Anneke: Live In Europe

*Originally written in 2011

Live In Europe | Anneke van Giersbergen

Although Anneke had released a live album the previous year with Danny Cavanagh, this is her first solo live release. An accomplished live performer whose energy, passion, and voice is as strong on stage as in the studio, this was undoubtedly an album to look forward to for fans when it was announced. The main issues to overcome with these sorts of albums are whether the songs selected will please as many fans as possible, whether the songs selected transfer well to a live performance, and whether it feels like a cheap cash-in or a genuine, love-filled release.

‘Intro’ is a mixture of applause and guitar noise from The World alongside other assorted backing sounds, building up the crowd nicely.

‘The World’ opens the gig, an opener that I’m not 100% convinced by – it has a nice build up, but isn’t an immediate crowd pleaser or one which will whip the audience into a frenzy. There are a number of other tracks in the Anneke canon, even on In Your Room which I feel would work better as an opening track to a live show, but regardless it is performed well, has an edge, and gets things going.

‘My Girl’ comes in straight after the first track with no time for catching you breath in between. The focus seems to be on the heavier side of Anneke’s tracks so far, with the distorted guitars giving this one a bit more bite than the studio release. Anneke enjoys herself here, in particular belting out the ending ‘ooh-ahhs’.

‘Who I Am’ is, as Anneke explains, a song written with Mr. Devin Townsend – a figure Anneke continues to partner with fruitfully. This is a fun song, with bouncing rhythms, catchy verses, and eventually a fantastic chorus which lets the vocals soar. A highly enjoyable song which I’d love to see get a studio release.

‘Day After Yesterday’ is one of my least favourite Anneke songs, and even though it is played and performed well here, I don’t think it translates well to the live setting, at least not how it is arranged here. Perhaps an even slower, colder, ghostly version, with a backing choir would convince me otherwise.

‘Hey Okay’ on the other hand is one of my favourite Anneke tracks, although it sounds a little flat here, not really picking up until the guitar solo comes in. Anneke sounds a little breathless singing here, and I’ve heard better live versions on YouTube.

‘Fury’ is my highlight of the album, an awesome, up tempo rock song with nice guitar work and excellent vocals. It’s another that I’d love to see a studio release for, thanks to its brilliant chorus and impactful verses.

‘Beautiful One’ is another strong track (and a better opener in my opinion) which is given new life in the new setting. The song lends itself to a variety of potential arrangements, here going for a much more bombastic chorus with crashing guitar work and angelic vocals.

‘Adore’ again is one of my favourites, and it’s great to see it here as live shows and special re-recorded albums never feature my favourite tracks. This one I imagine isn’t the easiest to sing with its diving and rising melodies, but Anneke does a stellar job on it. It isn’t too different from the studio version, a few less instruments and less complex, but a few added vocal flourishes.

‘I Want’ also translates well to the live arena, with bouncing rhythms which threaten the crowd into jumping along. Another fun song, there isn’t anything complicated here, or much I can say to criticize it.

‘Laugh It Out’ is an interesting one in that it never stays in my memory long, but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I hear it, having forgotten all about its existence. More great verse and chorus work, another one with a fast pace, this one sees Anneke shouting goodnight to the crowd towards the end – another one which it would be nice to see a studio version of.

‘Witnesses’ seems on paper live a totally bizarre choice for a live release, but it surprisingly works well. It’s a raucous recording, I enjoy her pronunciation of ‘universe’ and it has an extended, bruising ending.

‘Shrink’, while obviously being the closer to Nighttime Birds seems like an odd choice of song to close this album with, given that the rest of the songs were on the heavier, louder, more distorted side. It’s a little jarring for this to be thrown in at the end, being such a soft, slow song. And although the rest of the band come in and try to do something a little different with it, those changes don’t always work, and within the context of the album, they don’t save it from being a strange closing track. I’ve never heard a legitimate heavy version of the track, maybe they should have went all out and done a full on rawk version, although that could have been a failure.

An essential release for Anneke fans, albeit let down by a short running time, the absence of some great songs (subjective of course), and a fairly average recording quality – there is a lot of  hissing and extra distortion in the background, the vocal mic seems much too loud and at times the volume isn’t consistent. That being said though, these are mostly minor complaints – what we do have is a great bunch of songs performed with relish, a few nice exclusives, and another worthy purchase. There isn’t a lot of audience interaction, and I don’t hear much noise coming from the crowd between tracks, though again that would be subjective and something I enjoy hearing on Live records that others may hate. Hopefully we’ll get a much fuller live release in the future, one with a stronger production, and hopefully an accompanying DVD!

