[28 October 2009]
From the seemingly man and woman duo, to the shimmering layers of pop confetti and the use of head-slapping stupid lyrics to make ridiculously infectious pop songs, Eva & The Heartmaker can’t really do anything to avoid the obvious Ting Tings comparisons. Even by adding a real backing band to the original Norwegian duo of vocalist Eva Weel Skram and her guitar-playing husband Thomas Stenersen, their sophomore album Let’s Keep This Us Forever still sounds like simple pop music being made by a duo, as oppose to some fully fleshed out sound that emerged from the tinkering mechanics of a room full of studio musicians.
However obvious the Ting Tings comparisons are, and regardless of the reason why the duo felt the necessity to add a full “backing band” to their title, the music still speaks for itself, and if not on par with the pop genius of Annie or Robyn, Eva & The Heartmaker still manage to pull off a pop album that – at it’s height – rivals “That’s Not My Name” with whiplash pop confection.
“Let’s Hit The Road Jack” opens up the album with a sweetly, almost country flair with Eva sounding dead on like Jenny Lewis as she swoons over lines like “Never been to Paris/Never been to Xandau/Never been to Tokyo/Never been to Peru” while the guitar line builds up into an electro boogie before bursting into a massive pop crescendo. It’s a pretty big way to open up a pretty big album, and following it up would be difficult for many pop acts, however the band manages to keep up the energy. “Charmingly Sexy” recalls the Cardigans at their pop heyday with carefully constructed pre-chorus and sugary vocal overdubs backed by a guitar line that alters between mildly twangy and slightly distorted. It’s in these moments that Eva & The Heartmaker do manage to set themselves apart from The Ting Tings, even if a simple dissection manages to reveal the various ingredients to their formula. But why make simple pop music any more complicated than it has to be?
“Superhero” and “The Spell” both start off as retro-minded fetish pieces until the chorus come around, where the former reveals itself to be a disaster of layered vocals and obvious auto-tuned falsettos, however the latter forms into a fully-formed catchy pop-rock ditty with a backdrop of “da-da-da” and faint organ. Kelly Clarkson would do good to pick up “The Spell” on her next album.
When the band tries its hand at something slower, the real problems begin to pop up. As fun and infectious as Eva is as a singer, she just can’t really sell a ballad with any conviction, and when she goes for a devastating vocal turn on “A Potion of Lust” she sounds as banal as Jewel at her most offensive. The band does get some credit for attempting a would be waltz on “Life Still Goes On”, which isn’t as bad as “A Potion of Lust” but is still rather bland. The up-tempo numbers don’t require any real lyrical genius which works in the band’s advantage, however lines like “The earth is still moving/The road is still long” are too cliché for a weak vocalist like Eva to make anything out of. Thankfully, of the ten songs, the band only attaches two would be ballads.
Surprisingly – especially for a straightforward pop band – the last track is hands down the best. If the first few bubbling tracks were practices at crafting a phenomenal pop song, the final song “Possible Escape/Possible Mistake” proves the work as paid off. The various vocal overdubs, the swooning melody, the start-stop guitar action, the glorious outro, and terrific performance collide into something that can only be called great pop.
For the time being, Eva & The Heartmaker should be able to ride the wave of the current European pop artists who have found critical acclaim within the past few years (Annie, Robyn, so on) while they work on their craft even more. If the whole band thing doesn’t work out, however, Eva and her husband could easily replace Dr. Luke and Max Martin as the go-to pop hit makers.