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Monday, 22 March 2010

"Ignore This" : my review

Sorry for the delay, but here is my review at last - hope you like it ;)

Almost a year to the day since Salem Al Fakir released his second album, the criminally underrated "Astronaut", here comes album no. 3, delivered in remarkably quick time - but given Salem’s continually prolific and creative musical nature then this isn’t such a surprise after all.

When you make the commitment to becoming a Salem Al Fakir fan, you sign up for a journey which is full of surprises at every twist and turn, and you leave any preconceptions behind. So we arrive at the latest stop on the journey, "Ignore This" Of course Salem’s music is completely unclassifiable but if you were to compare his three albums so far, you might say that "This Is Who I Am" was the soulful, 70s-influenced one, "Astronaut" was the rockier, 80s one, and "Ignore This"? The electronic one, and despite the fact that he doesn’t listen to current/recent music, it’s possibly his most contemporary collection yet.

But that’s only scratching the surface - the thirteen tracks on this CD are as diverse as ever in their musical arrangements. I’d say it was an album with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, as I feel that one of Salem’s many strengths is the way that he uses influences from the past to craft his music into something genuinely original, that you haven’t heard before.

In its musical layout "Ignore This" takes us back to "This Is Who I Am": it begins with a short instrumental track, and there are two other instrumental interludes along the way.

Here is my track-by-track review.

Track 1: "The Song I Never Wrote"
An electronic, chilled-out, spacey introduction to the album, and in a similar style to "Begin" which heralded the arrival of "This Is Who I Am", three years ago. There’s not really much else I can say about this, it’s short and sweet!

Track 2: "4 O’Clock"
"Get on up on your feet to the love store/Hey bubbles, wanna smell the candy?"

Salem is particularly gifted when it comes to producing strong melodic songs and this is one of the best on the album. It’s commercial and radio-friendly, with an anthemic ‘here we go again’ chorus, an irresistible, almost calypso-styled rhythm. The feel of the song reminded me a little of "New Song" by Howard Jones (if you are old enough to remember that!).

If you thought the lyrics on "Astronaut" were a significant improvement on his debut, then one of the most significant aspects of "Ignore This" is Salem’s significant development as a lyricist, and his ability to tell a story through his songs. "4 O’Clock" clearly demonstrates the more playful side of Salem, and it’s a very good way to kick off the album.

Track 3: "Virgin Mary"
"Didn’t wanna be around when it all fell down/So lucky I got out in time"

Already a firm favourite with fans and bloggers, this is perhaps one of Salem’s most accessible songs in a long time. Very personal lyrics about love-gone-wrong set to catchy, insistent keyboard beats. The first time I heard this, the keyboard-riff sounded very familiar and then it struck me - it’s like a speeded up "This Is Who I Am" (and thanks also to my friend Fredrik for also pointing this out). Extremely catchy, high energy song, and one of the best on the album. Possible future single?

Track 4: "Red Rock"
"Heroes, low life grinders/Everyone’s invited"

This is the song where Salem has gone all Kanye West on us (!) with vocoded vocals throughout (so I’m glad when I got the lyrics so I could see what he was singing). This wasn’t originally one of my favourite songs when I heard the album at first, but it has really grown on me and I think it’s one of the most musically ambitious songs - and when the pulsating beats erupt into that big symphonic chorus (courtesy of Salem’s big brother Ayman, guesting on French horn) it becomes pretty fabulous. But then I also love that moment at about 2:45 into the song when it all subsides and begins to wind down too!

Track 5: "Keep On Walking"
"I was aiming for the sky/Ended up flat on the ground/But once again the sun is rising..."

The first song that Salem wrote for the album, and which came out of a very dark time for him. But it is also extremely hopeful and uplifting too, in a way that seems to come naturally to him. It’s full of heart and soul, and everything about this song just completely grabs your emotions and doesn’t let go. And that, for me is probably what Salem Al Fakir is all about: his natural ability to reach out and connect with people.

Musically, it is Salem at his absolute best: piano, strings, synths and just overflowing with emotion. And what a fabulous singer he is, he can convey so many different emotions within his songs. No wonder everyone loves him now - it’s no surprise ;))

Of course, in an ideal world, he would have won Melodifestivalen, but for me he will always be 2010’s true winner, as he has emerged from the contest with his credibility intact and a whole new audience who completely love his music. Job done.

Track 6: "This Is For"
"I wanna ask questions till your ear falls off"

Perhaps musically and lyrically the toughest song on the album: words that taunt and torture from beginning to end. Initially I was shocked and surprised by the vengeful tone of the lyrics, but they seem to fit with the urgency of the music and the vocoded chorus which gives way to an instrumental fadeout. It may be uncharacteristic for Salem, but it works. The result is insistent and irresistible, (if initially slightly disturbing!) Someone must have really annoyed him....!.

