ESTONIA: Mustale Merele - Sopruse Puiestee
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
The Estonian electronic rock outfit attempt many things in the form of an album with many overarching themes and ideas
Sopruse Puiestee are a band from Estonia, a small nation on the Baltic Sea, near their linguistic brethren, Finland. Formed in 2002, their aim was to bring accessible yet meaningful electronic music to an Estonian audience. Rather charmingly, the band’s name translates as 'Friendship Boulevard', which is also a street in their native Tallinn. Considering their aim, the album can be considered a success on their own terms, as the music is by and large classifiable as electronica, though there are definitely songs on the album that are more in a pop rock vein. In terms of whether it is meaningful or not, well, the album does deal with some interesting themes. The name of the album is Mustale Merele, which means Black Sea, which here is a reference to the Black Sea Fleet of the Soviet Union on which many Estonian soldiers served and lost their lives, and the song 1905 is about the rebellion on the Russian battleship named Potemkin (the same incident depicted in Soviet cinematic pioneer Sergei Eisenstein’s famous and influential film Battleship Potemkin), and thus, though I do not understand Estonian and thus cannot properly identify lyrical meaning, it is clear that the lads in Sopruse Puiestee are certainly trying to create something meaningful and deep that refers back to difficult periods in Estonian history.
“ ...it is a mixture of styles and genres that don’t entirely cohere, but nonetheless make for a fun album. The invention is the point here, and the unusual mixes of, say, acoustic guitar baselines and piano synths overlain on top add to a unique sound.”
But what of the album itself? It’s all well and good finding out about historical references after the fact, but how does it shape up for those who do not understand the lyrics or have any inkling about the historical contexts, like myself when I listened to it for the first time. On a musical level it is certainly engaging and interesting, with a real wide range of styles attempted, and for that it is something of an oddity. It is a hard album to pin down. A song like Kaotaja sounds whimsical, almost dream-like, yet Huvasti Tallinn is an upbeat rock song, Aknajuuli is a piece of krautrock inspired europop that wouldn’t be out of place of a Kraftwerk record, and 1905, the biggest hit in Estonia to come off this album, is an acoustic piece with electronic inflections. As I say, it is a mixture of styles and genres that don’t entirely cohere, but nonetheless make for a fun album. The invention is the point here, and the unusual mixes of, say, acoustic guitar baselines and piano synths overlain on top add to a unique sound. If I have to be slightly critical (and I suppose I do have to, it is a review after all) the lead singer’s voice isn’t great, and his low-pitched voice can grate at points, though not all the time it must be said.
Overall, it is more of an interesting album than an enjoyable one. It is not one I find myself irresistibly drawn back to again and again, though 1905 is a song I always enjoy when I hear it on my world music playlist. Despite the level of invention and experimentation, one problem the album has is that it doesn’t have any songs that really shine. It is consistently good, but never great, and there are no flashes of brilliance. Perhaps I am at a disadvantage not understanding Estonian here, as the themes behind the album do sound very interesting and unusual for a modern pop band to deal with. It harks back to the days of The Who and Pink Floyd, and their concept albums where a central idea would be explored over several songs. I can certainly imagine that fully understanding what they are singing about would aid in this regard, and maybe make the album more enjoyable. But I can only review what I can understand from my own limited perspective, and while it is good and unusual, there isn’t a great deal to mark it out from the crowd.