Anneke Van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing

* Originally written in 2012

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN - Everything Is Changing - Tour 2012

Anneke’s 4th studio album is all about change; the album title suggests as much at first glance. Not long before the release Anneke abandoned the Agua De Annique moniker after admitting that it wasn’t the easiest or most recognizable name. Musically there are more changes, though fans should not be apprehensive as there is nothing drastically different- longtime fans will know what to expect. This is largely another melody driven, guitar laden rock album which moves from outrageously catchy commercial moments to tear-jerking quiet moments and with plenty of pace and power in between.

‘Feel Alive’ is the lead single from the album, one with another buoyant video and excited delivery. With this third release, and with the band name changing from Agua De Annique to simply Anneke’s name, we see a confident performer now blazing her own trail and free to explore whatever ideas and sounds she desires. This excitement and freedom is clear in every note and lyric in the song, an upbeat song with a nice build-up so a soaring payoff chorus; A jubilant declaration of love.

‘You Want To Be Free’ is another upbeat track, this time more of a rock song than the lighter first track. Another love song of sorts, it speaks of the indecision in relationships and sounds like the advice of a friend. There are a couple of standout moments here, the bridges, the main riff, and the ‘yeah yeah’ middle section, though the chorus and verses are not the most memorable.

‘Everything Is Changing’ is a softer, slower, piano driven song with stuttering, yet ethereal verse vocals. As the title track it isn’t as epic as you would expect, with a decent chorus but doesn’t catch the ear. It’s an ok song, well sung of course, just a little bland.

‘Take Me Home’ quickens the pace again, another decent rock/pop crossover with piano and guitar riffs merging as well as some studio magic to give the impression of a wide-ranging wall of sound style production. This one is catchy enough, with another good chorus, but may lack the all-important killer ingredient.

‘I Wake Up’ opens with an unusual drum loop and synth section which pulls in and out in a tidal fashion. This one always gives me the impression of a lost Pet Shop Boys song, but with all the camp removed. Anneke sounds like she is very close to the listener’s ear for the verses on this one, and the chorus is another good one – a slightly eerie feel to it.

‘Circles’ may be Anneke’s strongest song yet, a teary piano led ballad with emotive lyrics about loneliness, hope, and of course the circles of our lives. Again, there is an eerie nature here, but that is overcome by the gorgeous, emotional vocal performance. With a massive chorus, exquisite middle section, and glorious close as the violins join in, this is the true centerpiece of the album.

‘My Boy’ has a tough act to follow, but it’s arguably the best straight rock song Anneke has written so far. With a classic snare intro and simple, but awesomely effective riff, this is a mid-paced guitar, drum, bass driven song with beautiful verse melodies. There is also some studio trickery as the song progresses, but the best moments are the build up to the wonderful chorus – bridge and chorus are both perfection, blending together and building to a climactic eruption (more like the build-up and scoring of a winning goal than what you’re thinking about). My favourite bit though is the ‘even though I’m crazy about my boy’ section, beautifully belted out and adding an extra level to an already euphoric chorus.

‘Stay’ is a fairly heavy song as Anneke goes, with loud, bouncing Led Zep style riff, and delightfully vicious lyrics. It’s another one where the verse, bridge, chorus all meld together wonderfully, building and bleeding into each other. We even get that killer ingredient, after a short instrumental interlude, as Anneke adds a final, different bridge right at the end.

‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’ has the appeal of another single with its big intro and sing-along chorus. It’s another decent track, but it doesn’t have that touch which makes it click with me personally, especially coming after a killer trio of songs.

‘Slow Me Down’ is a fast paced rocker, fueled by muted chords in the verses and lifted by a fist-pumping chorus. Nice, quick shooter lyrics, another effective middle section, and a few moments of vocal brilliance (aside from the usual expected brilliance of course) ensure this is another one to put on repeat.

‘Too Late’ opens with another crushing riff, a lighter Pantera, allowing Anneke to spit out some further angry lyrics. Vocals and guitars work particularly well here, with the sudden stuttered guitar blasts punctuating and mirroring Anneke’s words.

