VILLE VALO & AGENTS
Vallila Music House Oy
Universal Music Finland
Released: February 15, 2019
Finland is known as the country of 1000 lakes, but metalheads all over the world know and love Finland for its class act metal bands. It is without a doubt one of the most prolific countries in terms of musical exports in its various forms. But today I am not writing about Finnish metal, but about Finnish pop music as Ville Valo & Agents have released their collaborative effort on February 15. The album at hand is based on songs composed by Rauli ‘Badding’ Somerjoki and it is, in a way, the pinnacle of Finnish pop culture.
The basis of this collaboration was set twenty years ago, when Ville was asked to join Agents and perform a few songs together for the TV show Laulava sydän. His soulful and emotional interpretation of “Ikkunaprinsessa” or “Paratiisi” captivated not only the audience, but guitarist Esa Pulliainen as well. Fast forward to a few years ago when Esa found some of Badding’s demo tapes and decided to release these previously unheard songs plus some classic cuts. Entrusting this music project in the skillful hands of former HIM vocalist Ville Valo (as depicted beautifully in the cover artwork), they created a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to Rauli Somerjoki as well as a nod to Finnish schlagers.
Rockin’ with Enzio
Kuihtuu kesäinen maa
Mä haluan sun
I told you so
Talking about the production of this album, Pulliainen stated that:
“The recording itself went very smoothly, even remarkably smoothly, if you ask me, I guess sometimes things just click right from the word go. This sadly doesn’t happen that often but on this here worksite somebody up there really loved us! Plus, we were well prepared, of course. I had been subconsciously working on the material for three years before I even started thinking arrangements and such. The same goes for Ville: he didn’t have to jump on a fast moving train but had all the time he needed to really dive into the material. I mean, it’s Ville who has had the toughest job here as he had to get under Badding’s skin and at the same time make damn sure he remains himself. My job was easy – I just played the guitar the way I’ve done for the past 40 years.”
In an interview with www.radiosuomirock.fi about this project, Ville said:
“It really seemed right to me. I come from Badding’s loving family, so it’s been part of my musical education. It felt right too, because I’ve always liked challenges and I do not like to repeat myself. It would have been extremely boring to go after HIM to make English rock”
Starting with the instrumental piece “Kirstinkulma” where the guitar melody is front and centered, it sets a very lively yet smooth, almost jazzy, tone to the album which is more than matched with the rather rockish reinterpretation of the classic “Ikkunaprinsessa”. Even though I still prefer the 1999 version of this song, as it’s a bit more melancholy and wistful, this new version is growing on me as I really enjoy the guitar lines and vocal delivery. Up next is “Orpolapsi Kiurun”, the first single released, where we get to hear Badding’s vocals and get a sense of what he wanted to express with this song. And this is not the only track we get to hear the original version of, as “Rocking with Enzio”, and “I told you so” feature his vocals and I feel like these weren’t changes that much from the demo tapes. They also bring a bit more dynamism and contrast to the album, being very dance-friendly and uplifting, as they are placed in between some slow-paced and darker sounding songs.
And one of these darker sounding songs is the atmospheric “Kuihtuu kesäinen maa” where Ville’s dark vocal timber brings a certain amount of gloom to the delivery, though the general mood of the song feels somewhat hopeful. I particularly love the chorus, and the way the instrumental adds so much intensity to the vocal melody, almost wrapping it in darkness, but Ville’s vocals seem to float somewhere above it. The same goes for the stunning “Mä haluan sun”, where the guitar melodies lighten the mood with some playful and groovy lines, while Ville’s somewhat somber delivery dances atop these melodies. For some unexplained reason this particular song reminds me of Texas’ “Summer son”, as far as vocals, especially during the chorus, guitar work and overall atmosphere go (my brain works in weird ways). The majestic closer “Tuutulaulu” is another very melancholy yet breezy moment, with Ville’s superb lower vocal range on full display, and laid-back instrumental. Definitely my favorite tracks, and the most cinematic music on this wonderful album.
Among the more up-beat songs, apart from the aforementioned English titles, we have the instrumental “Kettu”, and the bona fide pop schlagers “Paratiisi”, “Tähdet tähdet”, and “Syksyn lapsia”. It’s a bit weird, though quite refreshing, for me to hear Ville being so joyful with his vocal delivery. I have been listening to his music since 2004 and he still manages to surprise me. Well done! No wonder Ville was the perfect candidate for this particular project, as his versatility, range, and warm voice has enabled him to find the perfect way of performing these songs, and bringing forth the necessary dose of emotion, sensibility, and passion, thus doing justice to the musical legacy of Rauli Somerjoki.
All in all, this is a very multifaceted and diverse release that bounces back and forth between darkness and light, between sorrow and playfulness, ultimately between Ville’s melancholy and gentle undertones and Esa’s groovy and nifty guitar melodies. It ebbs and flows smoothly between these extremes, captivating the listener with soulful vocals and expressive instrumental. But then again this release may not really be for anyone, as only the ones who love a mix of wistfulness with their music can really appreciate the Finnish melancholy that emerges from this type of music. It’s a collection of songs that will resonate deeply with your heart, even if you don’t understand the language.
Rating: 9.5 / 10
Ville Valo – vocals
Esa Pulliainen – guitar
Kai Pulliainen – bass
Jari “Kepa” Kettunen – drums
Vesa Haaja – assisting guitar