Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 03: A song that makes me happy

Obviously (to anyone who even vaguely knows me, at least), my instinctive response to this one would be to post something by the Rolling Stones (most likely either Jumpin' Jack Flash or Rocks Off), or at least, the very next best thing. Earlier today, for example, feeling a bit crap, I decided to cheer myself up by selecting an appropriate song on my iPod, and settled on the Drive-By Truckers' 'Marry Me'. For the benefit of anyone yet to hear it, the song in question would doubtless be a fondly-remembered classic single by the Rolling Stones circa 1970, were it not for the minor handicap that it wasn't technically recorded until 2003, by an entirely-different band.

But since the chances of the Stones not coming up again later in this blog are somewhere perilously-close to zero, I figured I should attempt to vary things at least a little. Besides, there are days when even I grow weary of vintage rock'n'roll, and sometimes I need to cheer myself up on those days too. On such occasions, there's a better-than-average chance that the album I'll reach for is the one featuring this utterly-charming little gem...

Outside of the twin peaks of A-ha and Black Metal, Norway's contributions to the world of popular music to date have been relatively meagre - shut up, my Norwegian friends, you know in your hearts that I'm right - which makes it doubly-unfortunate that, so far as I'm aware, Marit Larsen is still largely-unknown as a solo artist outside of continental Europe. If her name garners any recognition, it's most likely as the former teen member of not-particularly-good girl group M2M, along with fellow Norwegian Marion Raven, whose subsequent career hasn't been quite so much to my taste (the last I heard, she was touring as Meat Loaf's female accompanist du jour, after releasing a couple of largely-forgettable pop/rock singles under her own name). Marit Larsen, by contrast, has spent the past few years becoming one of the most popular and critically well-regarded pop artists in Scandinavia.

I wasn't aware of M2M myself, so I had absolutely no preconceptions when 'Don't Save Me', her first post-M2M single, first started showing up on the radio here in Norway back in 2006. At the time I'd only been living in Norway for a few months, and was working in the only job I'd been able to find to support myself, a tedious menial post for very little money in a hospital laundry (today, of course, I'm largely doing equally-tedious non-menial work for a bit more money in a variety of soulless office complexes, which I suppose technically counts as progress). As such, the power of radio was playing a more vital role in keeping me sane than it had done at any point since my early 'teens, and I was completely at its mercy. Lucky, then, that this track rapidly became the most over-exposed song of the year, because if just about anything else had been played as often as this was, it could very easily have killed me.

From the very first seconds, all lush guitar and what sounds for all the world like a child's toy piano, it's an infectious surge of melodic pop joy. So joyous, in fact, that one could be forgiven for entirely missing the deceptively-cynical sting in the lyrics - the story of a dead relationship crumbling around the singer's ears, and her callously-indifferent reaction. This combination of an upbeat melody/arrangement and dark, cynical words is one of the oldest, most effective tricks in the pop lexicon, and Marit Larsen consistently deploys it as well as any other songwriter out there right now. It locks itself into your head with all the tenacity of a weapons-grade earworm, but it's so damn likeable that you don't really mind.

Sweet without being saccharine, charmingly-odd without succumbing to tweeness or pretention, and bitter without rancour or nastiness, it may not be Larsen's best song (a title for which there are already plenty of worthy candidates), but it's still an absolutely terrific opening salvo to a hugely-promising pop career. Both of her albums are well worth a listen, but I'd especially recommend seeking out her debut, Under The Surface, if it's at all available outside of Scandinavia.


jaynova said...

OK...I can get behind this. Great song, and and awesome write-up.

Mark Patterson said...


You're one of the people I suspected would get a particular kick out of Larsen, by the way - the first single off her second album, 'If A Song Could Get Me You', is similarly-ace and slightly more representative of her overall style, although the album itself isn't as consistently-great as her debut.

Pål Hellesnes said...

He's right you know. Both her albums are Good Stuff.

Siri said...

"Outside of the twin peaks of A-ha and Black Metal, Norway's contributions to the world of popular music to date have been relatively meagre"

You have of course forgotten to mention Röyksopp. Must not forget Röyksopp!