Fra Lippo Lippi

In a Brilliant White

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Two decades after making their gothic-styled debut, the Norwegian band Fra Lippo Lippi released a comeback album in 2002 that was as stylistically removed from their post-punk roots as possible. Actually, In a Brilliant White features only one-half of the duo, vocalist Per Oystein Sorensen. His collaborator and group founder Rune Kristoffersen, knee-deep in his own electronic projects, decided not to participate. Fra Lippo Lippi is a group with two sides: merchants of gloom-and-doom on In Silence and Small Mercies and then a soft, jazz-stroked romantic combo beginning with 1985's Songs. In a Brilliant White continues the band's -- or Sorensen's -- crush on soothing, atmospheric keyboard-kissed pop music. Fans of the Blue Nile and Paul Young will find much to adore here, especially the ballads "Later," "Will I Recognize," and "If I Knew Then." In a Brilliant White was only available in the Philippines -- the country that catapulted Fra Lippo Lippi into superstardom during the '80s -- and the influence of OPM (Original Pilipino Music) is evident on those tracks with their clean production and relaxing textures. Purists may be disappointed at the absence of sonic innovation; however, Fra Lippo Lippi clipped its edges long ago. Sorensen sounds even more soulful than before; on "Later" (used in a Filipino soap opera) and "Will I Recognize" he reaches breathtaking emotional highs. Even without Kristoffersen the music is ear-pleasing and hook-filled, especially the cold, sparkling new wave synthesizers of "Story of a Broken Heart" and the propulsive piano of "Faithful," a moving declaration of fidelity. "Story of a Broken Heart" will remind longtime followers of Fra Lippo Lippi's darker days but its melodic rhythms have the silky comforts of their years at Virgin Records. Lyrically, the songs are mostly about love and relationships; however, the spoonfuls of bitterness in years past, for the most part, are replaced by emotional growth. In a Brilliant White is an adult album with Sorensen reflecting on past mistakes and heartbreaks. On "Will I Recognize," he wonders if he really has found true love -- or if it's just another false alarm. Although In a Brilliant White has a distinctly '80s feel, Sorensen and his musical partners Svein Dag Hauge (guitars, programming) and Stein Austrud (keyboards) embellish the retro grooves with touches of space-age trip-hop and acoustic folk à la countrymen a-ha's masterpiece Minor Earth Major Sky. Like much of Fra Lippo Lippi's '80s discography, it all goes down easy.

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