VGM: METROID FUSION (2002)

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Recently I started playing my first game of the Metroid series – “Metroid Fusion” which was released in 2002 on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance system. Being a newbie to this famous franchise of action-shooter video games, I didn’t know what to expect exactly. And man, I was blown away by the tight gameplay and engrossing storyline which is full of plot twists and conspiracies. But there was one key element of what made this game so exeptionally enjoyable for me – the music score.

In this game you play as the intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran who is sent to a space laboratory after an emergency call from its crew. Soon after her arrival the heroine finds the space station devoid of humans, only to learn that an unknown species called “X” has occupied the lab and infected every living thing in it (including the researchers and their study subjects).

As you make your way through the hazards and hoards of enemies found inside the huge space station, the music accomplishes an atmosphere of danger all the time. Right before you face a powerful alien monster, you are treated with this track:

I feel tense whenever I listen to this short track.
There are other facets of darkness in Metrioid Fusion’s music – this piece carries more of an ambient mood, but has an intimidating and slightly desolate tone to it:

This track is playing when Samus explores an underwater maze full of aggressive aquatic creatures.
Since the plot takes place in a futuristic environment, there are some tunes which convey a steely or robotic electric vibe, as you can hear below. It’s the battle theme of some of the games fast-paced bosses:

Metroid Fusion’s soundtrack is a great example of how music can contribute to the atmosphere and thus to the overall experience of a video game, pulling you in much deeper as a result. I can’t wait to delve further into the Metroid series and explore other gems, music- or storywise.

BEN IVORY – NEON CATHEDRAL (2013)

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Tracklist:
01 New Bright Lights (4:27)
02 Come Undone (3:37)
03 Disconnected (3:04)
04 Glow (3:20)
05 Remedy (3:36)
06 All For Love (3:31)
07 The Righteous Ones (3:57)
08 Revenge (3:49)
09 Save Me (4:36)
10 Better Love (2:56)
11 Sober (4:39)
12 Neon Cathedral (4:29)
13 Sound Of The City (3:56)

The summer of 2013 saw the release of the debut album „Neon Cathedral“ by German model-turned-singer Ben Ivory. It was published after Ivory gained a hit on the German club charts and participated in the preliminary round for Eurovision Song Contest. Despite reaching a moderate 7th place there, the singer dropped this collection of dance music and synth pop soon after. I feared that the music on „Neon Cathedral“ is as bland the horribly photoshopped cover artwork – and I was right.

Are you the sell-out or solution?

New Bright Lights functions as an appetizer for the album: it’s a shimmering slice of electro pop that profits from monotonous (but no boring!) verses and a chorus is filled with hooks („In this cold, cold night we’re searching for the satellites / In this dull suburban town we need some new bright lights“). The contrast between verses and chorus gets stuck in your head and helps the track as an introduction song, leaving you eager to hear more. Second track Come Undone is more of an upbeat track. Some passages a sung in falsetto, and Ivory’s voice sounds really good in the higher pitches. Unfortunately the clichéd lyrics („I come undone / It’s getting colder / The summer’s gone / The days grow older“) borrow more from Modern Talking than from Pet Shop Boys and detract from the otherwise nice song. But what can you expect from a dance pop record? Featuring a terrible 4/4 beat, Disconnected presents Ivory the android to us – I don’t recognise a single trace of emotion in here. There’s slight use of autotune in the singer’s voice, and I can’t help but wonder of this tune is a leftover from Kylie Minogue in her „Light Years“ era. Follow-up Glow contains a beat that’s typical for a midtempo dance tune and a chorus with hymn-like characteristics („All eyes on me and I will take my chance / Nothing will stop me tonight, I got to glow“). This one describes the moment of carelessness when you’re on the dancefloor and does a fine job.

Pristine and elegant, Remedy is a midtempo synth pop track with a clear Depeche Mode influence. It’s rather calm, featuring beautiful verses and a chorus that lingers subtly („I break into laughter / When I feel like crying / I’d give the world / For a remedy“). After „New Bright Lights“ this is the best track so far. As good as „Remedy“ is, All For Love is the complete opposite: the pompous chorus is way overblown, the lyrics and music are boring and uninspired. This song tries hard to evoke emotions but completely misses the point. The Righteous Ones was Ivory’s entry in the preliminary rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest. A hymn for all the outsiders („We are the freaks, we are the queers / We are the shockers, we are all here“) that speeds up the tempo in the anthemic chorus („You can close your eyes if you want to / Lock your doors and hide if we haunt you / Get your guns and knives if we scare you / But we ain’t going nowhere, no, we ain’t going nowhere“). The song plays with many keyboard effects and sounds reminiscent of 80s disco pop but with a modern approach. Although the tinny drum beat sounds cheap, the song’s self-assured message seems authentic and empowering. I didn’t expect a disco fox rhythm on Revenge… but it’s a nice surprise! The track offers plenty of electronic effects again while serving slight touches of guitars. It’s catchy as hell and close to a German genre called „Schlager“ due to it’s ear-friendly structure and arrangement. Save Me brings hand claps as well as a contemporary r’n’b groove into the mix. Despite the music being enjoyable, the lyrics are blurry + don’t seem sincere („You were my parachute / Why do you save me?“). When the song fades out a robotic voice delivers a speech – – I guess this feature was meant to be artistic but it’s random and arty instead.

