After a few albums in a row that staked out Sondre Lerche's claim as one of the better sophisticated pop craftsmen around, especially on 2014's Please, the Norwegian crooner takes a whiplash-inducing left turn on his 2017 album Pleasure. He carefully sets aside the guitar-heavy, almost middle-of-the-road pop sound he'd so carefully developed in favor of an approach that relies on programmed drums and loads of icy synthesizers, and mostly puts guitars in the passenger seat. Gone are the carefully arranged songs that sound like gems from the early Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout catalogs. In their place are songs lifted from a different part of the '80s where New Order-ish programming-meets-New Edition robofunk; thudding electronic drums pair with huge washes of synths; and the emotions are written in ten-foot-high technicolor letters instead of casual asides. It's a daring move that might have seemed cheesy or opportunistic in the hands of a lesser artist, but Lerche is skilled enough to wrangle very imaginative sounds out of his array of synthesizers, fill the arrangements with hook after hook, and make sure to fill the center of the cotton-candy pop with a heart made of real emotion. It's a brilliant sonic reboot that takes songs that would have been strong in Lerche's already almost-perfected style, and blows them into little fragments before reassembling them in such a way that makes them glitter and constantly surprise. For example, "Hello Stranger" would have been affecting and sweet done traditionally, but the funky, house-inspired reboot takes it to a different place that's arguably more entertaining. It's fascinating to hear the formerly buttoned up singer take a crack at New Order technopop on "Soft Feelings," woozy bubblegum electro on "I'm Always Watching," relaxed synth pop ("Siamese Twin"), and modern pop like one might hear on a Carly Rae Jepsen or Bleachers album ("Bleeding Out Into the Blue"). Even a couple of songs that have guitars as their base ingredient sound recharged and more energy packed, especially on "Violent Game," when the distortion-wracked solo kicks in. With Pleasure, Lerche has concocted the most sonically interesting, technically impressive album of his career, one that would be compelling even if the songs weren't super catchy and overflowing with synth-covered feels. It's a dramatic switch-up that didn't seem necessary, since the previous albums he's made were all quite good, but with one quick spin, it's clear that it was a move he needed to make and he did it with all the flair and style of a true sonic wizard. It was always a known factor that Lerche could write songs that could break a heart -- and suddenly he can wrap them in sounds that will thrill and amaze.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra