tremble clef

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Margaret Berger, "Will You Remember Me Tomorrow" (2006)

"Hey -- would you like fries with that?"

"You know, if you like this CD, you might also enjoy that one."

"Can you help me discover more music that I'll like?"

I find suggestive selling a fascinating phenomenon, especially when it comes to music. Its logic is both blindingly brilliant, but on some level also presumptuous and bizarre: you like this band? Then HAVE EVEN MORE OF THE SAME!! The void in your being is obviously so big that one artist can't possibly fill it!!!

Suggestive selling positions musical acts as complements to each other. An underlying idea is that your love of, say, schaffel is vast, bottomless, and pathetic enough that you need some Rachel Stevens to go with your Goldfrapp. There's sufficient pie for everyone. But there's often an intriguingly fine line between complementarity, and competition. For a moment in 1995, I was annoyed to hear Dubstar talked about as a new Saint Etienne; if I were pettier -- I mean, even pettier than I actually am -- I might have stubbornly refused to listen to the former out of principle. Yet, on the other hand, I had no qualms about enjoying the music of Camouflage in the late 80s, even though they were so obviously influenced by Depeche Mode as to be a tribute band in all but name.

Why the disparity in my reactions? The difference, I think, lies in whether the "original" musical act has reached what I consider their deserved level of success and acclaim. To some extent, I must have understood that listening to Camouflage would never take me, or anybody, away from Depeche (besides, it wasn't like I smoopily loved Martin Gore and company). In the case of Dubstar, however, I feared that the band wouldn't just be a complement, but a replacement for Saint Etienne -- not necessarily for me, whose devotion to Cracknell, Wiggs, and Stanley would never waver, but for the "ignorant" public. And I felt like I had cause to worry: the comparisons between Dubstar and Etienne were most pronounced when "Not So Manic Now," and "He's On The Phone" were released within weeks of each other, and neck and neck in the UK charts. On a Now That's What I Call Music! CD I own, the tracks in fact followed each other. Irksome: Saint Etienne hadn't -- and never have -- achieved the level of popular success they deserve, the commercial peak of "He's On The Phone" coming years into their history. Now Dubstar merrily skips up, and charts right around the same spot. The cheek! If I weren't careful, they wouldn't be complements! Stop selling them to me as such! They're competitors, in a fucking fight to the death, man!

This is all to say that I -- and I suspect, many people -- am most at ease when one musical act, in relation to another, fits into, not even a complementary slot, but a supplementary one. You love Kylie; perhaps you have, by some miniscule chance, a bit of room left over for the tiny unthreatening little thing that is her sister Dannii...? She would be just an inconspicuous...appendix. She won't turn all Eve Harrington on your ass and usurp the original, I swear! Well, not unless you want her to.

Margaret Berger was a runner-up in 2004's edition of Norwegian Idol. Although her debut album Chameleon got pushed out quickly later that year, I only heard of her a few months ago thanks to her single "Samantha." And now, Margaret has her second album out, titled Pretty Scary Silver Fairy. When she or her work has been talked about recently, she is, almost unfailingly, always mentioned in the same breath as fellow countrywoman Bertine Zetlitz (who has also had singles and albums out recently, which no doubt played into this).

You see the problem. My love of Bertine is well-documented, not least on this blog. Given that Bertine is largely and undeservedly unknown outside of Norway, you can imagine how ill-disposed I initially felt towards Margaret. The people on message boards who went around declaring Margaret's new album better than Bertine's My Italian Greyhound couldn't possibly be right, and were likely just affecting a stance because supporting the "underdog" and making "unexpected" judgments was, in message board-land, a thing to do. Bastards.

"Thankfully," I didn't particularly like "Samantha": the song uses an overly heavy synth backing track, which just shows up the waffle-thinness of Margaret's voice (despite the comparisons to Bertine, Margaret's voice is more reminscient of Annie's -- they were nominated for "best newcomer" at the Norwegian grammies in the same year, in fact). And there is really not much by way of melody. I still don't like the track, now that I've heard the whole album. And some of Pretty Scary Silver Fairy likewise misses its mark: the first two tracks ("Silver Fairy" and "Seek I'll Hide") also feature flat, booming, and oppressive synth backdrops, and Margaret sings with her lower register. The effect isn't great -- they sound like poppier but bad Ladytron songs -- and "Seek I'll Hide" compounds the problem with a squicky lyric ("Seek, I'll hide...I'll let you into my inside." As Summer would say on The OC: Ew!).

But there are a couple of tracks on the album that are quite, quite excellent. "Get Physical" has an urgent, bleepy electro backing that sounds like someone took all the best Radio Slave tracks and boiled them down into a seven-inch version -- and there are violins on top of it all. "I'm Gonna Stay After Summer" sounds less sleek, more plinky-plonk, but that perfectly suits the pretty, intentionally "naive" melody and lyric ("The winter is cold and cruel/I wanna be warm with you/Make me wanna stay now/Make me wanna stay now").

But best of all is "Will You Remember Me Tomorrow." Like the other two songs, this one allows Margaret to showcase her higher register (as track three, it's the first one on the record to do so). When she does, it bestows on her songs a much better sense of contrast, as her girlie vocals float above the oftentimes bass-heavy instrumentation. "Will You Remember Me Tomorrow" begins with that most quintessential of bass-heavy backing: a modified electroclash riff. But it doesn't stay that way for long: as the chorus hits, the track switches to a jaunty, quick-step shuffle, and, heavens, the handclaps start. After the middle eight, there is also a lovely bit when everything except a deek-deek-deek keyboard sound drops out; but then the drums return, and the handclaps come back in, and it all starts up again. Handclaps can never come back soon or often enough for me. In the end, Pretty Scary Silver Fairy has some real keepers, though it is not as good as Bertine's My Italian Greyhound -- but we perhaps knew that in advance going in. I will remember you tomorrow, Bertine, and tomorrow and tomorrow!

4 Comments:

  • So Robyn impregnated Bertine, and she gave birth to Margaret, huh? "You're such a girl, with your imagination" is one of the best lyrics ever. WYRMT is a bit too goose-steppy for me at the moment, but I can see how it might be my favorite song, like, ever, by the end of the week.

    No problems with YSI, obvs

    By Anonymous esque, at 10:10 PM  

  • Do you think "you imagine like a girl" might catch on as a new insult?

    YSIs are indeed back to normal.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:12 AM  

  • I really don't like the chorus of this song. I liked Samantha though, but this to me sounds like something I'd have liked in 1999, maybe something by kaci? Verse wise it's good.

    By Anonymous Trixie, at 4:47 AM  

  • Oooh. Now listened to get physical and much prefer it

    By Anonymous Trixie, at 4:49 AM  

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