Club hit Better Love could have been recorded in the 80s since it sounds like an album track by Erasure. Ivory’s voice channels Andy Bell’s voice on this, which is a compliment. Suitable for a dancefloor hit, the sparse words fit the song this time around („It’s better love / It’s better love, that you’re giving me“). After the bomb that is „Better Love“, electro pop ballad Sober cools the temper down. The words are about the fear of waking up alone after a one night stand which is another facet of party life. In short this tune’s nothing special and more of filler material. Neon Cathedral starts the home stretch with futuristic synth effects and a grand use of cow bells (hello, 90s!). Playing with religious images („In a neon cathedral, we’re gone, we pan, we just exult / We’re praising Jay and Pi and Shiva – get on your leases side“), this is dark synth pop at its best. The title track works as a hybrid of Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys and doesn’t fall flat. Last comes Sound Of The City, a chill-out ditty driven by a slow and plucking groove. Over nice backing vocals in the chorus the singer summarizes the whole album and its purpose: telling the story of wild nights, parties, love affairs, the joy and sadness that it brings. It’s a refreshing end to an uneven record, finishing with a neat choir arrangement of several voice tracks by Ivory.

Will you still be with me when I’m sober?

Oh Ben, you didn’t make it easy for me. I’d like to say that your debut album is a smash, but it isn’t. For every great pop song you offer on „Neon Cathedral“, there are two that try too hard to sound like someone else. Your dance pop feels anemic and cold most of the time, a circumstance which simply doesn’t match the hymns of self-regard you love to throw at us. Instead of selling a picture-perfect image, how about some heartfelt emotions next time? I believe in you as a newcomer worth to discover, but not in the religion of your „Neon Cathedral“…

3 out of 5

SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – HYAENA (1984)

Tracklist:
01 Dazzle (5:30)
02 We Hunger (3:30)
03 Take Me Back (3:03)
04 Belladonna (4:28)
05 Swimming Horses (4:05)
06 Bring Me The Head Of The Preacher Man (4:37)
07 Running Town (4:04)
08 Pointing Bone (3:49)
09 Blow The House Down (7:00)
10 Dear Prudence (4:00)*

As weird as the cover is the music found on „Hyaena“, the sixth studio album by post-punk/alternative outfit Siouxsie And The Banshees. The band has come a long way from its beginnings as a raw attraction (by being part of the infamous Bromley Contingent in London’s punk circuits). What makes this record stand out even before you hear a musical note is the involvement of Robert Smith (frontman of gothic band The Cure) who is playing guitar with the group this time.

Embrace the sound of enchantment

First track Dazzle throws you right into this eclectic collection. Plenty of strings fade in and get louder and louder, sweeping majestically. Then Siouxsie’s vocals set in („The stars that shine and the stars that shrink / In the face of stagnation the water runs before your eyes“) and Budgie’s rolling drums speed up the tempo. That guy must be honored for his work on percussions here, the dynamics of „Dazzle“ and really dazzling. The words in the chorus describe the sparkling musical background best („Dazzle, it’s a glittering prize“) before the song ends how it started with the strings taking over again and fading out slowly. We Hunger is a hectic mish-mash of drums and bass guitar with lyrics that fit the hounded feeling well („Do you hunger for this?“). The words seem to have an ambiguous meaning: they could as well be about starvation as about greed. A gothic arrangement makes this track sound like it could have been on former albums of the band. Take Me Back uses an organ which gives the track a sinister sentiment, while cryptic lyrics underline the mysterious atmosphere („Deep in the heart of a seething beast / Think of bright lights, a splendid feast / Where you arrive can be home“). This one’s a moody song that captures the adventurous and experimental spirit of the band.

Belladonna has a lighter feeling than the stuff before though it contains some psychedelic guitar work by Smith. I can’t say whether the lyrics are poetic or just confused („Lost in the glare, all of us stare / The patterns of pain scream out your name / Oh belladonna“)but the music has a natural aura and thus suits the theme of a wild flower. Standout track Swimming Horses features an entrancing piano figure plus psychedelic guitars again. Musically emulating the flowing water in the ocean, it creates some vivid images of the sea („Take a ride on the tide with the assassin at your side / The weightlessness under water forgets in slow motion / And washes pointless tortures“). I wonder if the group uses the image of swimming horses as a metaphor for sea horses… This is probably the catchiest tune on the record, ending abruptly. What follows is the adventurously titled Bring Me The Head Of The Preacher Man: a western guitar, a few ominous synth patterns and castanets are used here. Siouxsie’s vocals show how much she’s improved as a singer since the beginning of the band eight years before. The song gains speed as it progresses, and with ghostly moaning in the instrumental parts it’s a creepy song through and through. Budgie’s steady drumming pushes Running Town forward. With nervous guitars and piano, this ditty has a sound mixture whose ingredients are new wave and psychedelic rock. When I listen to this track I can’t but feel uneasy and messed up (which is a compliment).

Pointing Bone keeps up the pace. Its most prominent feature is slowing down after half of its length and then gaining speed again. Although the cryptic lyrics („With a Gorgon’s head and a cloak of skulls / They’re kindling fires in open wounds / Pointing bone“) are interesting this one’s easily the weakest material on „Hyaena“ and seems like a filler to me. Much better is Blow The House Down, another psychedelic tune that is uses hand clapping to build a gloomy atmosphere. I wonder what the lyrics are about since they describe some sort of disaster… a psychopathic personality or a village run over by war or a natural catastrophe („The lightening makes your hair stand on end / This dervish frenzy will make you run around / This dervish frenzy will turn your head around / Blow the house down“)? The words suggest that the latter interpretation is right. It’s last track on original issue of the album and follows the claustrophobic spirit of the record. Some editions of the album contain Dear Prudence as a neat additional bonus track. Originally written and recorded by The Beatles, this gothic pop version by Siouxsie And The Banshees is probably the lightest and most cheerful song the band has recorded up to then. The audience seems to agree – the single release of this ditty became the group’s biggest commercial success in the UK charts.

