Have you ever heard an album that left a very singular impression on you? In other words, the album itself might be good, but there is something left on your mind that you just can’t shake? That is how I feel about Anneke van Giersbergen’s new solo album “The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest”. The album releases on February 26th through Inside Out Music.
Anneke is a Dutch artist who has become a mainstay in the progressive music community. She pops up on guest vocals for other bands at least a couple times per year. I remember hearing her with Votum and Amorphis recently. Anyways, she has a very recognizable voice, and this new album is the 23rd album in her career, including her solo efforts, as well as her time with The Gathering, Vuur, The Gentle Storm, and more.
For this record, this being her third solo album, the music is definitely acoustic pop rock, and a classy version at that. You will hear plenty of strings, horns, percussive accents, and bright melodies. The album is mostly pensive and slower in pace, which is alright by me, and you will hear folk influence woven into its genetic makeup. More than any of that, you will hear Anneke’s wonderful voice that, as I mentioned, is instantly recognizable and technically flawless. No one can deny that Anneke’s voice is only getting better every time we hear it.
Yet, with all of the beautiful ballads and melodies on this record, I can’t help but focus primarily on the lyrics. The album is obviously a very personal one for Anneke, as she withdrew to a small cottage in the country to write and record it. The lyrical content is relatable, too, addressing decisions in life that must be made in the middle of an intimate storm. So, yes, the darkest skies are the brightest because, when you are facing life’s biggest problems, the prospects for the future can be brighter than ever.
The lyrical content is one of the record’s biggest strengths, but I would also hesitantly admit that it is also its greatest weakness. While I love the message and to hear Anneke’s heart translated into poetry, many of the songs on this album feel quite corny in their word choice and rhyming. Believe me, it pains me greatly to say that about something which I am sure is very dear to Anneke’s heart, but I still want to be honest. Some of the lyrics rhyme too much, which isn’t normally a nitpick I have, so you know that there has to be something to it. Other times, the lyrics seem to be written in order to fit inside a pre-conceived rhyme or meter, and so they feel forced and even completely nonsensical. You might notice this with the single “Hurricane” where the chorus states:
“Spin me like a hurricane
Drag me through the rain
Pour me down the drain
I feel no shame
Running like freight train
Courageous all the way
For me to wait would be insane”
Do you see what I mean? The melody on that single is beautiful and classy, but that tone is ruined by what I could call poor lyrics. Pouring her down a drain? What is that even supposed to mean? It feels like it was written simply to fit into the chosen rhyme scheme, and nothing more. I hope Anneke can forgive me for pointing this out, but I felt the need to say it. I should also point out that, I am sure, Anneke is a much better writer than I am, so me criticizing her in this way is ironic.
That said, there are some songs that overcome the lyrical style. “My Promise” is a wistful tune with a great vocal performance and an emotional front. “I Saw a Car”, my overall favorite, doesn’t have the greatest lyrics either, but I love the percussive rhythm and the chorus is fantastic. I love it. “The Soul Knows” and “Keep It Simple” are both expressive ballads with chipper melodies and memorable choruses. I also love the intimacy and poetry of “Losing You”. I think the lyrics on this track are very good, almost like a stream of consciousness of how she was feeling at the time. I much prefer that style. The rest of the songs do sound exquisite, too, and there isn’t a “bad” song on the album.
Anneke has earned the benefit of the doubt in her illustrious career, but I found myself unable to enjoy this album as much as I’d hoped, primarily due to the lyrical style. And maybe there are fans out there who love such a tightly grade school type of writing, but I do not. Many of the songs have such melody that I can turn a blind eye to some extent, but when push comes to shove, this will simply not be an album I play much in the future. It is certainly a solid release, but not one that I will remember for long.
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