During the back end of the nineties I really began to get into the new wave of female singer/songwriters. There seemed to be a load of them around all of a sudden. Of course in reality there has always been a plentiful supply I just maybe hadn’t been taking enough notice. Anyway as I began extolling the virtues of Sheryl Crow, Chantal Kreviazuk, Heather Nova, Meredith Brooks and Sarah McLachlan et al a young lady I was ‘friendly’ with at the time suggested I have a listen to a Norwegian songstress by the name of Lene Marlin. At first I was dubious as this was a little more poppy and MTV friendly than I was used to and it got listened to a few times and filed.
Now, a decade later and five years into this rating experiment that has taken over my very existence at times, Lene and I have been re-united as it his her turn to face either the praise or vitriol of my laptop.
Whether it is as the result of the passing of time, the mellowing of the musical mind or just a simple natural progression from mid thirties to mid forties I don’t know but I am sure that I appreciate this album far more now than I did then.
Marlins voice is delicate and heartfelt. Some may refer to it as weak and light but that does not do her justice. She is never going to be able to belt out an angry young woman anthem but there are plenty of others who can do that. The delight of Marlins voice and songs only really becomes apparent after several listenings, as at first it can become lost in the poppy hooks of the MTV/radio friendly singles.
‘Playing My Game’ kicks off with a superb foot tapping piece of ‘Lilith Fair’ type pop in ‘Sitting Down Here’. A track that actually reached the dizzy heights of number five on the UK singles chart which is quite possibly one of the reasons I had at the time for dismissing it so readily. It also went Top Ten in six other territories mostly in Scandinavia but also in New Zealand !!
However prior to this the first single from the album ‘Unforgivable Sinner’ had peaked at number one in Norway in the process becoming the fastest selling single in Norwegian history and staying atop the charts for an impressive eight weeks. This may have been helped by its inclusion in the Norwegian movie ‘Schpaaa’.
Another poppy track ‘Where I’m Headed’ also got the silver screen treatment and was included in the soundtrack for the French romantic comedy Mauvaises Fréquentations (which was re-titled Bad Company in English. Regular readers and friends of mine will see the irony in that) and subsequently topped the charts in both France and Italy.
The album itself topped the charts in her native Norway and went top twenty in several other territories including the UK.
All this chart success resulted in Marlin being awarded the MTV Europe award for ‘Best Nordic Act’ in 1999 as well as numerous other awards for the album and best single for ‘Sitting Down Here’ at the Norwegian equivelant of the Grammy’s.
Despite the lofty chart positions of the singles though the most impressive track on the album for me is the album closer ‘A Place Nearby’ a beautiful almost haunting heartfelt track with a good lyric that brings out the best in Marlins voice and displays her talents as a lyricist.
The only real disappointments on the album for me are the title track ‘Playing My Game’ which is pleasant enough but drags on a little and becomes a little dreary and ‘Maybe I’ll Go’ which I found just to be plain dull.
The rest of the album is good solid above average stuff. Yes it does get a little fluffy in places but a bit of fluff never did anyone any harm in moderation.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM April 2010