He gives birth to swimming horses

Every time I listen to „Hyaena“ I am dazed. The sweeping beauty of „Dazzle“ and „Swimming Horses“, the eerieness of „Take Me Back“ and „Blow The House Down“, the menace of „We Hunger“ and „Running Town“ and the lightness of „Belladonna“ and „Dear Prudence“… This album’s a fascinating potpourri of diverse and even oppositional musical styles and moods. I recommend you to give this record a try even if it might be a tough one to get into:

4,5 out of 5

NENEH CHERRY – MAN (1996)

Tracklist:
01 Woman (4:30)
02 Feel It (5:41)
03 Hornbeam (5:02)
04 Trouble Man (3:57)
05 Golden Ring (3:40)
06 7 Seconds (4:59)
07 Kootchi (5:06)
08 Beastiality (2:49)
09 Carry Me (4:22)
10 Together Now (3:11)
11 Everything (4:58)

The ambitiously titled „Man“ is the third studio album from Swedish hip hop/soul singer Neneh Cherry and was published in 1996. Before you even hear a single note, there’s already ambiguity in the title: „Man“ could refer to the male sex or the human race as well. Doesn’t sound like a theme for a commercial pop record really… Cherry herself is a tough woman, being in the music business as a serious female rap artist isn’t a small feat. Maybe this album can give us some insight into her perceptions concerning humans (males and females alike).

Battle’s not over even when it’s won

An album called „Man“ begins with a song named Woman – I got you, Irony! A string arrangement gives the song a dark tone, while Neneh Cherry tells uns her observations of the history of women („I’ve born and I’ve bread / I’ve cleaned and I’ve fed / And for my healing wits / I’ve been called a witch“) over a slow r’b’n groove. The lyrics could be autobiographical too („To save my child ‘d rather go hungry / I got all of Ethiopia / Inside of me“) since the singer’s ancestors come from Africa. Thrown in is a warbled guitar solo, and it’s clear that this is a winner. The soul pop of Feel It creates a relaxing mood using hand claps and an acoustic guitar. Adressing a boy to show some emotions („You know you’ve got to feel it / Feel it over you, under you“), this is a mellow but not very memorable track (even though the c-part with Cherry’s blurred voice is nice). Hornbeam makes use of electric guitars and keyboards and puts emphasis on an r’n’b vibe. Probably dealing with a troubled kid/teenager („Stole the wheel off a car called a Porsche / While I was chewing the fat that disturbs me / It’s always there because we play the game the way we are“), its climactic ending with many simultaneous voice tracks flows into next song directly. The Marvin Gaye cover Trouble Man displays western guitars, a piano + swaying percussions („I’ve come up hard, baby, but that’s okay“). Guess it’s a nice interpretation but nothing more.

The Swedish rapper utilizes a soulful vibrato in her voice on Golden Ring. Musically this is a sparse track: besides some neat Spanish guitar picking in the beginning there are just Cherry’s gentle voice and a few percussion instruments. Containing several references to womankind („I was a woman that was born to travel“), this is the calm before the emotional storm that is 7 Seconds. This one, a cross between trip hop and world music, was a huge global hit. It’s a duet between Cherry and Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour. One specific characteristic of this song is that the lyrics are trilingual: Cherry sings in English whilst N’Dour sings in English, French and Wolof (a West African language). The track includes a heavenly chorus with harmonising vocals of the singers, as the words are about a new-born infants’ innocence („And when a child is born into this world / It has no concept of the tone the skin is living in“) while also pointing at racism. This immaculate song is outstanding and the centrepiece of „Man“. Kootchi is an alternative rock outfit that is fueled by an electric guitar riff and shows off the higher and lower pitches of Neneh’s vocal range pretty well. I really enjoy the bridge that leads into the sexy chorus („All I wanna do is kootchi koo with you“). Somewhat unsurprisingly the lyrics make me think of Heart’s „All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You“.

The brooding Beastiality resembles „Golden Ring“ in its simplistic instrumentation, featuring just an acoustic guitar and some minimal rhythm section (although it’s obviously faster than the aforementioned song). It’s the shortest song on „Man“ by far with lyrics that are written from the perspective of a dude („As I take you through the bedroom door / You can be my mother, you can be my whore“), probably being about prostitution. I can’t say much about Carry Me other than it’s a trip hop and soul pop bastard. Though the tinny drumbeat manages to get into your ear I find this ditty too monotonous to really care about it. Together Now improves on its predecessor: Cherry’s voice sound fuzzy and the music sways steadily as some male background voice is speaking about sex. I really like the bass guitar in here, making this track a sexually charged piece of alternative rock and r’n’b. The pop rock ballad Everything starts calmly with a prominent piano figure and then builds into a full-blown, powerful reflection on the flow of time („Books full of pictures / Remembering the blasts / Time’s consequences / Makes me go fast“). This tune’s climax with a string-loaded instrumental closes the record and makes this piece of music more than just a solid closing track – it’s a beautiful conclusion on an album full of subtle and liberal commentaries on gender issues which are as current today as they were in the mid-90s.

