I wasn’t expecting to cover Highasakite again for some time. They are still touring their Camp Echo album around Norwegian festivals, until October (I’ve been toying with the idea of going to watch the last show, in Trondheim where the band first formed, which might turn out to be their last ever) and there is no evidence of another album in the works.
Then, out of the blue, they released an unexpected single and it seems to have opened up a Pandora’s Box and set the cat amongst the pigeons.
5 Million Miles stands out as by far the most commercial song they’ve laid down, as well as bettering The Proclaimers by 20,000 times. And therein lies the problem.
It gets the same lyrical treatment from Ingrid Helene Håvik as most of the others. She succeeds – endearingly to me – at being at one and the same time both lyrically erudite and bizarre. For example,
I have had 1 million love affairs
But I don’t know half their names
And I wouldn’t know their faces
But I would recognise your voice
From the million
Fine. But then,
I have had 1 million wanders
But I couldn’t tell the difference
From man that goes the distance
And someone halfway out the door
I will walk 5 million miles to be held
When a meteor hits the ground
But it is the generic pop nature of the song that concerns me and, from what I’ve seen online, many others. It’s set up to compete with Beyoncé, Miley, Ariana and the rest in the US market rather than with top indie bands in Europe. But it doesn’t. And along with it comes a distinct change of image for Ingrid; a new hairstyle, denim jacket, lots of flesh on show (something she’s never really done before) and generic pop dance routines. Even her phrasing has the mark of these artists.
How has this happened? The answer seems to be Stargate, the Norwegian record producers specialising in Euro dance-pop who also first established themselves in Trondheim before setting up shop in New York, and who produced 5 million Miles. They have worked extensively with, and influenced, the likes of Rihanna, S Club 7, Atomic Kitten, Javine (Britain’s Eurovision Song Contestant in 2005; she came 22nd), Shola Ama and Samantha Mumba. Ok, they’ve worked with Coldplay too, but you see where I’m coming from.
I get the same bad vibes about this as I did on the day I heard that James Murphy would be co-producing Arcade Fire’s fourth album.
Obviously, I can only speculate, I have no line to the band, but I’m sure Ingrid has let herself be cajoled by influential people into taking this direction and I believe it is a mistake. The internet is rife with rumours that Camp Echo was not the international success they thought it would be and for that reason, they may split up. (The absence of two band members on the video below adds weight to that theory).
But Camp Echo could never have been an international success without adequate promotion. In the UK they played just four concerts over the course of 2016, three in London and one in Manchester (each rapturously received). Plus a couple of TV appearances on programmes hardly anyone watches. They haven’t played outside of Norway (where they are the #1 band by a country mile) so far in 2017 apart from three shows at the turn of the year in Australia, where they are popular. If you want to be successful internationally you’ve got to build up the air miles where the big populations are.
It’s pertinent I think to show here the video of three-fifths of Highasakite performing 5 Million Miles on the Conan show in the US, which is one of the biggest TV gigs you can get out there.
Bearing in mind that Ingrid might be going it alone pretty soon it is about as far as you can get from Marianna, the stand out track of her debut solo album Babylove (2013) and its startling opening lines, “I have a certain fantasy about you dying, with cum in your mouth/That someone hating you as much as I do, slits your throat”.
In fact, a recording of that song is beneath 5 Million Miles. Please compare and contrast. (My own comment is the first one there, and I’m sticking with it).
The saddest thing about all this is that it was Conan O’Brien who, as compare for the evening, introduced Highasakite to the 10,000-strong audience at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert last December in their native Oslo, where they played two fantastic versions of ‘Lover, where do you live?’ and ‘Golden Ticket.’ I guess that’s where the invitation to appear on his show was made. Watching and listening to 5 Million Miles he must have been struggling to reconcile the two performances.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on them. After all, Arcade Fire’s Reflektor did slowly grow on me – well, the live performances of it at least. And perhaps the internet rumours are just that and Highasakite isn’t splitting up, 5 Million Miles is a one-off and they’ll record another brilliant, innovative album which will be an international success at last. I live in hope.
5 Million Miles on Conan: