MØ review, Motordrome: ‘Dark disco’ album doesn’t stand out from the crowd

Tracks have enough energy to keep limbs twitching, but not enough force to pull bystanders from the walls

Helen Brown
Tuesday 22 February 2022 18:46 GMT
(Press image)

“Dark disco” is how Karen Marie Ørsted describes the sound of her third album, Motordrome. In practise, this means that the 33-year-old Danish singer has combined her formative punk influences with the perkier pop for which she’s been celebrated since her mega-selling 2015 collab with Major Lazer, “Lean On”, in order to create a moody mix of electropop and indie rock. The sort of thing Sia might make if she’d spent a weekend in bed listening to The Cure. Throughout the record, the distorted shadows of electric guitars and cellos glide unsettlingly beneath rippling synths. Percussion disrupts established paces like intrusive thoughts. There are background effects that mimic landslides and gusts of wind.

In interviews, MØ (whose ironic moniker means “virgin”) has said she burnt out while touring her second album, Forever Neverland. The psychologist’s daughter told NME she felt “mentally drained” after seven years on the road, like she was stuck in a relentless adrenalin-loop – a motorcyclist riding the wall of death. That’s what the album title means, and where we find her on “Live to Survive”. Over the verse’s steady rev of the synths, she laments that she has “been down the valley of regret” and splashed through “nights of messed-up energy”. On the propulsive chorus, she celebrates surviving heartache, then suggests it’s only to have her heart broken again. And again. The track has the kind of energy that will keep limbs twitching on dance floors, but the hook doesn’t have a distinctive enough force to pull bystanders from the walls.

This is a problem throughout the album. MØ crafts consistently cool grooves but nothing that makes her stand out from the crowd. Her vocals are slick and plush (think deep plum lipstick) but I’m not sure anybody could pull them out of a line-up. She sells a Lana Del Rey-indebted, sexy-submissive narrative on “Brad Pitt”, purring over a rotating electro-pulse: “You don't have to be born into success/ To get the blood pumping underneath my summer dress.” This love, we learn, has her “spinning around, spinning around for ya”. The centrifugal vibe continues on the murky slo-mo of “Wheelspin”, in which she sings of a supernatural love “on the other side” over a strummed guitar. “New Moon” runs on empowered anti-patriarchal pop momentum and stuttered syllables: nobody is bringing MØ “dow-dow-down”. An echoey piano backs her up on “Goosebumps” as she emotes over the fear that can “eat up your mind”. The vampiric mopey mood is strong, but meanders in search of a melody.

“Kindness” leaves engagingly awkward spaces between the scratchy cello motifs with which it opens. As MØ sings of a mutually supportive love that’s “algorithm, baby”, the track builds and shifts effectively into a poppier beast. Apparently it’s about her fans. But it also resonates with the plague times in which it was written: “I hear the whole world talk/ But I'm stuck on a keyboard… I know I gotta stay strong, gotta stay strong.”

If you’re into pop and you’re looking to lure your indie fans onto the dance floor with you, then Motordrome may be the record you need. It should coax them into throwing some sulky shapes, although I doubt it’ll get them sweating enough to smudge their eyeliner.

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