No real solutions in clippings from the past

As I assumed in the beginning of this review, „Man“ isn’t an album full of catchy and commercial pop songs designed to be big hits. It’s an album that tells little stories of day-to-day situations in the life of women, men, children – people. While Neneh Cherry focuses on social issues a lot (see the feminist song that is „Woman“ or the contemplation on ethnicity of „7 Seconds“), she manages to tell her mind in an entertaining way without sounding too serious (even when tackling serious stuff). I’m very pleased by this conglomeration of soul, r’n’b, trip hop, alternative rock and pop, thus I rate this:

4.5 out of 5

LENA – CRYSTAL SKY (2015)

01 The Girl (4:09)
02 Keep On Living (3:21)
03 Traffic Lights (2:48)
04 All Kinds Of Crazy (3:40)
05 Beat To My Melody (3:36)
06 Sleep Now (3:47)
07 Lifeline (3:06)
08 4 Sleeps (4:06)
09 We Roam (3:47)
10 Crystal Sky (3:28)
11 Invisible (3:31)
12 Catapult (5:09)
13 In The Light (3:18)
14 Home (3:42)

Here it is – the fourth studio album by German pop songstress Lena. The fourth studio album in five years… not bad for a Eurovision Song Contest winner who was expected to be a one hit wonder by critics. This release is called „Crystal Sky“ and marks yet another change in musical style for the singer (2012’s „Stardust“ saw Lena trading girlish pop ditties for a more grown-up singer/songwriter pop sound). She acts the electrop pop gal now, and „Crystal Sky“ seems like a fitting title for an album of such a genre. But what about the music itself?

Your sorrows weighing on your shoulders – tomorrow’s never gonna solve them

The fizzling electronic background of The Girl leads us into the album. It includes a catchy guitar sample and vocals that are blurred by the vocoder (thanks for this, Cher!). Lyrically this song might be about Lena’s experiences with being a public figure („Held back by reputation / Just waiting for the time to pass / Brought down by expectation“), and her thin voice melts into the artificial sonic background perfectly. A welcome introduction to the electro pop Lena on all accounts. Keep On Living starts with a short piano line and provides nervous keyboards. The bridge leads into an instantly recognisable chorus („Gotta keep on living“) that reminds me of Ellie Goulding (which will happen more often in the course of the record). Short tune Traffic Lights is the first single of the album and it’s easy to get hooked by the well-produced beats. What I find a little disappointing is Lena’s voice in the chorus – there’s too much engineering for my taste (if I didn’t know who sings the song I wouldn’t recognise her at all). Fourth track All Kinds Of Crazy is kinda lazy. Calms verses run into a powerful chorus with encouraging lyrics („We can go all kind’s of crazy / We can be all kinds of amazing“), but it feels like a song painted by numbers.

Beat To My Melody is another Ellie Goulding clone with a much stronger melody in the verses than in the chorus. It’s nothing special and profits from its short length. Surprisingly, next song Sleep Now is a lullaby („Sleep now, send your worries to the moon / Sleep now, a million lights watch over you“). A gracious song built around an acoustic guitar, it functions as a little breather amongst all the EDM stuff. On the melodic Lifeline, Lena is offering a dear person to care for him/her („When you can’t even breathe, you’re sinking underneath / I’ll be your lifeline“). Though the words here are generic, the melody fits her limited voice well. But… ta-daaa! The vocoder appears in the c-part again. 4 Sleeps features hand claps and a midtempo beat. The engineering on Lena’s vocals makes her sound like a machine at times and feel too standard to make a lasting impression on me.

A little better is We Roam with a nihilistic guitar lick and hand claps in middle eight. Like on „Beat To My Melody“, the verses are far more memorable than the chorus. When I listen to the title track that is Crystal Sky, the song evokes images of a snow dome for me („Now there’s falling frozen dreams as far as anyone can see / It used to be a crystal sky when I looked into your eyes“). It’s a calm tune that has a memorable beat and a background choir which creates an eerie atmosphere. Quite the opposite are the dubstep influences on Invisible. This powerhouse of a song provides an anthemic and passionate chorus („I’m invisible […] I’m untouchable“), making Lena’s akward pronunciation pretty obvious. The best track on the album is Catapult: a synth ballad that slowly starts with a piano and strange keyboard noises and builds into a quirky ditty featuring guest artists Kat Vinter and Little Simz. The rap part is done by Kat Vinter and makes this track different from the others due to its well thought out structure and arrangement.

A second before and we would never have met

In The Light, a midtempo dance track, opens the home stretch. Lena’s thin voice suits the cold, mechanical music and warbles an enchanting chorus („In the light we are the same / In the light we all are sane / Our eyes are all to blame in the light“). I don’t know what the lyrics are about: persuasiveness? self-determination? avoiding racism? Never mind, it’s a pretty good song all the same. Last song Home is the second ballad on the record. Subtle electronic layers of sound are accompanied by a piano, but cheesy lyrics prevent me from totally digging this („Our heart goes on and on / Our heart beating like a drum / In the dark you made me strong / Like you’ve always done“). Closing in an atmospheric finale, „Home“ is good as a closing track.

