VV – “Neon Noir” Album Review16th January 2023
Cast your minds back to 2020, and the world was in a state of panicked confusion, to say the very least. We had overly intense wildfires across California, costing many unfortunate lives, and Billions of Dollars in damages. We had the very real threat of nuclear war because Russia seems to wake up and choose violence EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (Somebody, get Rocky Balboa on the phone), and, oh yeah, we had an ever so slightly GLOBAL pandemic, courtesy of some, Chinese Ozzy Osbourne enthusiast! And we hadn’t even left MARCH! Suffice to say, there were more than enough causes for concern floating around, and many of us were left with a sense of despair, fear, and helplessness. Luckily, there was one shining beacon of hope; a shining light, a William Light, if you will…and his name, is VILLE VALO…
Following the breakup of HIM, post “Tears On Tape”, fans were in an emotional freefall; forever lost, and distraught, with Heartagram’s flatlining across the globe. However, out of those once cold, blue-turned lips, Ville dropped the surprisingly unexpected solo EP “Gothica Fennica Vol.1” under the new moniker VV, with a slightly modified logo. Fans swapped the sorrow for joy in this twist of events, yet continued to embrace both as the next chapter was about to begin, but what did he have up his heavily tattooed sleeve?
2023 sees VV expand on that EP, with his debut full-length solo album “Neon Noir”. A sonic collection of traditionally dark, yet deeply romantic tracks, that’s been described as “A teary mascara marathon between Robert Smith and Ozzy, with a dash of hope”. With that being said, let’s get our Goth on, and find out what Valo’s been up to while killing loneliness…
We open up with “Echolocate Your Love” and, it’s one of the album’s primary singles from 2022, kicking things off on a very upbeat note. We’re instantly hit with those soft 80’s influences as the keys here lead into a fast-paced high-hat rhythmic flow, and instrumentally this is a foot-tapper from the word go. Conceptually it’s a beautiful example of how VV perfectly balances the ying and yang within his lyrical story telling. Essentially, close your eyes to enable yourself to SEE better, find your truth, your soulmate, your destiny etc; the encouragement to be open to yourself. Truly FEEL.
The lines like …technidolor hues” for example being a lovely little piece of word play, blending the idea of image clarity and great sorrow. “The last dance into the raging sea darling, beyond the Hadal deep”, referencing the darkest depths of the ocean, transitioning to scenic routes through hell, leading up to this intense, impassioned scream of “KILL THE LIGHT!”. The track really does build to this intense flurry of guitar and a sense of release, all the while retaining this narrative of, allowing yourself to see through the darkness, the bleakest times. See through your heart and your senses. It’s a powerful opener and we’re off to a fantastic start.
We follow this up with “Run Away From The Sun”, part of the aforementioned lock-down EP and to be honest, all three of those tracks are present on this album, which is a little 50/50 in terms of appreciation. Don’t get me wrong they are all wonderfully quaint songs, and are welcome inclusions given their quality in general, but, they are now two to three years old, so were they ESSENTIAL to this album? This track in particular, has some of VV‘s sweetest, softest vocals and to give the man credit, over the years he’s been a renowned heavy smoker, went through some dark drink binges, yet in later years his voice has become, somehow, almost more angelic in its own way. He’s not sounded this sweet since the days of “Join Me”, and it’s incredible.
To complete the EP’s triad, we first have “Salute The Sanguine” which ups the ante just a touch with more a commanding guitar presence, and again we find Ville juxtaposing his lyrics, with sanguine meaning a type of blood red colouration, while also finding a sense of optimism in a negative situation. It cries of emotional torment and almost an envious admiration which gives this track a true sense of hurting. “Saturnine Saturnalia” completes the EP hat-trick with a noticeably deeper, doomier piece of riff-heavy gloom. VV still sings incredibly softly, don’t get me wrong, but the whole tracks aesthetic still sounds like it could have been taken from the “Venus Doom” cutting room floor.
Speaking of previously heard tracks, there were another two singles. The lead single, “Loveletting” really set the tone for this whole record upon its release; delicate piano keys innocently penetrating dramatic guitar chords and percussion, while Ville croons crestfallen over a lost love. His delivery is almost hushed, and this does reek of a vulnerability, while simultaneously housing an overall jovial pop-music bounce through the chorus. “The Foreverlost” then, while starting and generally vibing similarly to our opener, houses a harder, grittier riff and tone in presentation. There’s a fragility to VV‘s vocals here, and you can feel his longing.
What about the tracks we HAVEN’T heard though? Did he peak before the album already came out? Absolutely not. The title track “Neon Noir” has this almost Spanish guitar tone in its intro and the overall melodious nature of the track, harks back to the “Screamworks…” era of HIM with its acoustic pop sensibilities, and it channels the album’s title sonically well. There are HIM tropes, but it’s a career spanning, culmination of creative ideas. An amalgamation of artistic directions if you will. Closing track “Vertigo Eyes” is a game of two halves, and it does close this album perfectly. There are elements of DEPECHE MODE sprinkled throughout this track musically while retaining HIM’s softer aesthetics, but as the track goes on it gets darker and subtly reminds of “Cyanide Sun” in places, once again highlighting Ville’s ability to bridge multiple musical ideas within singular pieces and, he again proves he is a master of the art of songwriting.
Ville Valo is a poet, a songwriter, a musician, and a creative powerhouse, and while we take nothing away from Mige, Linde and the members of HIM, it was Ville that steered that ship and look at the status they garnered. However, there was always going to be a concern if Ville was too big for his boots following the band’s break up, and whether he could do it on his own, without his bandmates of over twenty years? The answer is evidently, yes. Ville Valo wrote, performed, produced, and engineered almost every aspect of this album, bar some help from TIM PALMER and JUSTIN SHTURTZ, in production, which proves that, approaching 50 years old, Ville is aging like a fine wine, and as far as debut solo albums go, “Neon Noir” is Dom Perignon. The Heartagram may have had a transplant, but it’s beating stronger than ever, and Ville? Welcome back, your infernal majesty…
Album Score: 10/10
- “Echolocate Your Love”
- “Run Away From The Sun”
- “Neon Noir”
- “The Foreverlost”
- “Baby Lacrimarium”
- “Salute The Sanguine”
- “In Trenodia”
- “Heartful Of Ghosts”
- “Saturnine Saturnalia”
- “Zener Solitaire”
- “Vertigo Eyes”
Label – Spinefarm
Release – 13th January 2023