Elíza - Empire Fall (Lavaland Records)
UK release date 15 October 2007
The Track listing
1. Empire Fall
3. Deep Blue
5. Change My Name
6. Return To Me
7. Queen Of Solitude
8. Secret Landscape
10. Still Water
11. Stone Heart
Sometimes, simple as it may seem to deliver, a hack wishes in vain for a press release that doesn't promise the earth. A press release that manages expectations rather than launching into a fantasy land of half-truths that you just know will be completely impossible to deliver.
In other words, a press release which, rather than claiming that Eliza Newman has "sparkling melodies calling up the barren and heartbreaking delivery of '60s songstress Nico", explains honestly that she is offering us decent but essentially unspectacular Scandinavian pop of a type not too far away from The Sugarcubes or The Cardigans?
Admittedly, more people have probably heard of The Velvet Underground than The Cardigans but (a) it would be closer to the truth and (b) the fantasy does Eliza a terrible disservice in that Nico - uber cool and chiselled of cheekbone as she was - couldn't actually sing, whereas Eliza can.
Former singer with Bellatrix and Skandanavia, she has spent much of the time since Bellatrix's 15 minutes of fame at the turn of the century studying opera in London, but what Empire's Fall really reminds you is that Newman and her Bellatrix cohorts were the darlings of the indie press at just the same time, moments before The Strokes and The Libertines would emerge from the wilderness, when we really did think Coldplay were the best thing since sliced bread.
A lot has changed since then. A plethora of latter day mope rockers from Keane to Athlete have shown us that turning the piano up to 11 and sounding miserable isn't automatically a good thing, while Sigur Rós and Amiina have shown us what glacial musical landscapes can really be inspired by living further north than Alaska. Eliza's addition to the genre can't really compete anymore, even on songs such as Return To Me, which is the album's strongest, or the haunting closer Stone Heart.
Empire's Fall also suffers from being too disjointed. There's post punk bass lines on the title track, Hjartagull and Island, tinkling indie la-la pop on Diamond and Secret Landscape, and post rock on Deep Blue and Return to Me. The latter in particular is waiting for a polar bear in need of a soundtrack. And okay, for a few bars at the beginning, Queen Of Solitude does sound a little bit like Venus In Furs, but not for long enough.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the music, but it's all a bit old hat, tipping here and here into death metal riffs, here and there into ambient chill out. In the end, it leaves you not entirely sure whether or not it was actually any good. It probably is, evidenced by the way it grows on repeated listenings, but it would have been nice not to have had to make so much effort.
Reykjavik Grapevine Magazine - Album Review. www.grapevine.is
Having travelled on one of Europe’s most celebrated musical journeys spanning 15 years, fronting three acclaimed bands, and perhaps best known as former lead singer of Icelandic rock band Bellatrix, Elíza Newman now launches her debut solo offering ‘Empire Fall’ (Lavaland Records, 15 October).
‘Empire Fall’ written and arranged by Elíza, echoes haunting vocals, which lead to sparkling melodies calling up the barren and heartbreaking delivery of 60s songstress Nico, punctuated by power pop reminiscent of Debbie Harry’s Blondie; all the while exploring themes of troubling relationships, the status of independence and female strength, not unlike the work of another major influence, Kate Bush.
Lead track ‘Empire Fall’ is a feisty statement of intent, showing how easily Elíza is able to take command of her vocal delivery. ‘Change My Name’ is a fine example of the melodies and driving basslines Elíza is able to produce and deliver with strength. By contrast, ‘Return to Me’ is subtle and fragile to the point of desolation, conveyed in a way that only someone with the depth of talent as Elíza can.
Elíza was just sweet-sixteen when she formed the all-girl punk rock outfit Kolrassa Krókríðandi/Bellatrix. The four teens released four albums on Björk’s Bad Taste label and in the process earned the tag of hottest female band to come out of Iceland; as well as signing to Fierce Panda for the release of their fourth album , and a co-headlining UK tour with Coldplay. Kerrang! described Elíza as being a ‘spectacular vocal talent!’, while NME praised her as a ‘exhilarating, unhinged, untutored rough pop Diamond’. The media focus was unrelenting, and after headlining the Carling Stage at the Reading Festival 2000, Elíza took time out to further her musical armoury and embark on an intense course of study in operatic arts in London. Eventually finding herself wanting to connect both worlds and ‘create something epic’ Elíza formed her third band – Skandinavia. Tagged by many as being reminiscent of The Breeders and early Flaming Lips, Skandinavia picked up where Bellatrix had left off, receiving major critical acclaim.
The first single Change my name will be released November 5th on digital download and a tour of Britain will follow . Dates to be announced soon.
Elíza has spent the past four years weaving her amazing journey into a representative body of work, presented on ‘Empire Fall’, set to be one of the breakthrough albums of the year.
Elíza has arrived, again...