I applaud Lena for making an album that sounds drastically different from its predecessors. The cohesiveness of the record is astounding and makes for a pleasant listen, but it’s the album’s Achilles heel as well: many tracks here sound very similar to each other and it takes a few listens to point out differences in the music. The songs are well-produced, the lyrics serve their respective purpose (nobody expects deep meaning in dance music) and Lena seemingly had fun recording the album. Even though ripping off Ellie Goulding is not very original, but I’d rather hear a good copycat than an ugly original.

3.5 out of 5

PER GESSLE – PARTY CRASHER (2008)

Tracklist:
01 Silly Really (3:42)
02 The Party Pleaser (3:40)
03 Stuck Here With Me (3:23)
04 Sing Along (4:02)
05 Gut Feeling (3:35)
06 Perfect Excuse (3:13)
07 Breathe Life Into Me (3:44)
08 Hey, I Died And Went To Heaven (4:03)
09 Kissing Is The Key (3:11)
10 Thai With A Twist (2:43)
11 I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On (3:33)
12 Doesn’t Make Sense (3:53)
13 I’m Glad You Called (3:29)*
13 Theme From Roberta Right (3:04)*

Swedish pop artist Per Gessle (the man behind dozens of hits by Roxette) released his third studio album in English language in the fall of 2008. It marked his seventh overall studio album as a solo artists and was named „Party Crasher“. While preceding records „Son Of A Plumber“ and „En Händig Man“ had a distinct 60s sound, this one contains strong elements of disco pop and synth pop alongside nods to a couple of genres associated with pop music. It’s quite a step from the organic, guitar-driven pop songs found on the aforementioned albums to the dance-infected collection that ist „Party Crasher“ – let’s see if Gessle really crashes the party or has a blasting all-night party on here.

Come to think about it – it’s silly really

Lead single and opening track Silly Really relies heavily on synthesizers and keyboards fanfares. With its catchy chorus, a funky bass guitar and little vocal contributions by Helena Josefsson (whom we’ll get to hear more often on other track) this song is a great way to introduce the record. More about onomatopoeia than lyrical meaning in chorus („Silly really“), the fun is there from the first moment. The Party Pleaser keeps the style of „Silly Really“ but adds tempo and a straight beat. Containing another catchy chorus („I’m paving the way, the way, the way for the party pleaser“), this goofiness is damn fun. By track number two it’s already clear that this is an album to dance and sing along to, to have a good time and enjoy yourself. If you’re looking for poetic depth this is not the right thing for you! More a duet than a solo performance, the midtempo Stuck Here With Me sees Gessle singing in falsetto while being supported by Helena Josefsson. It’s an r’n’b-tinged tune that builds on a wobbling bass and puts focus on keyboard hook. Next comes Sing Along which carries the pace from its predecessor. Gessle and Josefsson’s voices harmonize well here. Unfortunately there are tweo things that bother me about this ditty: first, it’s rather generic and unmemorable due to its lack of hooks. Second, it’s too long for my taste – the song is running out of ideas way before it’s finished.

The aptly titled Gut Feeling is a bubblegum pop rock tune with a VERY simple guitar riff and silly lyrics („All I ever wanted was a full-time nurse / Today I find a way to slice my universe into pieces“). Although there’s a lot of „na na na na na“ in the verses and being a fun listen this track gets repetitive quickly. A rather different experience is Perfect Excuse: with a moody, surreal atmosphere (kind of like a lullaby), this song showcases Gessle’s qualities as a lyricist („If there’s something that I’ve learned / It’s better to have left before you have to go“). Mr. Gessle provides vocals in the verses and Josefsson (who is in good shape her) takes over the chorus. The songwriter would later use this track to be recorded by Roxette on their „Travelling“ album which signifies his appreciation of it. And I think he’s right. Chilled out track Breathe Life Into Me provides sunny pop with a reggae arrangement. Helena Josefsson provides backing vocals again, there’s some whistling during the instrumental passage in the middle of the song – all in all it’s a silent beauty that’s refreshing and really sticks out on the record. If „Breathe Life Into Me“ was a plea for first aid, Hey, I Died And Went To Heaven is a dirge for the deceased: the verses are tense and underlined by a hypnotic groove while the piano plays a mysterious melody over and over again. Once the chorus arrives with Josefsson taking the lead, the restlessness of the verses is solved. Seemingly this song’s about a near-death experience or dreaming of one’s own death („I was leaving the ground, floating around / Frightened next to never / A choir nearby, trumpets and chimes“). The strange topic and clever composition of the song make for the most curious track on „Party Crasher“.

We’re back to funky disco pop with Kissing Is The Key. A duet again, it features a striking guitar riff that is very similar to the bass line of Blondie’s hit „Rapture“ (which works in favour of the song) – it does feel like an homage to the New York legends rather than a cheap rip-off. Talking about the nicest minor matter in the world, it holds another addictive chorus („Kissing is the key to our everlasting love“) and surprises you in the instrumental section with groovy congas. Thai With A Twist begins with a heavy electric guitar riff and offers nonsensical lyrics once more (what does Thai with a twist mean? I certainly don’t know). This little piece of power pop contains cheering crowd noises and saxophone solo after the second chorus which are nice ideas but appear somewhat gimmicky. Next-to-closing track I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On is the only song on the album that I truly think is weak. Even though the drum loop is alright, the use of a flute is really annoying to me. This time the Caribbean feeling (another reggae back beat in the chorus) doesn’t fit at all. It’s the worst track on the album for me by far. Per Gessle soon reconciles me on the atmospheric midtempo Doesn’t Make Sense: the intro uses a wall of synthesizers which create a dense sound scape. The melancholic touch suits the song well, and although it contains the most awful lyric of Gessle’s career („She’s sticking her tongue out, licking her nose“), this one’s definitely a winner.

