The first thing to say is that there is some beautiful music on this album. Einar Solberg is without doubt an exceptionally talented composer, arranger and musician. I am a new convert, and one reason is that he is such a classy performer. His music is sophisticated, superbly produced and easy to lose yourself in. His vocal range is incredible, but I can see how his style of delivery may not be to everyone’s taste.
Sometimes it can even feel like he is constrained by it, because there are recurring patterns and structures across his songs where the distinct ranges of his voice all have to be given their turn. In the band format this works well, the interaction between the vocal lines and the heavier style of instrumentation creates intense peaks of drama. Here, on this solo album, I was hoping for a bit less ‘epic’ and a bit more of a concise, or focused approach.
As Einar explains in an interview with Dom Lawson from January 2023: “It’s called 16 because that’s when the first really, really bad things started happening to me in life. From 16 to 19, there were a lot of very life-defining moments that happened to me, and that changed me,” and he describes the record as “the closest I’ve ever come to writing a concept album”.
Over the course of the album, there is a nice mix of the expected and the unexpected. The first three tracks are deeply personal lyrics that are set in Leprous-like song structures, which is fine. However, it gets much more interesting when the collaborative pieces begin with track four, Where the Twigs Broke, written with StarofAsh. Einar stars with vocals over the top of a recurring piano motif that is then picked up by a range of acoustic and electronic parts, and you can start to feel Einar moving out of his comfort zone. Metacognitive is the sort of musical interlude track that is often found in concept albums, but in this case it runs for a full five minutes, and herein lies the problem. Too many tracks are over-extended, and I think this detracts from the impact of some of the better ideas. As if to illustrate the point, Home is where Einar meets rap in a collaboration with Ben Levin. It’s just the sort of thing you want from the first solo album of an established artist because it creates a whole new context for his music, and it packs a punch in ‘just’ four minutes.
The rest of the album continues to deliver on quality and interest but it can feel like wading through treacle at times. The positive vibes from the effects of collaboration are apparent but also weighed down by Einar being ‘Einar’ and the overall running time of seventy minutes is just too much for one sitting. Maybe it’s just me but sometimes less is more.
If you have just the slightest regard for the work that Einar Solberg has done with Leprous then I would definitely encourage you to dip into this. For those that haven’t discovered him yet, this provides a comprehensive and substantial illustration of his strengths and weaknesses, so take your choice! Einar Solberg is also quoted as saying, “I will definitely continue with this because I really like it, but the next album will be more of a proper solo album, because I haven’t done that before”. I’m not sure what he means by a ‘proper’ solo album, but I hope he builds on this experience and I look forward to hearing what develops in the future.
01. 16 (7:42)
02. Remember Me (5:39)
03. A Beautiful Life (4:35)
04. Where All the Twigs Broke (6:14)
05. Metacognitive (5:13)
06. Home (4:10)
07. Blue Light (6:54)
08. Grotto (4:57)
09. Splitting the Soul (6:22)
10. Over the Top (6:54)
11. The Glass is Empty (11:08)
Total Time – 69:48
Einar Solberg – Compositions, Arrangements, Lyrics, Producer, Vocals, Keyboards
Keli Guðjónsson – Drums
Tor Egil Kreken – Bass
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Cello, Composition (track 1)
Chris Baum – Violin
Ben Levin – Guitar (tracks 2,3,8 & 9), Composition (track 6)
Magnus Børmark – Guitar (tracks 2,3,4,8 & 9), Composition & Lyrics (track 8)
Tóti Guðnason – Guitar, Piano & Composition (track 11)
Ihsahn – Guitar, Vocals & Composition (track 9), Recording Engineer (tracks 4 & 9)
Star of Ash – Samples, Lyrics & Composition (track 4)
Asger Mygind – Vocals, Guitar, Lyrics & Composition (track 7)
Pål Gunnar Fiksdal – Trumpet (tracks 4,6,7,9,10 & 11)
Runar Fiksdal – Trombone (tracks 4,6,7,9,10 & 11)
Nora Hannisdal – French horn (tracks 2,4,7,9 & 10)
Jon Henrik Rubach – Saxophone (track 6)
Þórður Sigurðarson – Church Organ (track 11)
The City Of Prague Philharmonic Choir (tracks 9 & 11)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 2nd June 2023