A mere 6 months since Do It Again – their recent 5-track collaborative effort with one of Sweden’s finest Robyn – Norwegian electro duo Röyksopp have thrown everyone for a loop with the announcement of their fifth and final studio album. While the pair has explicitly stated that, despite the aptly titled The Inevitable End is in no way a retirement from music, it’s most definitely their “goodbye to the traditional album format”. Maybe it’s the fact that the Do It Again EP garnered such immediate success – it was the highest charting Norwegian release on the Billboard 200 since 1985 with a little band you may know called A-ha (you’re proudly wailing “Taaaaaake Ooooooon Meeeeeee” right now, aren’t you?!) – but it seems that if Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland are done with LPs, they’re most certainly going out with a bang.
Opener Skulls is classic Röyksopp in every sense: Ominous, rhythmic synth beds; deep bass straight from the darkest corners of ‘80s funk and an irresistible, bouncy groove to counterpoint a mangled vocoder that seemingly breathes down your neck in the most creepily beguiling way. Lead single Monument (T.I.E. Version) is a little more concise than the nearly-ten-minute epic that opened Do It Again but again, that truly unique blend of confidence and vulnerability in Robyn’s voice soars atop the pulsating, overdriven synths to brilliant effect.
Sordid Affair features Man Without Country vocalist Ryan James and a much breezier aesthetic than the opening pair of tracks. Its spacey detachment transitions perfectly (both lyrically and sonically) into You Know I Have To Go – the first of four tracks to feature the soulful, James Blake-esque vocals of Jamie McDermott from London art-pop collective The Irrepressibles. The Jeff Buckley meets Brian Eno restraint in the track is jaw-dropping (especially considering that a mere five minutes ago, you were jamming out to a positive banger in Monument) and an album highlight.
The funk however, is definitely back in full swing on Save Me. Its tight, gated-arpeggiator synth groove is sure to get your head bobbing and the sublime vocals of fellow Norwegian (and former Björk backing singer) Susan Sundfør offset the track’s angularity with her breathy yet powerful delivery. McDermott features again – this time in a more Euro-house setting – on the heart wrenching I Had This Thing. While there’s a disarming honesty in the lyrics, it’s a little more formulaic in terms of dynamics than the rest of The Inevitable End but still achieves its purpose with unbelievable precision.
Rong brings another completely different kind of darkness to the album and centers around the indicting coda of “What the fuck is (w)rong with you?” delivered with Robyn’s gorgeous vocal layering and string arrangements that drive the question home with cinematic gravitas. There’s something almost post-dubstep about the steely reductionist vibe of Here She Comes Again and McDermott’s quivering, Antony-style vibrato on the track doubles his velvety lead vocal immaculately before a minute-long drone blooms into the stark, piano-driven intro of Running To The Sea’s slow-burning disco build. Sundfør’s vocals again expertly balance her raw intimacy with strength and conviction throughout to a massive dancefloor climax.
The foreboding noise of Compulsion sympathetically underscores McDermott’s kind-of-creepy obsessive lyrical musings over the track’s seven-minute run-time. It kind of makes your skin crawl in the best possible way and the fact it doesn’t feel the need to have any sort of carousing pinnacle makes it all the more wonderfully unnerving. The minimalist, almost classically inspired vibe on penultimate track Coup De Grace definitely has a cinematic feel throughout as it explodes into huge strings and choral vocals before The Inevitable End’s… well… inevitable end arrives with the wonky piano and vocoded gratitude of Thank You. Much like opener Skulls, it ties together all the things for which Röyksopp are loved the world over in a way that perfectly caps off a 5-album career.
Just to reinforce, The Inevitable End is certainly not the last we’ll be hearing from Röyksopp; it is however the last “album” the pair intend to release. Given the guest-a-palooza nature of the record, you’d be forgiven for believing that their focus might shift to more collaborative projects. Given how The Inevitable End has turned out with this ethos at the forefront, this could truly be one of Bierge and Brundtland’s best career decisions. Either way, their fifth and final full-length affair proves to be a wealth of emotionally driven electronica and a perfect send-off.