Hey, I died and went to Heaven

Some editions of the album come with an extra track. I’m Glad You Called plays with vocoder effects on Gessle’s voice here and there and floats gently. The song’s about overcoming yearning for an ex-lover and features a great bridge („The first week I hurt and I bled / That summer went straight to my head / The first year without you I walked like the dead“). It would later be recorded by Gessle’s band Roxette for their comeback album „Charm School“ and qualifies as one of the best songs he has written. What were Gessle and his record company thinking when they were downgrading this gem of a song to bonus content? The other bonus song is called Theme From Roberta Right. A feel good track written with (and for?) his son („Ro-roberta, Roberta Right / You can do what you want with your life“) it’s a neat addition to the standard editions of the album.

I’m pleased to hear Gessle stepping out of his comfort zone on this album a little. Abandoning the pop rock / power pop sound he is known for, the Swedish artist delivers catchy and well-constructed pop song with influences like reggae, funk and r’n’b here – tying them all together with synthesizers and electronic music as the fundament for these sonic excursions. This album’s a hell of fun to listen to and shows that Gessle hasn’t forgotten how to write pop music that offers both hooks and depth. As I party on to this festive collection of music:

4.5 out of 5

VGM: DIRE, DIRE DOCKS (1996)

When gamers were playing Super Mario 64 for the first time in 1996 it was most likely their first experience with 3D underwater levels. As much as the game’s third course Jolly Roger Bay impressed me with its water physics, a sunken ship on the ground of the bay and a giant menacing eel swimming around, it was the level’s music that flashed me the most. And I guess many people would agree with me – the music track “Dire, Dire Docks” is one of composer Koji Kondo’s best works.

You can enjoy this serene track in three courses: Jolly Roger Bay, The Secret Aquarium and Dire, Dire Docks. While swimming (and diving) in 3D levels can get pretty tiresome, a sooting soundtrack like this make those tedious experiences more enjoyable.

An instrumental arrangement of this great tune was made by Patti Rudisill (strings) and Paula Bressman (harp), and they did a wonderful job. Thank you to these two ladies!

CHER – LIVING PROOF (2001)

01 The Music’s No Good Without You (4:43)

02 Alive Again (4:19)

03 Song For The Lonely (4:01)

04 A Different Kind Of Love Song (3:52)

05 Rain, Rain (3:44)

06 Love So High (4:32)

07 Body To Body, Heart To Heart (3:58)

08 Love Is A Lonely Place Without Out (3:53)

09 Real Love (3:55)

10 Love One Another (3:44)

11 You Take It All (4:53)

11 When You Walk Away (4:13)*

12 When The Money’s Gone (4:40)

13 The Look (4:24)*

Almost four decades into her singing career, Cher released her 24th studio album „Living Proof“ in November 2001. Following the album „Not.com.mercial“ which was released digitally only, this proved to be her first physical studio effort after her comeback album „Believe“. The latter became a huge global success, both critically and commercially, and spawned hits that made heavy use of autotune („Believe“, „All Or Nothing“). The singer returned in the new millennium as a fair-haired (as you can see on the sleeve cover above), so I’m eager to see what this fake blonde woman delivers on „Living Proof“.

You were the centre of attention, the eye of the storm

First track The Music’s No Good Without You starts with an entrancing intro. The ambient music has an ethereal feeling with subtle touches of guitars here and there. In the chorus Cher’s voice is so heavily autotuned that she sound’s like an alien, fitting the lyrics in the first verse („A whirlwind from outer space“). For me this song is one of the best things Cher has done musically, and I can tell you that on this album the first song is also the best. Adding tempo to the mix, Alive Again pours out a positive vibe: Cher puts her low and trembling voice to good use in the verses and in an anthemic chorus („I know I’ll be alive again“). Unfortunately the keyboard effects sound dated but it’s a nice little song nevertheless. Song For The Lonely (which is claimed to be about 9/11) is another piece of dance pop. The music’s okay but cheesy lyrics („This is a song for the lonely / Can you hear me tonight? […] When your dreams won’t come true / Can you hear this prayer that someone’s there for you?“) mar the overall experience a lot. Sadly this track feels pretty calculated due to its lack of subtleness. Another try at autotune, A Different Kind Of Love contains some funky guitars in the background which are drowned out by the keyboards completely. The lyrics are light and uplifting („I am part of you, we have living proof / There is some kind of light that flows through everything“) and give the album its title.

Rain, Rain slows the tempo down a little. This midtempo tune is dominated by an acoustic guitar, being a welcome change from the preceding disco stompers despite little touches of electro-pop. Cher’s strong voice carries the song that holds boring lyrics again („Rain, rain falling down / Crying as it hits the ground“). Following track Love So High keeps the latin-influences from „Rain Rain“, there are some words in Italian language and cheesy lyrics once more („Oh mi amore / I wish that I could fly“). There’s nothing special about this one, and the spanish guitar solo feels out of place somehow. Spanish guitars are reused on Body To Body, Heart To Heart. Combined with a dynamic rhythm section and percussions this makes for a nice piece of latin pop (salsa). While being restrained in the verses, Chers bursts into a lively chorus that you can sing along to at first listen. Carrying a similar feeling to „The Music’s No Good Without You“, Love Is A Lonely Place Without You is driven by a chilly disco beat. It’s as ethereal as the aforementioned song but more upbeat, but follows the same structure as most songs before.

