(15 November 2003)
Leona Naess was born in New York, the daughter of millionaire shipping
magnate Arne Naess, and was raised in London. At 18 she left the
Purcell Music School and returned to New York. Now she divides her
time between New York and London (which she calls "home"). Oh,
and her step-mother is Diana Ross.
Her first album Comatised (released 14th August 2000)
was an intriguing CD from the sparse, monochrome cover of Leona
staring out almost challengingly through to the interesting,
varied and unpredictable music. Her voice was very expressive,
reflecting the beauty, anger or sorrow in the songs - and she
proved she could rock too. It was certainly one the debut albums
of 2000 with some electrifying moments and an energy and raw
edge to it that lifted it above the morass of major label
formulaic female singer/songwriters for whom production takes
priority over song writing and real emotion.
Expectations were high for what might follow - which was
I Tried To Rock But You Only Roll (released 9th October 2001). On the cover photo she has her eyes closed. This was a much more crafted, radio-friendly effort, but it lacked both the emotional and musical power of Comatised. So here, with the self-titled
Leona Naess, we are in 'difficult third album' territory.
The opening track of the self-titled album (Universal (USA)
B0000344-02, 2003) "Calling" has a catchy little intro followed
by uninspiring verse with some odd phrasing but a nice cello
line which opens into a beautiful chorus with a suitably
appropriate string arrangement - unfortunately the staccato
strings in the middle eight simple donít fit the mood of the
piece at all and sound very clumsy.
"Donít Use My Broken Heart" also begins encouragingly with
the line "Donít use my broken heart to pick up other girls" -
reflecting some difficult recent personal times, but again
melodically the verse doesnít cut it and itís the chorus -
this time very simple - that rescues the song.
The tempo's raised for "He's Gone" but the drumming is
incredibly unsubtle and the rhythm repetitive; it quickly
becomes irritating, At over four minutes, the song is too
long to sustain the musical ideas it contains.
"Star Signs" opens gently with just voice and guitar and
certainly has its moments - especially the middle 8 which has
a distinct Carole King feel to it. But in other parts it
reduces to two chords and two notes and you wonder just
what she's trying to do. "Ballerina" is just Leona's voice
and piano, which would be fine if the song was strong enough
- but it's not - it's repetitive and melodically unmemorable.
In "Dues To Pay" it is again the chorus that rescues the
piece from total anonymity, but it's always desperately
worrying when lyrics descend into a series of 'Baby, baby,
baby' and on this track she out-babies even Robert Plant!
"Yes It's Called Desire" is in 3 time and has a distinct
country tinge, but the tune is far too closely tied to the
chord pattern, simply following it up and down for the most
"How Sweet" again opens promisingly with Leona and guitar
and a melody that's unpredictable for perhaps the first time,
but lyrically it's not too sound: "Gonna build it right back,
to a castle not a shack, with the sun across my back," and
in places the lyrics are wedged into the tune. "Home" is
only the second upbeat song on the album - and as with "He's
Gone" the drumming does it no favours, though the song does
have a good feel to it.
"Christmas" is by far the best song on the album - guitar,
cello and voice and some sympathetic piano and vocal harmony
- this is also the track where the ubiquitous string quartet
is used to best effect. From the writing point of view, this
is probably the only song on this album that comes close to
the standard Leona set on Comatised. The closing track
"One Kind Of Love" isn't given a chance because it's got a
horribly cheesy string arrangement and the melody of the
repeated sung phrase at the end of the song is Bob Dylan's
"Mighty Quinn" virtually note for note Thereís one moment
in this song, just before the final assault, when it cuts
back to just Leonaís voice and guitar and you think 'Yes!
If only ...'
Playing Leona Naess back to back with Comatised is
a sobering experience. Thereís no energy at all in this album.
Leona's voice lacks spark and emotion and the vocal variety
she demonstrated on Comatised is reduced here to a
universal wistfulness. Some of the song writing, whilst
undoubtedly heartfelt, is barely up to high school
standard. The insipid, soporific, arrangements ensure that
whatever cutting edges there might has been have been rounded
off and polished till they glimmer beautifully.
The cover of the Leona Naess album is in full colour and
shows Leona holding a rose - the soft-focus photograph is cut
off at her nose so there are no eyes at all this time - the
photo could be of anyone. Just as the cover of Comatised reflected what was inside, sadly, so does this. Itís a bland, soft, smooth, corporate album. It will probably sell by the shed-load to the same people who bought the Norah Jones CD and this will no doubt be used by the record company to justify the fact that almost every trace of Leona Naess has been absorbed into this year's corporate notion of what an ideal female singer should sound like. I donít know if this should make us angry, sad or simply resigned - but whatever, it is an awful waste of talent.
If you enjoyed Come Away With Me then it will certainly be worth you seeking out the Leona Naess album. But if you like fine songwriting, spark, originality and female vocals that really connect, go and get
Comatised and just
pretend this album never happened.--Jamie Field
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order Leona Naess' self-titled album at amazon.com
The album is
not rated as highly as her earlier releases by our editorial
staff but should be explored further by die-hard fans.