January 13, 2023 VV – Neon Noir (Album Review)
“It’s the Mamas and the Papas dressed up as Metallica on their way to a Halloween bash at the Studio 54 . . .“ So muses Ville Valo, the God of Finnish Love Metal, a.k.a. His Infernal Majesty. Under the guise of VV, his extra special brand of Neon Noir is set to arrive on January 13, 2023, thanks to Spinefarm Records.
The singer-songwriter, who released his first record with HIM nearly 30 years ago, marks his solo debut with the aforementioned, Neon Noir. Produced by its creator along with Tim Palmer (Ozzy Osbourne, Tears for Fears), the 12-song collection is immediately familiar, calling to mind past treasures such as 2000’s Razorblade Romance, 2003’s Love Metal, and 2010’s Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice. Good thing, too, as the average Valo fan likely has zero experience with ‘60s Sunshine Pop or ‘70s Disco.
But that’s okay, as Neon Noir is neither of these things. More Bowie meets Sabbath while backstage in Helsinki—or a fictional account thereof written by the artist himself—the tracks that comprise the record are melancholic threnodies to romance—not so shocking coming from the man who once crooned “Bury Me Deep Inside Your Heart.” Where VV differs from the Heartagram Squad is in its influences—less Sisters of Mercy fornicating to “Black No. 1,” more Ethel Cain attempting to cover “Personal Jesus” under the tutelage of The Cult.
It is contradictory pageantry put to song and immediately recognizable as the work of Ville Valo. This is very much the case from the first moments of “Echolocate Your Love,” dancing through Pop Rock and HIM-worthy guitars to run a gamut of sounds; introducing listeners to the full breadth of VV’s aspirations (and inspirations!). Marrying the familiarity of Mikko Paananen’s bass lines on “Run Away From the Sun” with the necessary Gothic Rock of “The Foreverlost,” it is an album that longs for the glory of the past, loses itself in the theory and practice of modern love, but finds its passion in discovering new pathways into the future.
Throughout, Valo carefully balances new facets of his musical identity with proper doses of the familiar. Take, for example, “Loveletting,” the album’s lead single. Pairing folky guitar with Pop Rock sensibilities, it’s both a departure from the expected and an embrace of that very same material, topically speaking. “Love, you are the road I walk alone” fits with the mold previously created, though the track’s funky amalgamation of bass, drums, and vocals is as fresh as the crimson oozing from the writer’s sleeves.
Vocally speaking, these 12 songs are more streamlined, particularly the album’s namesake, “Neon Noir” and the catchy rocker “Salute the Sanguine.” There’s a delicacy on display in “Run Away From the Sun,” while “Baby Lacrimarium” juxtaposes a feel-good, clap-along beat with lyrical tears. Enjoyable, but at times redundant, VV’s most surprising material dares to flip our expectations sideways. Like HIM on Prozac, the second single, “The Foreverlost,” explodes with bombastic synths, New Wave cool, and Gothic Rock everything. It’s David and his Lost Boys attending the prom with Molly Ringwald, and she’s oh-so pretty in black.
Its finest moments embrace their boldly disparate elements. Like the dirgy fog that introduces “Saturnine Saturnalia,” offering up an obvious homage to the legendary Black Sabbath before taking a quick turn toward hazy melancholia and velvety romance. The end result is a rainy night spent smoking cigarettes, cheek pressed to the cold pane of glass as you cloak your suffering in garbled prose. Or “In Trenodia,” a threnody (quite literally!) for love that tickles the emotions with elements borne of Folk, and a clear example of where VV should venture next.
Equally worthy of further exploration are moments such as “Heartful of Ghosts,” which offers some of the finest musical compositions on the album. A maelstrom that drags listeners into the heart of Valo’s poetry, it pairs beautifully with the instrumental “Zener Solitaire.” A piano-led ballroom waltz, its false ethereality calls to mind 1986’s Labyrinth, as the world falls down around Sarah, as her eyes lock on Jareth the Goblin King.
Not one to silently exit any masquerade, VV ends his first solo foray with the nearly eight-minute spectacle of “Vertigo Eyes,” where enticing percussion and earworm synths help to craft a grand finale that will leave listeners salivating. Intentionally, of course, as he knows a thing or two about holding an audience’s attention—and Neon Noir is an attempt to expand beyond the comfort of his glittering oubliette.
Neither a magnum opus nor a forgettable placeholder, Neon Noir lays out a framework for the future of VV. Sure, one can attempt to camouflage the truth, but there’s no hiding the fact that the most dazzling offerings found here could just as easily have worn the label of HIM, which is far from a bad thing for those who are already fans of the Finnish singer-songwriter. Still, buried deep inside the heart of these immediately familiar gems is a promise that any hymnals to follow shall be laced with echoes of the pains and gains of the past… And it won’t all be written in majestic black ink. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Neon Noir 4 out of 5 stars.