There are glimpses of Kylie Minogue’s later work on Real Love: a simple keyboard riff is set to a straight disco beat. Uninspired lyrics („Real love / I still believe in love“) and autotune are a common trade by now, but a somewhat funky c-part keeps this track from being a failure. Love One Another is better. This sped-up hymn to love („Love one another / Sisters and brothers […] Love one another / Father and mother“) is a lot more enjoyable, and the overall sound isn’t as annoying as on other tracks. A real standout comes with You Take It All. Merging ambient background music with a beat that borrows from trip-hop plus Cher’s voice that isn’t autotuned here is a welcome change from the repetitiveness seen before. Final song When The Money’s Gone is camp all the way. Fast, quirky, and funny: this is an energetic song that doesn’t take itself serious. There’s plenty of irony in Cher’s vocals („Will you still be there / Will you pull me through / When the cash is gone?„), and close to the end Cher keeps repeating herself in such a hilarious way that I can’t help but smile.

Love don’t need a reason – she can pick you up and leave you bleeding

There are several international versions of „Living Proof“. The American version swaps When You Walk Away with „You Take It All“. Another song about a break-up („I refuse to give you the right to cause these eyes to cry at night“), this little piece of disco pop is energetic and empowering („When you walk away / You won’t walk away with my heart“). The Japanese bonus track is called The Look: it’s not a cover of Roxette’s song of the same name, but provides elements of latin pop / rumba (guitars, percussions and horns). A neat additional track. „Living Proof“ picks up where „Believe“ left: there’s much autotune here, many of the tracks are uptempo while other tunes are influenced by latin pop. This album suffers from the greatness that is „The Music’s No Good Without You“ – there are no other tracks as good as it here. A few others are decent and fun to listen to, but the bulk of songs found here are generic dance pop tunes that could be sung by any other singer/entertainer, male or female. As my verdict proves:

2.5 out of 5

THE RAVEONETTES – RAVEN IN THE GRAVE (2011)

Tracklist:

01 Recharge & Revolt (5:24)

02 War In Heaven (4:42)

03 Forget That You’re Young (3:57)

04 Apparitions (3:55)

05 Summer Moon (3:04)

06 Let Me On Out (2:36)

07 Ignite (3:05)

08 Evil Seeds (4:17)

09 My Time’s Up (4:43)

Danish indie-rock duo The Raveonettes (consisting of singer/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner and singer/bass player Sharin Foo) has written plenty of songs about sinister topics (depression, drug addiction and rape to name a few) all while drawing inspiration from musical influences like surf rock, 60s girlgroups and shoegaze. Adding heavy distortion and reverbs to their music, they developed a distinctive sound of their own. On their fifth studio album „Raven In The Grave“ the group is facing another haunting topic: death.

Let’s get out of here… I want you to come along

Drum rolls start the opening track Recharge & Revolt which delivers guitars with a nod to surf music but with a dark undertone. After more than a minute Wagner’s vocals kick in and the singer/guitarist mentions war in the lyrics. Sadly this song is a disappointing introduction to the album – the track is too long for its simple structure. This underwhelming entrance to the album is forgotten when War In Heaven arrives: this song is some kind of surf rock-gothic-hybrid with changing dynamics and minimal lyrics. The glittering keyboard sound of the first few seconds is interrupted by harsh guitars licks while Wagner and Foo are bemoaning people that are not allowed to get into heaven („I hate it when they forget to let people in“). Bursting into a climactic distorted fuzz in the end, this song shows the former track how it’s done and claims its place as the record’s first highlight. Probably being about pedophilia („And I chase you / And I know that you’re so you“), Forget That You’re Young sees Sharin Foo singing sweetly. The songs is similar in style to the output by The Ronettes or The Shangri-Las (both were big influences on the band).

Apparitions is a spooky song and feels sad and forlorn („We saw tears and tragedy“). Steely guitars, swirling keyboards and a relentless beat make this the second highlight on „Raven In The Grave“. Wagner’s and Foo’s voices form a ghostly duet as they mention war again, and heavy reverb is put to good use in the latter third of the track. The mood changes from creepy to melancholic with Summer Moon. This one might be about the passing of time („Years have gone / All have changed […] This perfect thing is dying“). I really enjoy Wagner’s neat guitar picking and Foo’s angelic backing vocals on here. When listening to this ditty, I imagine a late summer’s evening right before autumn arrives. Due to its lack of melodies, Let Me On Out is the weakest track on the album for me. The first third is pretty repetitive („You feel that I have gone too far“) and the rest is simply boring and uninspired.

Ignite makes up for the disappointing „Let Me On Out“. It’s an alternative rocker with catchy guitar licks and feels somewhat positive despite the gloomy lyrics („Hate what I am now, destructively in love / Hate what I have now, you I’m tired of“). A black love song with a guitar solo that is simple yet addictive, here’s the last of the album’s stand-out tracks. The cascading electric guitars on Evil Seeds will sweep you away, there’s some reverb in the background. Dealing with the memories of a person looking back at life with guilt („I betrayed the ones I’ve come to love the most“), this song is where the album got its title from („When I’m gone like a raven in the grave / Young lovers shouldn’t spring from these evil seeds“). It contains a lengthy outro that bridges the gap to the final track My Time’s Up. A spiritual successor to „Summer Moon“, Wagner and Foo share vocals once more. This one could be about a person who is preparing to die – in the middle of the song there are some sounds that resemble a soul being lifted up to the heavens. After the many dark and bitter songs that came before it seems that the tormented soul that inhabits this record has finally found peace.

