When you listen to a Maximilian Hecker album, certain things are assured. The album will be beautiful in a fragile way, there will be sadness, and its worst flaw will be occasional dips into melodrama. I Am Nothing But Emotion, No Human Being, No Son, Never Again Son lives up to this formula despite being a departure in sound for Hecker.
I Am Nothing But Emotion is a quiet, piano-based affair. The understated arrangements help move Hecker’s voice to the forefront. While his delicate vocals have always been captivating, the melodrama of the music, paired with the emotion in his voice (which, sonically, fall somewhere between Morrissey and Antony Hegarty) and lyrics, has been, on occasion, too much. On I Am Nothing, he reaches a much stronger equilibrium.
Perhaps the most startling, out of character moment is on the opening track, “Blue Soldier Night”, which is delivered in a robotic female voice. This is nothing new, but it shows some levity that one wouldn’t expect from Hecker. Paradoxically, the song becomes that much more moving for that aspect, especially when the robot delivers the title line, “I am nothing but emotion”, which would sound simply insipid had it been delivered by Hecker.
When the formula works, it really works. The simply beautiful “Glaslights” is evidence of this, with its ambient piano and quiet vocals. There are some nice touches here as well, such as the sound of the piano pedals rising and falling, lending an intimate immediacy to the song. “There are angels in the glaslights”, Hecker sings soothingly. “The Greatest Love of All” (not a Whitney Houston cover—promise!) features quiet acoustic guitar arpeggios that augment the piano. On an album this piano-heavy, the guitar is a nice touch. Unfortunately, this is one of three songs that rely on angel imagery in order to survive. While one could claim this is a concept album about angels, that would still be a trite concept for any album that’s not contemporary Christian (and even then, it’d be a little dicey).
“You’ll Come Home Again” is a highlight because of its perfect melody. Hecker displays less vocal monotony here than his usual, one-note-albeit-heartfelt one. Yet there are plenty of moments that are so typical of Hecker that they bear an eerie resemblance to his earlier work. “Holy Dungeon” could be the progeny of his earlier “I Am Falling Now”. “It’s been so long since I lost you / It’s been so long since I kissed you”, he sings.
Which is not to say that the album is free of melodrama. There are still songs like “Messed-Up Girl (Ballad Version)”, a lyrically weak, overwrought song about an unfaithful lover with lyrics like “There are lights in your eyes / Your cheeks are red / Hard to believe / You betrayed me in this bed”. By the time he croons, “Where have you been, my messed-up girl?”, the song is just embarrassing.
I Am Nothing But Emotion is indeed a beautiful album. It’s just that it’s best experienced from a distance, where its beauty can transcend the melodrama.