in possession of a few really nice songs, it doesn’t have the same flamboyance the group has displayed in the past.
Part of that feeling almost certainly stems from the change in style from their last album, 2010’s Malady. While that record revolved around a cabaret-ready fusion of acoustic instruments and programmed beats, Affair of the Heart heads in a largely electronic direction. That’s not strictly a bad thing: from a technical standpoint electro-pop songs like “Runaway” are quite well executed with Sebastian Lee Philipp and Valérie Renay’s vocals synced to good effect with a backdrop of twinkling synths and a nimble but substantial bassline. And the group is still blending genres, like on the fun synthesized bossa nova of “Vagabonde” and goth-world-pop opener “Mata Hari”, just with the acoustic instruments omitted or de-emphasized in the mix. It feels like a weirdly conservative choice production-wise, especially when those songs are paired with straight synth numbers like (the admittedly pretty good) sample-assisted “Break Your Heart”.
Freed from the weight of my expectations, is the choice of instrumentation really a problem? Not per se; as noted the songs themselves are pretty solid, if not as characteristic as I might like. I do think that the back half of the record lacks a real stand-out moment, aside from the power-chorded climax of ballad “The Seventh Wave”, the last 25 minutes of the album just sort of float by pleasantly without reaching out to grab the listener’s attention. You would think that the aforementioned cover of “Hotel California” would buck that, but it’s neither great nor terrible. Despite having the potential to be both, it ends up being just kind of there. A slight re-sequencing of the tracks in iTunes might solve that a bit, although I think it’s more likely I’ll just end up listening to the songs I like from the first half when the mood strikes me.
I should be clear that I like Noblesse Oblige; I ordered a physical copy of this record long before I heard any of the songs on it based solely on the strength of their material up ’til now. I guess my lukewarm feelings towards this LP mostly stem from my desire for NO to be really different and weird. They flirt with that here, but it feels like the most conventional thing they’ve done in a lot of ways, with a slick sound and nothing too terribly left of center. If that’s what they were shooting for, it’s certainly a job well done, and I can happily enjoy parts of Affair of the Heart on that level. Still, I’ll be waiting for their next release to see if they can recapture some of the irreverence and cheek we know they’re capable of.