To look at Erik Hassle, one would picture him as the bassist of some twee pop indie band from Manchester. A tall, skinny white boy with a fashionably lopsided crop of red hair and a typically uninterested squint and pout to top it off. If it weren’t for the fact he stands alone on the cover of this album, it would be easy to pigeon hole him. However, the reality of Erik Hassle and his music is a surprisingly different matter.
Hassle is more Coldplay than Vampire Weekend, more talent show than twee, and a lot more commercially oriented than his image suggests. Erik Hassle hails from a small village in Sweden, so it’s obvious no one told him that stadium pop isn’t considered “cool” in the UK anymore. It’s likely that no one showed him The X Factor either, a show which revels in the melodramatic power balladry that Hassle specialises in. But it is this very fact that makes his music so unpretentious, convincing, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. Pieces, an altered version of his Swedish debut Hassle re-released especially for the UK market, is thoroughly emotive, engaging, and above all, believable.
In fact, Hassle’s image, far from clean cut, is a key sign that he isn’t your average manufactured pop star. He just happens to co-write and perform very easy-on-the-ear power pop anthems. One listen to the almighty chorus of “Wanna Be Loved” is both joyous and affecting, and the emotional strains of first single “Hurtful” are downright beautiful. Simple lyrics such as “You don’t know what you’ve got until you’re missing it a lot” are delivered with a poignancy and conviction that a million pop artists would struggle to pull off convincingly.
One problem Hassle has, however, is that he only has one role to play on Pieces, and that is the role of angsty, heartbroken teenager, which itself is sometimes difficult to stomach, no matter how genuine Hassle’s delivery. “Isn’t It Obvious?” and “Love Me to Pieces” will please fans of Kelly Clarkson, but cries of “Help me god, tell me what to do!” and “Every beat of my heart is killing me slow” read like a diary entry from a lovestruck My Chemical Romance fan rather than lyrics from a serious recording artist. What’s perhaps the most worrying is how much Hassle seems to truly mean these lyrics as he sings them.
Yet it is this that saves even the most tedious of tracks on Hassle’s debut. Vocally, Erik sounds untainted, earnest, and each note shimmers with emotion. Even when the song itself fails to engage, he sings with enough passion to keep the listener on board, even during the meaningless slog of “Don’t Bring Flowers”. The line “I’m digging in the dirt / So deep into this shit / I can taste the earth” is a particular highlight. OK, maybe Erik didn’t quite salvage that one.
On the whole, however, Pieces is a fantastic showcase for the potential of Erik Hassle as a singer. With a worthy song, Hassle KOs his listeners. Closer “Amelia” is quite simply stunning, a gutsy acoustic guitar and strings ballad with an arrangement similar to that of Green Day’s “Good Riddance”. The emotional cracks in his voice as it swells up and spirals downwards in the chorus are enough to make it hard to believe anyone else could sing this song. All things considered, “Amelia” alone is worth the price of the album.
It’s refreshing to hear a mainstream pop singer with a decent voice who hasn’t come from a vacuous TV show. In the age of multi-tracked Beach Boys choruses and Auto-Tune-happy divas (male and female), Erik is more than welcome in the UK for what he is: Genuine raw talent.
// Notes from the Road
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