So onwards I go, now perhaps getting a little worn out by excessive exposure to Schlager, but I will make an exception for this young lady. I was vaguely aware of Agnes before her UK breakthrough with “Release me”, but never heard anything. “Release me” was a surprise hit for Swedish Agnes, peaking at #3 (higher even than in Sweden). The followups were mis-handled and floundered in the UK, along with the parent album (her third in total). So how does it measure up?
10 Release me – Well, this is a good place to start. Gorgeous gentle dance music, with loads of strings and orchestral flourishes creating a rich sound. I can imagine she was a bit of a balladeer during her Swedish Idol days and earlier albums, she has that sort of voice. Perhaps not as strong as your Leonas, but distinctive, strong and pleasant. At times she has to maybe max out her volume to be heard over the production, but it still works beautifully. That middle-eight is really gorgeous too, lovely!
09 On and On – I’ve heard a few remixes of this, but this still has a strong punch to it, a throbbing bassline and some layered synths. In some ways it sounds a little similar to Release me, but her vocals aren’t so stretched. It’s not the most demanding track to listen to either, maybe the verses are a little generic, and the chorus is simple but a little disposable. It’s still great pop music, and that middle-eight (again) really does raise it up a few notches. Could have done with a key change though (don’t they always?)
07 Love me senseless – I like how they try to clean up sexy lyrics by making out they are singing about love. In this case they aren’t really fooling anyone, but I agree that “Fuck me senseless” wouldn’t quite be ‘on message’ for young Agnes. The cheapo backing beat does no favours (is this 2004? or even 1994?), and her voice is probably trying to sound yearning, but it’s a bit waily in the end. The chorus is alright, but I don’t really like the ‘love me senser-leeeeess’ bits. Not even a laser-guided middle-eight can salvage this one from averageness.
07 How do you know – Hmm now the lyrics get pretty repetitive here, how many times does she sing “how do you know?” during the chorus? But the production is light and airy, it has a nice feel to it. After all, with a title like Dance Love Pop you aren’t exactly after Radiohead are you? She’s getting a bit needy here, where’s this relationship GOING? The voice sounds a bit strained, she doesn’t seem to veer much from one particular tone for a lot of her songs, and it gets a little difficult to pay attention after a while.
07 I need you now – As another single, they couldn’t bear to release a midtempo ballad in the UK so they dancified one of the only slow tracks on the album. We did need a change in tone after those progressively weaker dance tracks, but I’m not totally sold on this either. Her voice is allowed to rein it in a bit, but she really needs to use her lower register (does she have one?). I like the little “clock is ticking” bits, but there’s not really enough going on here, it just feels like a midtempo version of every other song she’s done so far. (I’d rate the remix a point higher)
07 Look at me now – Oh this is a bit more Schlagery to my ears (I still haven’t quite grasped a proper definition of Schlager, mind). Is that a lower register? Very good! This is all a bit like a late 90s album track for some pop artist (Billie Piper?), but it’s a nice twist on the usual clubby dance rhythm they’ve put on the uptempos so far. It’s a bit cheesy and upbeat, but I appreciate the effort, even if the score doesn’t look like I do.
08 Don’t pull your love out – Is this another example of censorship via love? Goodness knows what the word ‘love’ is replacing here, the mind boggles! A nice interesting shuddery beat to this, a fresh sound to the album. Almost a bit of a Caribbean flavour to it, I mean it’s not exactly a Rihanna track, but in some ways I could imagine her doing this (they we really WOULD all think she was singing about cocks). It’s a pretty simple affair and doesn’t really build to a big climax (steady…), but that unexpectedly latin clappy middle-eight adds another dimension to an already offbeat track.
09 Open up your eyes – Oh now this really is gorgeous. A weird clunky intro into a nice remixed 80s sound. I LOVE how her voice and the harmonies build on their way to each chorus. I really like this one, I could have seen this as a potential Melodifestivalen entry. The chorus is a little lacking, but it’s still riding a wave from those gorgeous verses. This just gives me warm fuzzy feelings. The middle-eight is a bit of a non-event. Sorry if I go on about middle-eights too much, but they are one of the few technical terms I know, and usually the lynchpin on any great pop song. This doesn’t really build to a satisfying conclusion, but it’s a fun ride.
08 Sometimes I forget – Another downtempo, but has a modest beat behind it, almost like some early Ace of Base or something, which is no bad thing in my book. Those spooky choir effects are interesting. I think this really suits her voice as a ballad, it’s a little more suited without removing the tempo totally. OK the lyrics are a bit drippy, but there’s plenty of interesting production going on here. That last chorus really is a nice sendoff, good job.
08 Big blue wall – What an odd turn of phrase. I guess it’s a wall of sad emotions?? This comes in already sounding like a remix of a ballad. I like the plinky plonky accompaniment, they don’t try to drown out her vocals too much, it’s quite subtly done really. The chorus is decent enough, but I think the verses work better in this instance. No key changes, but her voice does power through the last stretch of the track, this works pretty well for me.
10 Love Love Love – Tacked on for a 2009 re-release, it’s always a pleasure to revisit this sentimental track about wanting true love RIGHT NOW PLEASE. That buzzing backing track really sets an infectious tone for the song, and the chorus really is glorious, so catchy. It might not have won Melodifestivalen but it’s a winner in my book. That middle-eight really is a delight, and there’s even a key change finally, perfection!
09 You rain – Finishing on a ballad? I guess it’s difficult to find a good time for them in a predominantly dance album, they are a bit of a buzzkill this time. This is no exception, she sounds pretty depressed. The first verse is quite simple and piano-led, very female singer-songwriter-sounding. Her vocals are really lovely on the chorus, not 100dB all the time, and those high notes are really sweet. The song builds up emotionally throughout, and after its modest beginning it builds into a really lovely ballad. That middle-eight (yeah yeah I know) is a nice precursor for a gospelly-motivated key change. That last act is really a lovely addition where they could have just stuck in another chorus. Gorgeous!
So there we have it, the albums sags a bit in the middle as it struggles to find its feet – is it a dance album that has a creative drought after the opening successes, or a pop album with a few contractually-obliged ballads? After floundering a little at the end of the first half, it finds its feet and manages to both inject a bit of variety, but not at the cost of song quality. True, it struggles to live up to the shadow cast by Release me, but there are still little gems tucked away modestly. She’s a likeable girl, and I hope her 2012 followup album exercises her versatility a bit more.
Keepers for the iPod: Release me, On and On, Don’t pull your love out, Open up your eyes, Big blue wall, Love love love, You rain