After explaining that she left The Gathering so that she could both concentrate more on her family life and explore more of her own musical ideas, Anneke Van Giersbergen’s first album had a lot to live up to. Since leaving it seems she has been busier than ever, with 3 albums released to The Gathering’s one, and various guests spots and joint albums. I never thought that The Gathering would be a constraint on any member’s ideas but then I’m speaking as an outsider, and at some time or another an artist needs freedom to do exactly what they want to do. Which brings us to Air, Anneke’s first album with new band Agua De Annique. If you’re a Gathering fan you find anything particularly new or shocking here- it could almost be a Gathering album, only lacking the spacey guitar work and more complex songs of that band. Anneke is on fine form (she always is) and the album has the same quiet, at times gloomy, and understated feel that recent Gathering songs have had. The rest of the band all do their jobs without anyone standing out so it is clear this is Anneke’s show. She wrote most of the music and lyrics, she plays guitars on a few songs, and her voice soars and softens in all the right places as we know it does. There are a few classic songs, a couple which I feel could have been left off the album, but mostly it is a good first album. Given the pressure and expectation she was probably feeling from fans and from within it is a triumph and a sign of hopefully greater things to come.
`Beautiful One’ starts the album with trippy bleeps and a swirling guitar riff before Anneke begins to sing. Essentially a love song, but can also be read as a song to her new born, the lyrics are full of sadness and regret the emotion from which powerfully comes through in the chorus vocals. The verses I have found slightly repetitive due mostly to the guitar riff and the fact that the song appears both here and on the follow up in acoustic form. The bridge spices things up a bit with different guitar work and typical Anneke vocal acrobatics before the chorus crashes in again. A good opener, but personally I don’t listen to it that often anymore.
`Witnesses’ is a song dealing with the intrusion of religion into our lives, especially if we don’t want it, supposedly based on a real life experience. There is a swirling, building quality to the song with instruments, sounds, and vocals all growing towards the `chorus’. It is quite fast and rock driven compared to other songs on the album. I like the little guitar part before `you save the world from me’. The song doesn’t particularly show off her skills as a singer, but definitely showcases her growing talents as a lyricist and diversity as a song writer.
`Yalin’ is a slower, softer song where we hear Anneke’s control over her voice, from delicate and soothing yet full of varying emotion. Lyrically she seems to be singing about the loss of a friend and only realizing their importance when it was too late.
`Day After Yesterday’ is for me the partner to Beautiful One in that I enjoyed it for the first few listens but gradually became less enamoured with it. The song is piano led and has a clear sense of solitude, evoking feelings of wandering around an empty airport or being trapped alone in a house while it rains outside. Cliched feelings from me yes, but that’s the most simple way I can put it. It is another good song and I can’t find anything wrong with it, I must prefer Anneke when she’s more up-tempo. The melodies aren’t as memorable as some and it has a rather somber ending.
`My Girl’ starts with a more upbeat sounding intro reminding me for reasons I have yet to understand of JJ72. The verses are interesting with staggered vocals and music. It is a song I usually forget about but when I hear it again I love every second of it. I like the harmonies towards the end, the guitar work is interesting, Anneke seems to sing with a reverb effect adding to the overall tone of coldness and detachment.
`Take Care Of Me’ begins with soft, somber strummed chords before Anneke’s voice joins in to echo the downbeat nature of this love song. For a song about love and helplessness with quite joyful and bright lyrics it has a dark tone of despair throughout with all those minor chords. It is a very short song, reminiscent perhaps of something by Nick Cave or The Smiths.
`Ice Water’ is where the album really kicks into gear with a soft introspective intro, before bursting into chorus and growing from there. The violins add greatly to the tone of the song, the best moment of the song and perhaps the album being Anneke’s final two `Burning Away’ lines. Her vocals are never stronger than here on the album, the growing instrumentation makes it a highly emotion song, and I particularly like the two guitar parts before those final lines. It is these powerful moments which confirm that she is without any doubt the greatest singer of her generation.
`You Are Nice’ is the heaviest, fastest, most rocky, most fun, and probably most silly song on the album. Basically an outburst of lust that a thousand fans will wish was directed at them. The riff is slinky, Anneke sings alongside it in her most seductive tones before breaking into pure erotic screams.
`Trail Of Grief’ calms things down with another piano/percussion led song, beginning softly before the crushing centre part with Radiohead style guitars, heavy beats, and typical Anneke notes. It is another strong song only let down by lacking a truly memorable melody.
`Come Wander With Me’ certainly makes up for any missing melody, a cover of a beautiful song Anneke makes this the definitive version. Her voice is wonderful, the guitar is haunting and simple. It is one of the best songs on the album, and one to play to any friends to prove Anneke’s greatness.
`Sunken Soldier’s Ball’ is my favourite song on the album combining Anneke’s powerful vocals with her softer side, wonderful melodies, nice guitars, personal lyrics full of imagery. It is the one song that will stay with you after the album is over. Anneke’s vocals over the chorus are heart-breaking reminding us again of those moments where she has us in the palm of her hand (see middle part of Waking Hour on The Gathering’s Home for possibly the best example). I wish she had included this song on Pure Air as I’m sure an acoustic version of this would be heavenly goodness.
`Lost And Found’ again showcases above all the vocals, but I love the piano interlude between first and second verse. Still the tone of loneliness pervades all, except here it is a group feeling, a feeling of security shared amongst the lonely ones. It is a surprise when the guest vocals kick in, they offer a different, sweeter, almost childlike quality. This song reminds me of the song Home from the last album, and ends with a bluesy, Lenny Kravitz riff which should be played loud.
`Asleep’ closes the album, a lullaby to her son, a goodnight song to her fans which reminds me again of a couple of Radiohead songs. With it’s flutes and gentle guitars and vocals it is rather lovely. It is a warm song to fill us with security and a sense of belonging, that after all the despair and confusion of previous songs things can actually be pretty good sometimes.
As I said at the start this is a good album which misses out on being great (for me) by having a few songs which can get repetitive or (too strong a word) boring after a while. Of course this is subjective and the songs I don’t like as much may be someone else’s favourites. It is a consistent album in tone and feeling, something which few artists are able to accomplish and overall proves that Anneke may have left The Gathering but that she hasn’t left us.