Track 7: "Part Of It"
"Skewed faces and scary eyes/I dare you to take a step outside"

This is a song full of contrasts. Dark lyrical themes mixed with an almost hymn-like chorus, with backing vocals provided by Sami Al Fakir and Linn Segolson. This is maybe not as instant as some of the other songs on the album, but it is proof of Salem’s effortless ability to produce any musical style - in this case a magnificent choral piece.

Track 8: "Brooklyn Sun"
"I would trade away the stars and moon/if you came, came, came back soon, my darker days would all be done"

For me, this is the best track on the album (apart from the now-classic "Keep On Walking" of course) and possibly one of the loveliest songs that I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear. "Brooklyn Sun" is a moving and beautiful song, with simple instrumentation, which still manages after all this time to send a shiver up my spine and puts a lump in my throat. Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, with a sense of longing that most songwriters would do anything for....

One significant change I’ve noted on "Ignore This" is that it’s also the first time that Salem has shared any songwriting credits - in the case of "Brooklyn Sun" it’s the appropriately Brooklyn-based American singer/songwriter Nate Campany (check him out at www.myspace.com/natecampany)
 
Track 9: "Don’t Wanna Talk About It"
Another musical interlude, this time in bonkers-techno mode. It stops and starts and then goes into hyperspace (!) I remember someone on Twitter comparing this to Mr Oizo: I understand where they’re coming from!

Track 10: "Bloody Breakfast"
"Make your own path or keep on living two steps behind"

Some telling lyrics which I would interpret as Salem’s take on the nature of fame, however this musically experimental song could probably be interpreted in many ways? This may be one of the most underrated tracks on the album, but became a firm favourite for me very quickly. The "ooooooooo" chorus is original and different, the musical arrangement won’t let you go, and it has some reassuringly warm moments though - "are you a saint or a sinner? Mm-hmm" is just soooooo Salem :))))

Track 11: "Split My Personality"
"I’m disgusted with myself/can’t be trusted"

Another co-written song, this time with the very talented Linn Segolson, whom I previously wrote about on Planet Salem two years ago - http://planetsalem.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-linn-segolson-video-footage-on.html

Musically I’d describe this as probably the most contemporary/recent sounding track - you could imagine the backing track on a Coldplay or Killers album, but what as ever sets it apart is Salem’s unique, distinctive, touching voice, singing some regretful lyrics agains the muscular musical background. I think this will work very well in a live context.

Track 12: "Cowboys and Dinosaurs"
Final instrumental interlude, with a sweet, lullaby quality. Premiered at Salem's Berwaldhallen shows at the end of 2009.

Track 13: "I’m So Happy"
"I'm so happy cause you are gone"

We’ve known long enough about Salem’s natural melodic ability, but this time he’s thrown in a distinctive lyrical twist which initially shocked and surprised me. However, the result is one of the strongest tracks on the album, which turns into a massive singalong, and which will, for sure, be one of the biggest songs in Salem’s live concerts this year. I can’t get this song out of my head...!

So, does "Ignore This" live up to expectations? Yes - of course it does! It’s the album that Salem wanted and needed to make, on the next step of his musical journey. It’s adventurous, daring, different, and special....in other words, Salem Al Fakir.

"Ignore This"? Impossible to do so.

3 comments:

Fredrik P och F said...

Oh, this is by far the best review of it that I've read. And I'm really honoured to get mentioned in it ^^

Really interesting to see that my two favourite tracks (as of today) were co-written. And yes, I have still not recieved my copy. (By now I'm quite pissed off, and I'm going to find out what has happened, first thing tomorrow.)

By the way... I believe you might have misquoted "Keep On Walking". I'm quite sure the sun was rising in every chorus.

I hope you'll have a pleasant flight, and (probably) a great time in the glorious land of Swedes =) I'll too keep my fingers crossed that you'll get another chance to meet the man!

EuropeCrazy said...

Well Fredrik what can I say! Glad you like the review, and you deserve the mention :)

I really hope that you get your copy soon - it's been a long wait.

And yes, apologies for misquoting "Keep On Walking" - all I can say is that I haven't been feeling too well for the past couple of days and it has affected my ability to think straight :) of course the sun is rising! I've corrected my mistake - it's quite embarrassing when I know the words of the song off by heart. Oops!!

And of course I'll have a great time, that's guaranteed. The glorious land of Swedes - I couldn't have put it better myself. :))))

Lovisa said...

Brooklyn sun is as much of the new 'it's only you (part two)' as keep on walking is the new (wide) fan favorite. I just adore it.
Thanks for an exuisite blog, couldn't belive my eyes when i saw the posts, in particular this one, i mean it's a complete and utterly wonderful review of the whole album! That's something so good it should be obvious for everyone to do, but sadly isn't.
although of course, that fact actually makes your review better :)