Woop woop, it’s album review o’clock once more; and this time I’m going to be looking at the most recent album of the 2013 Swedish contestant Robin Stjernberg, who took 14th place on home soil back in May with the song “You”. The album “Pieces”, his second in total since finishing second in Swedish Idol 2011, was released at the end of June… so was it worth the wait?
I for one was somewhat disappointed when “You” didn’t manage higher in Malmö, I always felt it was a well-constructed and very accessible number which Robin certainly sung the socks off on the ESC stage – and THAT note was just amazing. However, I was also never quite sure how I would stylistically categorise it – very typically Swedish, yes, but was it rocky-edged schlager, or straight down the line pop, or oddly-instrumented dance? Or none of the above? In short, Robin’s Eurovision entry had me intrigued, and, being a fan of his voice and singing style, I was very interested to hear what the album “Pieces” would sound like.
On a first listen, the most striking thing about it is that it is most definitely a pop-rock album. The arsenal of instruments help to cement Robin’s intended genre, and on the whole they compliment his voice well. There are two distinct “types” of song at play here: he either goes for energetic, chanty up-tempo, or heart-wrenchingly emotional ballads – and I’d say the latter works best for him. Aside from the aforementioned piece of sheer fabulosity that is “You”, the anthemic “Six Feet Down” and the previously-released single “On My Mind”, the up-tempo tracks on the album leave me a little cold. That may be just me struggling to connect with them, or having trouble seeing past the guitar-laden backings, but when Robin is given a ballad, boy does he shine.
For me, the best example of this would be “Beautiful”…
From the first verse, I loved it, but when that chorus kicks into a different key and the melody soars up into Robin’s trademark higher register, bloody hell there were a few tears. Like, one of those moments where a piece of music you’ve never heard before seems to be so heartfelt, almost painful, and yet ineffably beautiful in the same moment and it all gets a bit too much… You know it’s a good ballad when it can do that.
But it’s not just on a musical level that this album makes a connection, it’s in the lyrical content. Now, obviously, this will depend heavily on the personal experience of the listener as to whether the messages behind each song leave an impression, but a number of them are laced with emotion and become even more poignant when they are related to Robin’s backstory. Anyone who followed him pre-Eurovision will be aware of his massive weight loss in recent years, and will be able to infer a potentially difficult adolescence which is just about confirmed in the lyrics and music video for “Scars” –
Knowing this suddenly adds yet more contextual relevance to the lyrics of “Beautiful”, “Every Bit Of Me” and the show-stopping title track “Pieces”, and allows the listener to realise how Robin is not just singing all the notes, he is feeling every single word, and it is this emotional connection which makes the ballads on the album so powerful.
If I was to criticise anything about “Pieces”, it’s that he or his record company haven’t released it as well as they could. It was preceded by two 2012 singles “On My Mind” and “Scars”, then somewhat interrupted by his Melodifestivalen/Eurovision campaign with “You”. They then somewhat inexplicably released an EP containing six of the album tracks, meaning that by the time the main event rolled around, there were only six *new* tracks to be purchased. Which doesn’t make sense in my book. Furthermore, they’ve chosen “Crime” as the next single – about as close as the album gets to summery, but not a great song in any regard – whilst neglecting some of the aforementioned stronger songs. The majority of them are shoehorned in at the end of the album as if Lionheart are almost trying to disguise their existence, and I wish they would just let them shine, because that is the direction I really think Robin should be heading in.
So; my overall comment on the album would be that it is very Swedish. Any single one of the tracks could be shipped off to America, handed to some questionably-talented Disney channel wannabe and become a pan-Atlantic hit within a week. But instead, they’ve been given to Mr. Robin Stjernberg, who, with his unique interpretation, has extinguished any real chance at worldwide success they had, but has simultaneously lifted them out of the realms of the ordinary, and just made them better pieces of music in general. Robin, congratulations man. I hope Sweden appreciates this record as much as it should.
Lisa Kussler from Germany: I love it 🙂 AWESOME !
Nathan Stella from the Netherlands: Great, really heartfelt, I have the feeling he really ”lived” his lyrics!
Rinor Nuhiu from Albania: I AM ROBIN’S BIGGEST FAN! I have the album. Loved it!!
It would seem therefore that “Pieces” is largely a popular album among Eurovision fans; now all we have to do is hope that our enthusiasm will catch on, and legions of new Robin fans will emerge and join us in giving this amazing album the amount of attention it deserves!!