Eldorado – A retrospective
Release year – 1986
I have always wanted to do a feature on this album because it is a good true story from a time now best forgotten. The album is now more or less forgotten too. Mostly because it was over-hyped and then shot down to the ground by the media and the general public. I also believe Eldorado is a great album and a sadly forgotten one too. The new generations of music consumers and rock'n'roll and folk rock fans in Norway really need to check out Eldorado because it is a true gem. That's why I am writing these words.
About Aage Aleksandersen
Aage Aleksandersen is (accidently) Norway's answer to Bruce Springsteen.
Their careers is astonishingly similar. Both started the same year (around 1965) and they both climbed the highest mountains and suffered life in the deepest of the valleys. Both are now regarded as icons in their respective countries. I guess they have never met each other. But if they had, they could had compared notes for hours to end.
Aage Aleksandersen was born and grew up in a small township called Namsos, 150 km north of Trondheim, Norway. Namsos was based on both heavy industry and agriculture. The parallel to Bruce Springsteen's New Jersey is obvious. Aage Aleksandersen dropped out of a career in the steel mills and formed Prudence, one of my all-time favorite Norwegian bands. They released four studio albums and one live album. All of them have been made available on CD. Their music was a mix of rock'n'roll and folk rock. They can be compared to Jethro Tull, but with a with a very large Scandinavian and Eastern European flavour. This is a formula Aage Aleksandersen followed in his solo career too and with great success.
Aage also released a couple of solo albums during his years in Prudence and finally went solo after their break up in 1975. During his first years as a solo artist, he was touring every town and village in Norway together with his backing band Sambandet while he sold more and more albums. Aage worked extreme hard in this period and I admire him for his honest hard craft. His albums sold more and more for every year until he really became big with his double album Dans Me Mæ from 1982. LP 1 was a studio album and LP 2 was a live album. The title track really is one of the best ever Norwegian songs. A very warm mid-tempo track in the best folk rock style.
Everything was ready for his next album two years later which really broke Aage big time. The title was Levva Livet and it is probably one of the best ever Norwegian rock'n'roll albums. It also had a massive hit called Lys & Varme. This song, a ballad, is regarded as a Norwegian anthem. Well, maybe not these days in this fickle world. But this song was absolute massive when it was released and very much loved. The rest of the album was sweat, honest rock'n'roll of the highest possible quality. This album is a must have for any fans of Scandinavian music. Aage toured Norway from A to Z (that's 3000 km/2000 miles, no less !) and sold around 250 000 copies of this album in a country with 4 million inhabitants. That includes babies and very old people and where cassette pirating was rife. Which means that ¼ of every record buyer in Norway bought this album. That is an absolute astonishing figure.
Aage toured Norway and then went back to studio to record his next album called Eldorado.
And Then You Will Find Eldorado (?)
To say that expectations was high is a massive understatement. The release of Eldorado was hailed as the second coming of Jesus Christ by (far too) many Norwegians. On the release date, the shops opened at midnight and 200 000 albums changed hands within hours. I got the album (a cassette) around 0930 that day with my hard saved cash. The hype was massive and the expectation was totally unrealistic.
….... And then the penny dropped.
The game was up during the first two minutes of this album. The opening track Eldorado is more or less a funeral dirge. Those who expected a life loving Levva Livet # 2 therefore got a big shock. Eldorado was not a happy album like Levva Livet. It was a reflective, melancholic album. It was like Bruce Springsteen releasing Nebraska after the massive success of The River. Eldorado was not as radical as Nebraska. But it was still a bleak album and those who bought Eldorado wanted a lively rock'n'roll album. Eldorado was not their Eldorado.
How is the album ? I am sitting here with the CD version (my first version was a cassette) I bought for what in today's money is a couple of dollars/one pound three years after the release of Eldorado. That says everything about how unpopular this album was then. Even rabies and pest was more popular than Eldorado back then. Even today, I guess being the owner of this album carries a social stigma.
The cover and the artwork is melancholic and pretty revolutionary back then with the use of colours. I have never ever seen anything like this artwork. Subconsciously, maybe that put me and others off this album. When it was released, I believe I gave the cassette at best twenty spins and I then put it in a box on the loft where it still is. Even the CD I bought in 1989 seems as good as new to me (although full of dust). I guess I only gave it a couple of spins back then before I stored it in the big no-hope box together with one hundred other CDs. I got this box delivered to my castle in Scotland last year.
So, how is this album in 2010 ?
If you manage to get past the artwork, the album opens with the funeral dirge sounding title track Eldorado. Aage is singing about finding his Eldorado and encourage the rest of us to find our personal Eldorado. There is a spoken part about Afghanistan too. Rock'n'roll, it ain't. The song is actually very good. The spoken part does not work at all, though.
The next song is a folk music inspired rock'n'roller about about standing out of the crowd and the pitfalls about thinking you had made it in the world. Aage was soon to discover what this meant.
In general; the lyrics on this album reflects the typical Norwegian mood at that time. Norway was in essence as socialist country back then where all it's cultural output was run by a left wing intelligensia. The lyrics was about standing together and very anti-individualistic. “Let's stand together and enforce our society” is the lyrical themes on this album. As a Thatcherite and a vehement individualist, I could not disagree more with the lyrics on this album. But I am not holding them against this album. This is Norway anno 1986. Respect.
