[18 May 2003]
If you were to judge an album by its inner liner notes and artwork, then Martin Stenmarck resembles a cross between Jack White and Elvis. A gaudy photo shows the European producer and musician gyrating like it’s 1956 all over again while dressed in red and white. But thankfully the only thing loud about this record is its photography. His latest album is rich in the type of radio friendly rock pop that youthful groups like Rubyhorse, the Calling, and Lifehouse have taken to a new and better level. “The Cure for You”, which opens the record, is proof positive that this music succeeds but only if done to perfection. Melodic guitar riffs with a bit more brawn in the chorus, Stenmarck finds his niche early enough. Even better is the fact that the accent isn’t found on the song, something that isn’t the easiest thing to achieve if not the mother tongue isn’t English. The bridge temporarily sags during the tune before heading back on track.
And for most of the record, Stenmarck is on a structured yet original trail. “Stop” follows another similar and likeable path complete with some electronic layers and bruising chorus. The lyrics aren’t as strong as they could be, particularly in the chorus. “Stop that train ‘cause we can walk / Stop that movie ‘cause we know how to talk”, he sings. It’s not as horrid as, oh, the demonic Ace of Base, but Dylan is safe for now. Infectious and with a catchy hook, it’s well produced without being too slick. The closing is also cute as it’s taken down slowly. Unfortunately what follows is hard to swallow. “You Won’t See Me Dancing” has all the punch of a ‘70s love ballad. Better served by the new crop of soul divas, the track contains a little flamenco guitar flavor, lightweight harmonies from Emma Holmgren and a boy band arrangement.
“Thief” has almost an eerie resemblance to the Calling’s hit single in terms of melody, guitar and tone. But it has a bit more punch to it. A part of the chorus might also be another hint. “I’m learning and it’s hurting / But I’ll go wherever without you”, whose last line could be replaced easily with the Calling’s chorus. Stenmarck’s biggest problem though is maintaining momentum. “No One Here Like You” is supposedly the centerpiece ballad, but it is a tad bland and uninspired. “That’s why I cry, I cry for you / ‘Cause I know now there is no one here like you”, Stenmarck sings over a mid-tempo drum beat and guitar solos wailing in the distance. The concluding couplet only adds to this sonic havoc.
It’s rare for an album like this to not resort to a heavy dance groove at least once and Stenmarck is no exception. Starting with “Frozen in My Heart”, the tune ambles along at a decent pace but with disposable lyrics. Backing his own harmonies in the heart of the song, the tune comes off like Marc Anthony if he caught the rock bug. “I Got To” is the hard rock track of the ten. Bringing to mind Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” with its simple guitar and backbeat, the song moves awkwardly into a brief soulful interlude before righting itself. It has Def Leppard’s paws deep in it also. “Let’s Get It On”, which isn’t composed by Judge Mills Lane, contains more keyboards and effects while Stenmarck keeps the guitars blazing throughout. Decent and danceable, but something you won’t remember an hour from now.
“Give Me Time” reverts to the slow and contemplative pace as Stenmarck says “you will always be the one.” Never evolving from this somber, rue-the-day sullen frame of mind, it would need a heck of a lot more time to get better. The album isn’t for music purists, but for those into the radio rock and pop of the times, this is one to check out. (PS: “Without a Word” is found four to five minutes after “Give Me Time”. It’s a hidden piano ballad that should be one of the main tracks.)
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/stenmarckmartin-one/