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Leona Naess Self-Titled CD Cover
Image © Geffen Records 2003

Leona Naess
Image © Geffen Records 2003
 

(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 part.

"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 here. The album is not rated as highly as her earlier releases by our editorial staff but should be explored further by die-hard fans.

 
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