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Lene Marlin | Another Day | review | alternative | Lollipop

Lene Marlin

Another Day (EMI Music, Norway)
by Michael McCarthy

Norwegian singer/songwriter Lene Marlin's debut, Playing My Game, was inescapable throughout Europe shortly after it was released in 1999. There was something unsettling about a teenage singer/songwriter singing such gloomy, emotionally-potent songs. She was clearly wise - and talented - beyond her years, and critics hailed her acoustic pop as a cross between Fiona Apple and The Corrs. (The masses seemed to view her as something of a prodigy.) The album sold over two million copies and had three huge singles, "Sitting Down Here," "Unforgivable Sinner," and the title track. She remained virtually unheard of, of course, in the United States, but she probably didn't care: Marlin essentially disappeared after collecting the awards the album afforded her, uncomfortable with all of the attention. In fact, she supposedly considered retiring from the music business and never releasing another album. Her sophomore effort, Another Day, wouldn't surface until late 2003. Some have said it was four years in the making, although many fans have speculated that she didn't even think about working on another album during most of the time she was away from the public's prying eye.

Although I would occasionally search online European music sellers - such as fnac.com and amazon.co.uk - to see if she'd released a second album, intrigued by the way she'd essentially vanished, I can't say that I had high hopes for Marlin's sophomore release. I'd been quite fond of Playing My Game's three singles, but the remaining seven songs on the release failed to impress me. (Also, to be entirely candid, I preferred the Tin Tin Out remixes over the album versions of "Sitting Down Here" and "Unforgivable Sinner.") That she wasn't releasing another album for so long was what fascinated me. Eventually, I stopped looking, and when I finally looked again late last year, I was surprised to learn that her follow-up had finally been released to rave reviews. I immediately felt compelled to head to my local megastore and see if they had it. Sitting on the shelf in the regular pop/rock section, there it was: A single copy among domestic fodder with only a sticker to point out that it was an import. I'd started listening to Playing My Game again a month or so earlier and was appreciating the album as a whole more than ever, so I bought the new disc and hurried home, eager to listen to it.

Wow. I was astounded by how utterly perfect every song on Another Day was. I'd thought her capable of a great album, but I certainly hadn't expected something so remarkable. This is a catchy yet lingering acoustic-based pop gem as heartfelt and noteworthy as anything by Dido or Norah Jones. One would've expected something mature from Marlin, since she was quite capable of composing painfully mature songs when she was a teenager, but this mature?

Even the catchier "pop" songs on Another Day, like "You Weren't There" and the title track, contain an emotional purity usually diluted to little but cheese in this genre. "You Weren't There" could be about a friend who let you down, or an absent parent; however you interpret it. The undeniable certainty is that pop songs about separation have seldom bled with this level of disappointment and betrayal. (Imagine if Dido's "Thank You" had been a sarcastic way of saying "fuck you" and you'll get the idea.) Forgiveness is a subject Marlin's lyrics often seem to contemplate, although it seems that it might be something she's not very fond of. If her debut's "Unforgivable Sinner" didn't stress a reluctance to forgive, Another Day's "Sorry" certainly does as she sings, "just ask and I'll say the words that I've longed to speak... do you wanna know if I'm able to forget? There are times I wish we'd never met." It's uncertain if she's singing the words to an ex-lover or an ex-friend, but what's clear is that she isn't going to forgive this person and would rather welcome an invitation to tear them apart with her words.

Not that Marlin gives her listeners the idea that it's easy to walk away from people. On the contrary, the disc's most haunting songs seem to be about the opposite. In the chilling "From This Day," which benefits from some subtle, Portishead-esque Pro-Tools textures, she sings, "so maybe I didn't think we'd come this far, well here we are, now I wouldn't know what to do if I were to lose you." Her lyrics might be simple, but the performances are anything but generic. Just hearing a girl with such a beautiful voice sounding so sad can be moving enough, but the way her lyrics are left open for you to interpret in your own way somehow enables them to resonate further, allowing your mind to fill in the blanks with memories of those who've hurt you and those you've hurt.

If you're the least bit vulnerable, this isn't an album you'll listen to; this is an album you'll experience. "Fight Against the Hours," which is as deeply affecting as the film its title seems to be inspired by, has reduced this listener to tears on more than one occasion. ("I fight against the hours, I cannot go to sleep, I know that if I lay down now, inside I know I'll weep, guess I'm holding on to treasures, to things that just aren't there, to people that I used to know, to words I wish to hear.") Think of this album as a souvenir. A souvenir to help you remember all those you've lost, both those you've lost on purpose and those you wished never to lose. It's also something of a shovel... But is it a shovel to dig up old wounds or finish burying them? I suppose that's something you will find out for yourself. You'd be denying yourself a wonderful listening opportunity if you're a fan of female singer/songwriters and you don't feast your ears and heart on this.
(www.lenemarlin.com, www.musicfromemi.com)
 


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