‘1000 Miles Away From You’ closes the album, a choice which I’ve always seen as an odd one. I’ve always felt that the closing track of an album should be instantly memorable, a slam of a door that you will want to open again. For an album that has mostly been on the heavy side, this one has an epic feel, again calls back that eerie, angry tone, but doesn’t stick in my mind as much as others for some reason. Listening again with a pseudo-critical ear, it is slow, without being plodding, veering between quiet and loud pieces, but the middle interlude doesn’t work, sounding an awful lot like a similar section in The Gathering’s song ‘Home’. Rather than going out with a bang though, it drags its heels for the final minute.

The heaviest album Anneke has made since leaving The Gathering, this is a great rock record with a superb production. There is a wide scope in the theme of the songs, allowing Anneke to sing with a greater range of emotion than she usually does, from a lyrical perspective. There are introspective moments, and there are moments of rage; there are dedications and warnings, apologies and consternation. While there are less standout commercial tracks here, there is still a handful of songs which deserved to shoot up the charts in any country, while the rest are weighed heavily in the cult or fan favourite character, rather than the album filler one. Ultimately, it’s another vital release for fans, and contains a number of songs which would certainly win over new fans if they had the opportunity to hear them.

In Your Room

*Originally written in 2009

See the source image

Anneke’s 3rd release since leaving The Gathering shows further growth as an individual artist and as a whole is a much lighter album than any previous work. I say ‘lighter’ with a positive slant, as this album goes for a more straight forward pop approach, revelling in Beatles-esque melodies rather than some of the more downbeat, introspective, and slower songs from previous albums. There is a sense that Anneke is smiling throughout each track and the sheer joy of writing and performing shines through. Some fans may not agree with the direction she has taken here, but there are still plenty of traditional rock moments. At its core, this is another emotional piece covering a wide array of thoughts and feelings brought to our ears by her heavenly voice.

‘Pearly’ opens the album in a suitably left of centre melodic manner. Twanging chords build gradually, while Anneke sings of desire in an openly horny fashion. The verse and chorus are catchy without being instant ear worms, and she substitutes a guitar solo with her own vocal ‘doos and dees’ – something I always enjoy. This is a strong opener which tends to grow on the listener as time passes.

‘Hey Okay!’ was the lead single and highlights the overall direction of the album. It is probably the most pop-sounding song she has ever written, and as a result is one of her most fun and infectious. It certainly isn’t the sort of fluff which makes up the charts, but rather returns to the days when melody was master and wit and talent followed in tow. Lyrically, it is a partner to the opening track as it continues the subtly sexual themes, but musically it bounces along with one of the most repeatable choruses in recent memory. The song even ends with some tongue in cheek cheerleading vocals.

‘I Want’ continues the light, bouncy introduction to the album, except that the lyrics here are more biting, dealing presumably with some guy or guys and their problems. There are some hilarious synth sounds throughout which give a retro feel and add to the humour of the lyrics, whether intentionally or not. Once again, the ‘do-di-dos’ are extremely catchy and will repeat in your head throughout the day, most often at inappropriate moments.

‘Wonder’ is the first quiet, piano driven, introspective song and as such has a downbeat tone and some heartbreaking lyrics. It re-treads some similar ground from Air but improves upon her debut’s efforts with this feeling much more tuned to heartache and sounding more relatable. It is a simple song, one of loss, one with deep feeling, and one whose simplicity will haunt the listener who has been through a similar situation.

‘The World’ opens with an ominous build-up and a series of questions directed at the listener about the state of The World. The male vocals drop in the second verse to give a different level of texture and tone before the pair duet for the chorus. This is a decent mid-album track which would have more impact in a live setting.

‘Sunny Side Up’ returns us to the lighter side of things in glorious fashion; a lovely, simple, summer song that I can find no fault with. Instantly contagious thanks to beautiful melodies throughout, and a nice string middle section replacing the usual guitar solo. Who’s Miranda?

‘Physical’ begins in acoustic fashion albeit with bitter lyrics and angry vocals which reach a wonderful peak in the chorus. Nice chorus harmonies too. I like how this one switches between sensual and angry, light and dark very easily and quickly, echoing the ‘you…me’ lyrical style. Another novel touch is replacing, or echoing the guitar solo with Anneke’s voice.

