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Flint’s one-album wonders: Anssi Kela – Nummela (2001)

08/02/2013

akela_nummela

In the second part of the 12-chapter journey to albums I love from artists I’m otherwise not really interested of, we’ll take a trip to my native roots. The year is 2001 and one album sweeps over the nation, undoubtedly forming a similar relationship to countless other people as it has done to me.

nummelaEvery now and then an album arrives that seems to take over the entire world or the country you live in. For some time, it’s the biggest thing there is – it dominates the airwaves and the charts, it breaks records and it’s heard by absolutely everyone and they all have an opinion on it. The Marshall Matters LPs, the 21s, the Neverminds. In the early 00s, singer/songwriter Anssi Kela‘s debut Nummela became the biggest thing in Finland. You couldn’t escape from its songs on radio or TV, it sold insane amounts and broke several sales records, and everyone knew it – everyone, from the young kid to your grandma. Kela’s music broke barriers and was loved by everyone regardless of age or music taste, and those who didn’t enjoy its omnipresence made sure they were ready to mention it whenever required, with the requisite defenses and reasons for their contrary opinion.

The secret to Kela’s success wasn’t a mysterious one: he simply made his music incredibly approachable to everyone. The basis of his sound was in the great, classic singer/songwriter tradition. He was a storyteller by nature, filling his lyrics with relatable or otherwise understandable stories of everyday people and their joys and tragedies (a direct quote from someone older at the time, it was “lovely to hear someone sing about actual things”). The core of the music itself was in your traditional man-and-guitar vein, but decorated with a slick, modern production and appropriate fashionable (at the time) touch in its sounds: a combination of both new and old in exactly the right amounts. Kela had a seemingly divine gift for a really great hook and it was impossible to get his songs out of your head once they made their way there, and all those hooks and melodies were so perfectly hummable and singable and repeatable. Kela himself was a charmer as well. A softly husky, pleasant voice, reasonably charismatic looks and a background that was equally humble and legendary, tragic and inspirational: he was a small town kid (this album itself titled after the said town) who came from a line of town-famous musicians who all died before their age, leaving the rest of his close family in a rather chaotic state, but who overcame the hardships and climbed to the top. Considering that pictures of his dead father and grandfather were included in the album booklet, it’s not like any of this was being kept particularly quiet either.

In short, Kela was a humongous success because he simply seemed to be destined to be so. Everything in his music or character almost seemed to be designed to win everyone’s hearts, but genuine charm and realness radiated from him to the extent that you could never have been cynical over him. He was a lovely guy who wrote fantastically catchy songs, and then proceeded to dominate the whole country through that simple formula.


Mikan faijan BMW

But there’s still something special within Nummela itself. Kela isn’t just my one-album wonder – he was the same for everyone. He’s been steadily releasing albums throughout the past decade but nothing has come even close to the eyesight of his mega-selling debut; actual hit singles beyond the ones taken from Nummela number in exactly two, and they’re the ones that directly followed Nummela (one of them so closely that it was included in the deluxe re-release of the album). Nummela, then, clearly carries a special magic that continues to make it a rewarding listen in a way his other albums do not.

It all somewhat boils down to his personal history. The photos of his dead family members weren’t in the booklet because the record label wanted to build a mythology and a backstory: they’re there because Kela’s legacy and personal history fueled the album itself. The title track outright says it so – located at the end of the album, it’s the only song where Kela stops telling stories about other people and sits down to talk about his story. The song feels like a confessional, bittersweet excerpts of life’s ups and downs that eventually cause Kela to follow his family bloodline and commit his feelings on tape. The song itself is the album’s masterpiece and while it’s the only one that’s outright about the writer himself, that personal touch flows through the other eight songs. While the character names and situations in each song are different to Kela’s own, each one feels like it stems from a real place and from personal experiences. Naming the album after his hometown and paying tribute to his family tree both signify that the music in Nummela comes from the heart, that it’s been fueled by the artist’s blood, sweat and tears as he’s worked on the songs day and night as if he was possessed by the need to let them out. Often in manifests in a notable emotional load on the shoulders of the songs, like with the genuine happiness found when your life hits that one perfect moment in “Kaunotar ja basisti” and the painful nostalgia for the innocent days of youth that looms over “Kissanpäivät“. The whole of Nummela has that incredibly precious feeling of genuine emotional presence that we often associate with artists’ most personal records, only this time the lyrics mostly avoid anything directly personal and the music is in the guise of somewhat slickly-produced pop/rock rather than lo-fi acoustic escapism or dark atmospherics.

Which is fine – it’s clearly the place where Kela feels most comfortable to be in and it results in a group of excellent songs that allow his knack for a great melody and hook to shine, sometimes literally as the production really lets each note play out clearly. On the other hand, at times the album’s rather dare-I-say commercial sheen and modern production result in a somewhat more dated sound. You couldn’t get much more 2001 than the record scratches, drum samples and effects on “Mikan faijan BMW” and “Puistossa” (perhaps unsurprisingly the album’s two biggest hits), but if you were there at the time it’s less like unearthing ancient artifacts and has a far more pleasant, nostalgically warm feel to it.

Huge debut albums are almost always a curse for their artists and Kela couldn’t escape that either. He’s continued to write catchy choruses and tell bittersweet stories of everyday people, but none of the subsequent albums have carried the same spark as Nummela. It’s clearly an album that took a great deal of personal motivation to come out and once he had found a release for that emotional energy, his music took a turn towards your standard sort of singer/songwriter rocker material. Nummela is his apex point as a songwriter, a collection of nine incredibly catchy pop songs filtered through a greater desire that became such a strong concoction it took an entire country by storm.

(And of course it’s a bloody nostalgic album for me as well, considering how big it was and how it was released when I had started my first miniscule steps towards music nerdery.)


Nummela

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