First impressions can be lasting, for good or ill. In this case, my first exposure to Erja Lyytinen was on some covermount CD with a magazine, and it didn’t float my boat. So has Stolen Hearts forced me to reassess that view? Well, yes and no. It’s a curate’s egg of an album, good in parts. And while some of it has grown on me, I have to say that once again my first impression wasn’t positive.
Now I know Lyytinen’s main USP is supposed to be her prowess on slide guitar, and on that score she may well do a bang up job. But that’s not my issue. It’s her vocals that leave me underwhelmed.
|Erja Lyytinen slip slidin' away|
Pic by Laurence Harvey
Oh she’s tuneful enough. But for me her voice lacks character and heft most of the time, with a tendency to throw in an irritating yelp into the bargain. As someone who really responds to a singer who can genuinely sell their material, that’s a problem for me. And I could maybe shake off my doubts in this respect more easily if Lyytinen’s songs convinced me more, but to my mind some of the material on Stolen Hearts comes up short too.
The opening title track is a pretty pedestrian affair, with a typically average vocal, eventually enlivened by some sprightly guitar harmonies, followed by a fiery solo that seems to rouse all concerned to kick some ass. The following ‘Rocking Chair’ is a similarly mixed bag. It’s got a persistent driving riff, and a pleasing slide solo which has a hint of effects to give it a fresh sound. But the melody and lyrics are prosaic enough to make me think it might have been better as an instrumental.
‘Love Laboratory’ and ’24 Angels’ are similarly bland, though at least Erja and chums find their funk feet on the chorus of the former – as they do to better, more consistent effect on ‘Lover’s Novels’, with its hooky ascending/descending bass line.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some decent stuff on Stolen Hearts. But it doesn’t really get on a roll until the halfway point of the 11 tracks and ‘Black Ocean’, which has a stronger vocal to go with an appealing guitar sound and a strutting riff, plus a garnishing of organ and an extended guitar workout that more than stands up to scrutiny. ‘Slowly Burning’ maintains the momentum with a decent attempt at something soulful and smouldering, benefiting from another more convincing vocal. And ‘Silver Stones’ is something different and delicate, with a pretty tune and some similarly pretty guitar sparkling throughout.
Last but one track ‘City Of Angels’ hits the mark too, building from a subdued opening with ripples of piano and judicious guitar licks, through vocals that have a rhythmic conviction and occasionally hint at the more gripping moments of Alannis Morrisette, with some well sung long notes at the conclusion.
What’s left is unremarkable fare though, so that to these ears the strike rate of the songs falls short of what’s required for a genuinely convincing album. I’ll admit that it has made more of a positive impact with repeated listens, but on the whole I still don’t anticipate pressing the play button again on Stolen Hearts very much in future. Those first impressions have still to be overturned.
Stolen Hearts is available now from Tuohi Records.