Flower of Evil

(Rune Grammofon; 2008)

By Mark Abraham | 21 February 2009

Four albums in, and if you were expecting Susanna Wallumrød to change much from her now tried and true formula—i.e. pick a variety of songs to cover; intersperse them with the occasional original composition; hollow everything out with the same spoon—there’s not going to be much that is innovative or different here besides her new picks to Wallumrødize. The cover choices on Flower of Evil still range from coy (Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”) to more obvious (Nico’s “Janitor of Lunacy,” Black Sabbath’s “Changes”); they’re still brilliant Susanna-style takes that reduce the urgency of the originals to stark melancholy (although there’s nothing quite so ballsy as her take on the overtaked “Hallelujah” from Melody Mountain). So I’m kind of in between. Flower of Evil is gorgeous; Flower of Evil isn’t anything different, beyond the addition of Will Oldham on some backing vocals and the fact that Susanna’s past music has now been big-upped twice on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack.

On the other hand, what Flower of Evil is is the maturation of Wallumrød’s formula, the best example of what she’s spent four albums trying to achieve. The production throughout is still sparse and forcibly focused on her stunning voice, but with added instrumentation and other complementary vocalists the sparseness is somehow lusher, sadder, and the absence of good-but-obvious tracks like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” reduces the sense that what Wallumrød does is somehow gimmicky. On Flower of Evil, even the most potentially funny cover, “Jailbreak,” takes on a serious edge that is fascinating, Wallumrød situating herself inside Phil Lynott’s narrative voice like she’s leading the gang of boys and her presence is exactly why we shouldn’t “stick around.” Similarly, Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” done painfully slowly with a foreboding tom beat spiraling beneath pianos and electric guitar, and a take on Badfinger’s “Without You” that is converted into a beyond-fragile Will Oldham duet work because both are absolutely sapped of their energy and emotion (which, with “Without You” is no small feat) and refigured as extensions of Wallumrød’s own personality.

The rest of the album is taken up with less obvious tracks by other well known groups. Her take on Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (also famously covered by Nina Simone) is gorgeous and almost uplifting, while her take on Roy Harper’s “Forever” is downright hopeful, helped in no small part by Helge Sten of Supersilent on guitar. In the Country’s Pål Hausken plays drums on the album, and his work is fairly subtle throughout, which means when he starts to play more straightforwardly on Prince’s “Dance On” and ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love on Me” both tracks take an ominous turn. Her take on Lou Reed’s “Vicious” is almost unrecognizable, which is mostly due to her need to create a melody out of Reed’s non-singing. And the middle album is especially gorgeous, paring Will Oldham, Nico, and Black Sabbath together and erasing the differences between them. “Joy and Jubilee” is pretty, “Janitor of Lunacy” plays off the starkness of the original, and “Changes” saps the rock-ballad shtick off of Sabbath’s run-through and makes it a hot song.

The two originals are fine, though nothing is as decent as the best tracks off of Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, but Flower of Evil is more about an overall mood developed through pieces in any case. In that sense it succeeds wildly. Even if it is a little same-old same-old.