It’s never been easy to put a label or genre on what Pepe Deluxe do in their music. Although they’ve gone from being a hip hop/DJ group to a quirky indie pop band, the most cohesive thing about the Finnish duo seems to be their overarching eccentricity that is always redefining their music. In Queen of the Wave, Pepe Deluxe’s fourth release, they are still as in-your-face and colorful as they’ve always been, but for good or bad, this time everything feels cranked up and really interested to make a memorable first impression.
The way that plays out ends up being somewhat hit or miss. You know an album has a lot of preconceived thought that went into it when it opens with “Let me sing a song for you/Let me spill a tale that’s true/A story about the days of gold/A story more than ages old.” Although the band has always had an affinity for big concepts, the story behind Queen of the Wave makes the group’s previous concepts feel inconsequential. Like the 19th century novel it’s based on, the album tackles futurism, science fiction, metaphysical spirituality, daily life in Atlantis, the end of the world and just about every other New Ageism out there. However, unless you happen to care a lot about A Dweller On Two Planets, it won’t end up really mattering a whole lot. The “concept” ends up not doing much more than giving Pepe Deluxe an artificial excuse to sing about all the crazy, psychedelic stuff they’ve always sung about.
However, that doesn’t mean at all that Pepe has stagnated on Queen of the Wave. The album does feel like a definitive step toward a bizarre new sound that finds as much inspiration from old film soundtracks as it does from ’60s psychedelic rock. Meanwhile, Pepe Deluxe’s interest in chord progressions and melodies feels original and fitting, if not a bit gimmicky at times. Take one listen to “The Storm:” the song somehow finds space to jam in the midst of sounding like something that lands somewhere between the Thundercats theme song, Janelle Monae, and the soundtrack to a British spy series. Indeed, if the entire album had the charisma of “The Storm,” Queen of the Wave would have been able to hold my attention throughout much better.
The five years between Queen of the Wave and their previous album, Spare Time Machine, feels like an eternity and Pepe Deluxe has succeeded in creating another eccentric, experimental, and over-the-top pop record. They’ve convinced us that they’re still themselves, and that, once again, they’ve cracked a hole open to another dimension and gone on an epic adventure. The only problem is that this time they seem to have forgotten to write down the details because what we’re left with feels like a big blur — an entertaining and wacked-out trip to Wonderland, but not one that I feel particularly compelled to return to.