Anouk did what many had tried and failed to do for almost ten years; to bring the Netherlands back into the final at Eurovision. The entry that managed it, Birds, was a fairly representative taster of what this, her eighth studio album had in store for fans and her recent success has made anticipation for the album even greater.
Opening track The Rules begins rather oddly, with what sounds like city sounds from Amsterdam, with tram bells ringing followed by choirsong. The track sees Anouk listing rules that apply to relationships, and alternates between the dramatic, complete with kettle drums and church organs and the moody, brooding sound that Anouk seems to have perfected so well. The album continues with Pretending as Always, another tortured song, where Anouk sings her heart out about a tale of unwanted love; dealing with the grief once a relationship is over. Her voice has such a disarming, naked quality about it which complements the soul searching theme of the second track brilliantly. Not exactly a cheerful tune, but it does however offer something remarkably uplifting, despite the mournful subject matter.
Birds needs no introduction to most fans – this, the lead single off the album is a production triumph. It brought the Netherlands back to the Eurovision final for the first time in years and deservedly so. It has an eerie, ethereal quality to it that is accentuated by a fantastic arrangement featuring strings and the harp. Extremely melodic, Birds almost crosses over into lullaby territory and is without doubt, one of the standout tracks on the album.
The Good Life features a rather spooky ticking of clocks throughout, with deep, breathy vocals one minute transforming into Anouk’s crystal clear soaring notes the next. She sings of travelling back in time and living her life with few regrets and how life can turn out in the most positive of ways. Are You Lonely is a heartfelt, atmospheric little ditty with a trumpet introduction that leads into a melody that features more brass, paired with mournful lyrics of falling down and not being able to get back up again. Strings help heighten the rueful atmosphere tha prevails. Laden with sorrow and regret, Are You Lonely is almost too much of a good thing, bordering on the self indulgent.
Stardust is a decidely lighter song than it’s predecessor, both in terms of lyrics and melody, becoming almost dreamy and uplifting in parts. Another song to feature a lush string arrangement including harp, Stardust is decidely more accessible to the average listener, with its staccato backing and lyrics of finding the perfect love you’d do anything for. Only a Mother sees Anouk reveal a more soulful side to her nature with spoken intro and powerful backing vocals set to a swelling, sublime tune. She croons and lets herself go more vocally on this one, singing of the sacrifices she’s made for her children, about sticking together and making things work, undoing and forgiving past mistakes.
Kill is all about holding out and giving a man the extra chance if there’s just a shred of doubt; that he may potentially offer salvation and be a possible soulmate. As uptempo tracks go, you won’t find much more uptempo than this on the album, although uptempo is rather pushing the definition somewhat. I Don’t Know Nothing is a tale of deception and façades, depsair at not having the answer to many questions you meet on the path that is life. The tempo is cranked down again as we fare back into a more tranquil, contemplative mode. An intricate melody coloured with sadness makes for some very demanding, yet extremely rewarding listening. The last track, The Black Side of My Mind isn’t as bleak as it sounds, with good winning over bad and a message of hope. The album draws to a close with one of the more instant tunes that features a driving piano in the background.
Sad Singalong Songs is exactly what the title implies – a collection of dark, sombre tracks which see Anouk do a fair amount of self confession, putting her innermost thoughts to music. It is quite an epic affair, with a number of challenging but aesthetically pleasing arrangements. This album isn’t for the fainthearted however. Anouk has come a long way since the days when she was simply angry, looking for revenge, forcing the listener on an emotional journey with her, sharing her pain and looking back on her failures. It is a work of quality that would be best appreciated when you really have the time and right mindset to listen to it. A most rewarding and enlightening listening experience.