What if I could make your heart ignite just for a while?

The Raveonettes have a knack for producing songs that make you feel uncomfortable, and „Raven In The Grave“ is no exception. But there’s always a little ray of light shining through the thundering, dark clouds that are resembled by their songs. If it wasn’t for the two dull songs that are „Recharge & Revolt“ + „Let Me On Out“, this would have been a perfect album for me. As I bury these two musical corpses in the graves they deserve, I rate this record:

4 out of 5

ANNIE LENNOX – DIVA (1992)

Tracklist:

01 Why (4:53)

02 Walking On Broken Glass (4:12)

03 Precious (5:08)

04 Legend In My Living Room (3:45)

05 Cold (4:20)

06 Money Can’t Buy It (4:58)

07 Little Bird (4:48)

08 Primitive (4:16)

09 Stay By Me (6:26)

10 The Gift (4:52)

11 Keep Young And Beautiful (2:17)*

During the 1980s Annie Lennox was the voice of synthpop duo Eurythmics. She became famous for her androgynous looks and powerful vocals that fueled songs like „Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)“, „Here Comes The Rain Again“ and „When Tomorrow Comes“. When she released her debut solo album „Diva“ in 1992, the British singer had to prove herself as a creative force without her long-time partner and collaborator Dave Stewart. I’m curious whether Lennox found her own voice on this album or simply copied the hit formula that worked so well on the hits produced by Eurythmics.

I may be mad, I may be blind, I may be viciously unkind

The album begins with Why, a sad and slow song about a troubled relationship. Warm keyboards and a piano dominate the music and create a warm atmosphere despite the introspective lyrics („I tell myself too many times ‘Why don’t you ever learn to keep your big mouth shut?’“). In the course of five minutes the singer gets more and more emotional until she delivers a grande finale which ends the song („I don’t think you know how I feel“). Famous single Walking On Broken Glass contains a prominent piano theme, strings and a straight beat which merge into some kind of rococo-dance-pop altogether. The lyrics suggest that a dear relationship has ended and Lennox is hurt („If you’re trying to hurt me you’re doing really well my dear“). There’s a smart change of keys in middle-eight that adds some diversity to the tune. All in all a great break-up song for sure. Equally good is Precious which deals with love again. Due to its hopping bass parts, this song fuses soul and funk. Lyrically the singer is thanking a person for coming into the her life („I was cynical and twisted, I’ve been bitter all these years / Well, I was lost until you came“). Though it seems Lennox is addressing a lover, the lyrics also hint at the birth of her first child and so the song may be about the love of a mother towards a baby. Following track Legend In My Living Room is similar in style to its predecessor. Recalling her dreams of getting famous Lennox reflects on experiencing the dark sides of fame.

Cold is a soul track on which the singer’s warm voice comes to shine. This is a nice counterpart to the lyrics in which Lennox tell us how cold she feels because of unrequited love („The more I want you the less I get“). Given the title this ditty feels cool and smooth really. Materialism as a substitute for love is the theme of Money Can’t Buy It. The writer criticizes people’s overtly consume of material things while they lack emotional fulfillment („Money can’t buy it, baby / Sex can’t buy it, baby / Drugs can’t buy it, baby / You can’t buy it, baby“) and delivers an answer for their problems: love („I believe in love alone“). What makes this song stand out is how it turns from being a slow soul number into a more upbeat rap/rock crossover successfully. „Diva“ loses some steam with the arrival of Little Bird: the instrumentation sounds too artificial for my taste, and while the chorus shows Lennox’ higher octaves in a great way this track is not able to rise above the level of mediocrity. It’s the same with Primitive, another slow soul track dealing with hope – nothing special but fits the mood of the album well.

Starting with a wild piano melody, Stay By Me then continues with an r’n’b groove that makes Lennox’ gentle voice glide over the lush sound scape. The Gift is a meditative song („We have fallen from our shelves / To face the truth about ourselves“)with keyboards in the background, a piano arrangement and a mellow drum pattern. At this point it’s clear that Annie Lennox is a gifted songwriter and lyricist, barely writing something uninspired or unoriginal. Adding Keep Young And Beautiful as a bonus track exclusively to the CD format, „Diva“ delivers its most unusual song at last. This track sounds as if it was played by an old gramophone. The mood and lyrics are somewhat kinky („Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved“) and harkens back to 1930s entertainers. A surprising end for a surprisingly calm record – I don’t think of quiet, self-reflective songs when I hear the word „diva“.

Dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death

What’s great about „Diva“ is the fact that Annie Lennox hasn’t chosen the easy way of establishing herself as a solo artist with rehashes of Eurythmic’s biggest hits. She has recorded a set of lush songs that borrow from soul and r’n’b heavily. Most of the songs are calm and slow, throwing in some uptempo tracks here and there („Walking On Broken Glass“, „Legend In My Living Room“). This is also the album’s weakness: while the music is executed well, there are so many slow songs that the album suffers from a certain monotony in tempo, especially on the second half of songs. Nevertheless this is a pretty good debut album by the artist Annie Lennox:

4 out of 5