One song on this album, called Til En Venn, was dedicated to Olof Palme, the murdered Swedish Prime Minister. An assassination which had just shaken all Scandinavian countries to it's core. This song is actually very good, but the use of the overused “ship left the land” metaphor is a bit tiresome.
Aage also tried to write a new unofficial Norwegian anthem called Mitt Land, Mitt Land. This song is good, but his attempt falls flat on it's face due to it's far from perfect melody. I also suspect that both the melody and the lyrics is slightly sarcastic and anti-nationalistic. I subscribe to both sentiments. I think this Norwegian nationalism is over-bloated and deserve a song like Mitt Land, Mitt Land. Anyway, this is a great song although it fails as a national anthem. Hardly nobody remember this song these days, I guess.
Eldorado is a melancholic album and songs like Arbeidsledighet, Voggevise, Bare Sei Det Du, Fra En Mann, Tro Haap & Kjarlighet, Til En Venn and 19 Aar in addition to the title track falls into the melancholy category. Actually, even the hard rocking Bedre Enn De Fleste and the anthem like Mitt Land, Mitt Land is melancholic songs. Eldorado is indeed a bleak album.
I did not like this album when it was released. Maybe this album was too hyped and there is nothing I dislike more than a hype. In 2010, my opinion of this album has changed. Maybe I have finally grown up, emotionally. Maybe I am now as old as Aage Aleksandersen was when he wrote this album. Anyway, I happens to think Eldorado is a great album. The melodies is great and I tolerate the lyrics. The use of mandolin, saxophone, violin and the hammond organs is excellent. Aage also sings in an understated manner which I think he never had the ability to do on the previous albums and lost on subsequent albums. Eldorado was therefore his finest ever effort as a vocalist.
I would give this album 4 out of 5 stars if I had reviewed it for a newspaper this year. It is a great album.
Aage Aleksandersen quickly sold 250 000 copies of Eldorado. He was very successful. In Norway, that was a fatal mistake back in 1986 where personal success and wealth was viewed with both suspicion and envy. Aage Aleksandersen was due a public execution.
It was duly delivered through an feature article written by the mad professor and communist Georg Johannesen in Puls Magazine, the biggest and only Norwegian music magazine back then. In his feature article on Eldorado for Puls Mag, he branded Aage Aleksandersen and his lyrics as less articulate than a monkey. He even admitted that he hated Aage for his spoken words about Afghanistan in the title track and that the feature article was his revenge. But he was still taken seriously........
The newspapers and the national broadcaster quickly picked up Georg Johannesen accusation of monkey lyrics. Aage Aleksandersen went from hero to zero in a matter of days and he became a laughing stock. It perhaps killed his career. It most certainly killed of Eldorado and made it an album everyone hated. Hence, I got it for a pound three years later from the biggest record shop in Norway back then (Akers Mic).
I am pretty disgusted about the public execution of Aage Aleksandersen back in 1986. But it happened and no great injustice which is a blight on the mankind happened. Aage Aleksandersen survived and went on to release some really good albums. He is still touring Norway and is in excellent health. His reputation has also been fully restored.
Eldorado sold 260 000 copies. ¼ of the buying general public in Norway bought the album before the public execution by this loony professor Georg Johannesen in Puls magazine. The sales then stopped overnight.
Aage Aleksandersen and Sambandet still toured the country from A to Z. But I guess he was not happy to be called less articulate than a monkey. No lyricist would appreciate that kind of humiliation. No human being would appreciate this humiliation. His next album Solregn came in 1989 and sold around 150 000 copies. A highly respectable sales figure. This album was less dark and melancholic than Eldorado and was perhaps the album he should had released after Levva Livet instead of Eldorado.
After Solregn, his career nosedived down to below 50 000 copies for the next albums and the sales figures has stayed around 40 000 copies ballpark on the ten studio albums following Solregn. I have no idea why because I lost touch with Norway in the mid 1990s.
Aage Aleksandersen has been touring Norway and sold out every music hall and pub he has played. He is a much loved and respected artist in Norway. He has got a statue of himself in Namsos and a the Norwegian rock'n'roll museum (pass me the sick bag, please) has now been established in Namsos due to the influence Aage Aleksandersen and Prudence have had on the popular music scene in Norway. Thankfully, Eldorado did not kill Aage Aleksandersen.
A restoration of Eldorado ?
Once upon a time, there was a Eastern Bloc car called Trabant. It was very poorly built, it was extreme unsafe with paper thin walls between the driver and the surrounding geography. It was also an environmental disaster and parts-failures like failing brakes and stucked accelerators frequently killed those who drove it + their families. In short; it was Russian roulette on four wheels. These days, it has been restored to it's former glory by those who think back at East-Germany with fondness. Even Western car lovers think Trabant is a great car..........
…........So why not restore the reputation of Eldorado and give it the respect it truly deserve ?
2011is the 25th anniversary of the release of Eldorado. I think this anniversary deserve a restoration and a re-evalutation of this album. I think it is one of the better rock and pop albums to ever come from Norway. I think Eldorado deserve to be appreciated again by both old generations who got fed up by the overhyping of this album and the new generations who had yet to be born/was conceived during their parent's listening to this album (a frightening thought) when this album was released. The hype was bigger than the album itself............. So let us listen to this album in peace and quiet without the hype and all the noise. Only then, it will get the status it deserve. I am all in favour of a (sober) restoration of Eldorado and a appreciation of Aage Aleksandersen's work on this album. After all, it is one of his finest ever albums.
I recommend this album.
For reactions on this feature, please email me.