On Alice Merton’s Debut ‘Mint,’ Hooks Conquer Fears | Modern Society of USA

On Alice Merton’s Debut ‘Mint,’ Hooks Conquer Fears

On Alice Merton’s Debut ‘Mint,’ Hooks Conquer Fears

Alice Merton closes her debut album, “Mint,” with “Why So Serious,” a song full of questions like “When did we get like this?” It’s a wish for a more carefree, less calculating spirit, sung by her overdubbed, call-and-response posse of female voices over a bouncing bass line. And it’s the counterbalance, in some small part, to an album that takes everything extremely seriously, from career ambitions and lovers’ quarrels to the placement of every hook.

Merton has a hearty, natural voice that stays plush while echoing the power of singers like Adele and Florence Welch. It’s a voice made for larger-than-life declarations; the first lines she sings on “Mint,” in “Learn to Live,” are “They’ve got fire/Well, I’ve got lightning bolts.” In more than one song, she sings about her fears and inhibitions, even as her voice leaves no question that she will conquer them.

[Never miss a pop music story: Get our weekly newsletter, Louder.]

Merton, 25, was born in Germany, grew up mostly in Canada and moved back to Germany in her teens, and she has also lived in England and the United States. Now based in Berlin, she has had a dozen addresses in 24 years. She propelled her pop career in Germany with a single released in 2016, the partly autobiographical “No Roots,” a song about constant relocation that speaks, perhaps, to listeners whose connections are digital, not terrestrial. “I’ve got memories and travel like Gypsies in the night,” she exults over a 4/4 thump, a stop-start bass line and clanky rhythm-guitar chops hinting at 1980s hits by INXS. “I’ve got no roo-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-oots,” Merton sings, with the kind of nonsense-syllable hook she also brings to other choruses on the album.

“No Roots” reached No. 2 in Germany and was a hit elsewhere in Europe, leading to an EP and singles released over the past two years. Recorded with Merton’s songwriting collaborator and producer, Nicolas Rebscher, “Mint” gathers most of the singles alongside newer songs, and every one sets out to be a tour de force. Each verse layers on another instrument, a countermelody, an electronic effect, dabs of backup vocals. Then the choruses land squarely in place, promising forthrightness and honesty. Merton insists on her fidelity in “Funny Business,” warns that she’s going to lose her temper in “Lash Out,” demands explanations from a lover in “Speak Your Mind” and gives up on a no-show partner in “I Don’t Hold a Grudge.”

“Mint” is the 25-year-old singer and songwriter’s debut LP.

Although Merton was born in the ’90s, most of her music’s reference points are from the MTV 1980s: not just INXS but Michael Jackson, Eurythmics, Heart, Duran Duran and late Queen, along with touches of house-music piano. (The non-1980s exception is the album’s dud, “Honeymoon Heartbreak,” an attempt at Lana Del Rey angst that borrows its best melodic phrase from Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”)

The songs on “Mint” are designed to leap out from a playlist, with Merton’s immediately appealing voice, the sounds of physical instruments and the craftsmanship that Merton and Rebscher bring to each segment of a song. But listening to the album as a whole, there are diminishing returns from the certainty that a new gimmick is coming every eight bars. Pop songs live by their hooks; it’s no wonder that Merton’s debut album piles them on, eager to please. But for the follow-up, suspense and spontaneity — even if it’s an illusion — would go a long way.

Source link