Hello there! It’s lovely to have you join me for today’s album review; which is the second in our series featuring artists from the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. After Rory reviewed Elaiza’s “Gallery” over the weekend – which, may I add, is an album I love just as much as he does – I will now be shining the spotlight on this year’s silver medallists from the Netherlands: it’s The Common Linnets!
Hot on the heels of their spellbinding Eurovision performance in Copenhagen, Dutch duo The Common Linnets were quick to capitalise on the flash impact of the contest among the record-buying public. “Calm After The Storm” charted strongly across the continent, and the quiet yet beautiful country-infused love song left its many new fans hungry for more. Helpful, then, that their eponymous début album as a duo was available immediately after the contest too!
A thirteen-track affair, “The Common Linnets” is both everything you would expect it to be in some regards, and an extremely surprising record in others.
For starters, as you listen to the album in order, you can tell that both Ilse and Waylon are established artists in their own right. Whilst there are examples of songs which emulate the exquisite harmonies of “Calm After The Storm”, there are also frequent examples where one of them takes the lead with the other featuring in a notably subordinate role, or not at all. This may strike you as odd at first, but to make it make a little more sense, I’d point you in the direction of some of the albums produced by Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s and 1980s. When you have more than one strong lead vocalist in an ensemble, making room for every single one of them to shine in every single song will only stifle their potential. Allowing each one their moment to shine as an artist in their own right will create much stronger music. “Dreams” was Stevie Nicks’ song, “Songbird” was Christine McVie’s song. Imagine how much of the magic would have been lost, had both of these songs been duets featuring the two of them?
The very same thing occurs throughout the entirety of The Common Linnets’ début album. “Hungry Hands“, “Before Complete Surrender“, “Sun Song” and “Love Goes On” are Ilse DeLange songs through and through, the latter being a heartwrenching tribute to her late father which scintillates with emotion in her every fragile word. In contrast, the rather gloomy “Where Do I Go With Me” and the exquisitely aggressive “When Love Was King” in particular see Waylon taking centre stage.
I love Ilse’s voice more than Waylon’s, and this has naturally lead to me preferring her contributions to the album over his as a general rule, however the one song which has touched me more than any other features them both equally. It’s the stunning “Broken But Home”.
This magical piece of music had the same effect on me as did “Calm After The Storm” the first time I heard it. There is no other word for it but beautiful. Structure, chords, harmonies, vocals. Everything. And on top of that, the song demonstrates what talented songwriters the pair are, even writing in their second language. The lyrics are quaint, original and delicate; beautifully relatable and thought-out – something which can’t be said for the majority of pop lyrics written by native English speakers. Songs like “Broken But Home”, “Before Complete Surrender” and “Hungry Hands” each tell their own story, and they do it beautifully.
On the up-tempo end of the scale, I absolutely love the sass in “Time Has No Mercy” and the quaint jolliness of “Sun Song”. However, my favourite of the livelier numbers is again a song which Ilse and Waylon both shine on:
“Lovers And Liars”, as well as being an excellent morning alarm song (I can vouch for its effectiveness) and a singalong-as-loud-as-humanly-possible anthem, shows off the duo’s harmonies more than any other track on this album. They are TIGHT all the way through, creating a plethora of unique and unexpected moments throughout. On top of that, it has so much authentic energy and an infectious foot-tapping beat which the likes of Mumford and Sons can only dream of creating.
If there was one thing I would criticise about the album – and I really am digging deep here, because there really isn’t a lot wrong with it at all – it would be the use of the banjo. Ask anyone to name a corny country music instrument, and I guarantee that the banjo would be one of the first ones they’d come up with; alongside perhaps the accordion and the fiddle. Ilse and Waylon have largely avoided the latter two *applauds*, but on a couple of occasions, the banjo has been glaringly prominent *points to “Arms of Salvation” and “Time Has No Mercy” in particular*. Of course, it’s all part and parcel of the country sound, and it doesn’t make the songs any less enjoyable… it just takes away a little of the magical authenticity exhibited in the rest of the album.
Very very occasionally, some of the lyrics do come across as a little cliché too, as though they’ve been lifted from the dialogue of any Hollywood Western movie – “my daddy was a gambler, drinkin’ man” etc. However, it could equally be argued that these lyrical chunklets serve to emphasise the theme of the album further – let’s be fair, Ilse and Waylon haven’t set out to create a generic pop album here, they are giving us their own interpretation of an established genre that they both love, so the subject matter of some lyrics and the odd tired instrumental choice should not be used to mark them down.
Teency little unsubstantial negatives; on the whole, the album is bloody brilliant. I think I’ve mentioned most of the tracks by name at least once, which just goes to show how each one is noteworthy and enjoyable in it’s own unique way. Ilse DeLange and Waylon have surprised me continually ever since their selection, and their every move makes me fall in love with them more and more. “The Common Linnets” is a veritable triumph. Imagine if Johnny Cash and Karen Carpenter had worked together to create “Rumours” – that’s the kind of thing you’re getting here. It’s a dream team working at the very top of their game, and I sincerely hope they carry on getting the success and acclaim they so deserve.
Ohh I love the Eurovision off-season. So many amazing albums and songs to discover. I can’t wait!
Svana Lístí Agnarsdóttir from Iceland: I haven’t really heard the entire album, but I do have to say that ‘Calm After the Storm’ and ‘Army of Salvation’ are my ultimate favourites..I must listen to the full thing though!
Svetlana Andriyenko from Ukraine: I love very much this album. It brings sympathy to my sad times and brings happiness when I need it most. Beautiful words.
Ilias Kozantinos from Cyprus: My favourite is “Before Complete Surrender”, it is very calm and pretty, and Ilse is amazing singer!
The effect of The Common Linnets’ first album appears to have been both commercially successful and emotionally profound, judging from these and other fan reactions in the wake of its release. This album is an unquestionable triumph, perhaps just the latest chapter in what is quickly becoming a modern fairytale for the Netherlands’ Eurovision career. Long may it continue!