This religion stuff’s a funny old business isn’t it? I tend to avoid mentioning it, because you never know who might take offence, and I prefer to remain in everybody’s good books if that’s ok with you. If you’re hoping to get my own particular take on religion you’ve come to the wrong place, because it’s live and let live as far as I’m concerned, so you’ll get no gripe from me. As long as you don’t try to convert me or kill me then you can believe in whichever imaginary friend takes your fancy.
Mikko Joensuu has firmer convictions, however, because Mikko, who was ‘brought up religious’, left behind his band, built a lakeside log cabin studio in Northern Finland, and, pondering on the existence or non-existence of God, came firmly down upon the side of latter and produced a trilogy of albums to boot.
The first, called Amen 1, released earlier this year, was an album of fragile folk covering the combined feelings of realisation and despair that often accompany the revelation that this is, indeed, all there is. I’m not reviewing that album here, but if you can imagine how Johnny Cash would’ve been if his belief had faltered and he’d locked himself in a shed until he’d produced an album to chronicle his state of mind, then you get an idea of how powerful Amen 1 can be.
Mikko’s follow up, Amen 2 (Amen 3 will arrive in 2017), moves toward acceptance as its central theme, and, while it’s not necessarily a journey of rainbows, lemon drops and fluffy kittens, it’s peppered with far more hopeful messages. Musically it seems more confident too, leaving behind the folk/country of the first album for an altogether more powerful wall of sound approach. Musical touchstones are provided by the early albums of U2 (the ones where The Edge didn’t wear a hat), kitchen-sink Scottish bands from Big Country to Glasvegas (insert your own favourite gloriously over the top Scottish band here) and, particularly on the album’s later tracks, Spiritualized and the more chilled-out episodes of Primal Scream.
Amen 2 consists of eight tracks, most of them long, with the first four given over to slow chilled starts and growing powerful finishes, the kind of finishes where you almost expect bagpipes to enter the mix. Good as this first half is, the second half approaches, and often achieves, greatness. ‘Sunshine’ is a cool psychedelic groove, unlike anything else on the album; ‘There Used To Be a Darkness’ provides the album’s lyrical heart, clocking in at over 11 minutes it’s the kind of tune (and approach) that Bono and the boys can now but dream of and seems set to be the album’s best moment, until ‘Golden Age of the Lowland’ literally waltzes in. With dark lyrics (“I’ve been medicating myself so long, to the point where my memories are gone”) it’s a gently lilting waltz that gets more and more powerful as it progresses; it’s like ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ for darker times.
‘Golden Age of the Lowland’ and the closing track, ‘I Gave You All’ finds Mikko in full Spiritualized mode, simultaneously dark and beautiful, desperate and hopeful. One slight word of warning though; don’t press play on ‘I Gave You All’ and then hop into the bath, because the last 11 minutes are basically a throbbing drone. I know some of you like that kind of thing, but, it just made me wonder if there’s anything at the end of this incessant, meaningless noise and, I’m sorry to say, there isn’t.
Which, ironically, is what Amen 2 is all about.
I wrote a book about music once. It's called "The Great Cassette Experiment" and you can buy it for your Kindle. I'm busy writing another one. And the one after that one will almost certainly be a biography of the German genius behind Boney M and Milli Vanilli, Frank Farian.
I was 50 years old when I wrote this, however by the time you read it I will be at least 51.