The Deep End

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The Deep End is majestic beast of a record, even by Madrugada's not-too-humble standards. This album, their fourth since their 1999 debut, managed to establish them as an award-winning, platinum-selling thinking man's arena rock band in their native Norway. Think a rockier, darker version of R.E.M. circa 1992. The first track is the instant classic "The Kids Are on High Street," a slow but grand epic where Sivert Høyem sings in a slightly higher pitch than his usually bassy croon, giving the vocals newfound intensity and urgency. Its huge guitar leads are of the epic Western movie variety, producing an almost cinematic feel. There are also several great soulful ballads here, using Høyem's compelling voice to great effect. The el-piano and slide guitar-driven "Sail Away" is a good example of this; even better is the aptly titled "The Lost Gospel," a slow-burner whose sound is dominated by a beautifully played Hammond organ and tremolo guitar, making it possibly one of Madrugada's finest recorded moments to date. Unlike its predecessor, 2002's Grit, there are few in-your-face Stooges-style rock tunes on The Deep End, and all for the better, really. The sound is definitely bigger here than on any of their previous albums, with many of the songs featuring Hammond organ, Wurlitzer piano, and pedal steel guitars plus plenty of guitar tracks by the ever-solid guitar twanger Robert Burås. This is a fine record, a return to form of some sorts, and it could be viewed as a more accessible sibling of 2001's great The Nightly Disease or a successful update of their debut. It's hard to say, but it is definitely a great mix of Madrugada's finest qualities as a band: the darkly epic songs, the tastefully twangy guitar playing, and the commanding vocals of Sivert Høyem. It may well be their crowning moment.

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