‘Home Again’ is the second sullen piano led track, and while it doesn’t pay off as well as the first, it still has strong moments, particularly on the ‘stormy day’ line thanks to the painfully yearning vocals. The verse and chorus seem a little too barren and unaffecting to have a huge emotional impact, but I’m sure there are plenty who will see this as a favourite – just not for me.

‘Wide Open’ is one of the heavier songs on the album, featuring a driving bass line and an interesting series of guitar riffs. The verses aren’t particularly memorable, but the chorus vocals are fairly powerful and the lyrics give off both a blasé air of disinterest and an honest, thankful sentiment.

‘Longest Day’ is my least favourite track on the album, a little too uneventful. There isn’t anything wrong here – it isn’t bland, it just doesn’t have enough to make it stand out from the other softer songs presented. There are good moments, naturally, like some of the melodic parts pre-chorus, and during the chorus – it feels like another track cut from Air as it has the dreamy, thoughtful sensation which permeated that album.

‘Just Fine’ is one of my favourites, a calming mid-paced rocker which has Devin Townsend’s influence all over it. I love both the verse and chorus melodies, both showing off Anneke’s wonderful range, but without doing anything spectacular. It’s another sunny, snappy song.

‘Adore’ closes the album in strong fashion, a 5 star track with stormy guitars and notable melding of vocals and melody. Anneke weaves between the usual soaring sounds and more rough edged vocals where a touch of gravel adds that extra something special. The way the melodies rise and fall along with the guitars is particularly glorious, and although the chorus is a little uneventful, it only lasts a few seconds each time.

While Air was a distinctly cold, and almost barren affair musically (not a bad thing) In Your Room is altogether warmer in tone and theme, with a much fuller musical soundscape. There are more driving rock songs, there is more variety, and there are a selection of standout memorable tracks which deserve more recognition. Anneke here has clearly found her own voice and style, and is having fun writing, recording, and performing. When the output is as strong as this, both she and us should have no complaints.

Let us know in the comments what you think of In Your Room!

The Gathering – Accessories

gathering-the-accessories(compilation).jpg

*Originally written in 2006

This ‘between albums’ release is a large collection of live, alternate, and demo versions of some of the band’s biggest songs, as we as some covers that many fans may not have heard. This double album is interesting for the more avid fan but I wouldn’t recommend any new listeners getting this first. Some of the live versions give an idea of how the band like to have fun with their performances- changing parts, adding parts, or playing with an orchestra, and some of the demos are useful in highlighting how a song goes from initial idea to completion. Perhaps the best songs here are the few covers- they tell us of the band’s influences and when played feel like originals by The Gathering. This is a good collection but it isn’t essential by any means.

In Motion 1 Live: This live version of the Mandylion classic has an extended introduction with a sound clip which sets a tone of night time- I’m not sure of the relevance but adds something different to a song they perform every night. The song is not quite as heavy as the album version, just one guitar here and the sound quality is fairly distant. Anneke sings strongly, not showing any flaws or fear from being outside the recording booth.

Leaves Live: This blends in seamlessly from the previous song and is as good a live version as you will get anywhere. The musicians are all on top form, occasionally making a few changes and having fun on stage while Anneke again blows the front row back a few feet. The only problem is the same as the last song, that it seems too distant, maybe it’s the lack of crowd noise or maybe it’s that the volume isn’t high enough. Either way, the solo is still breathtaking and glad to see Rutten doesn’t resort to any Malmstein-esque twiddles with it live.

Adrenaline: This is the best B-Side the band has done and it’s tragic that it never appeared on any of their first albums with Anneke. I assume that it just sounds too upbeat and up tempo to fit in with the darkness of Mandylion and NB. Looking past that though, it has been a live favourite since its first play, and is one of their few songs that really gets the crowd jumping and dancing at speed. Lyrically it is nothing out of the ordinary, but melodically it is brilliant, musically catchy without being flashy- fairly heavy with crunching chords and synth but mostly free of solo work. Anneke gets a chance to wail and scatter her voice all over the place and everybody gets to smile.

Third Chance Alt: I’ve always seen Third Chance as the darker partner to Adrenaline, the album version was very good but this is exceptional. It is quick, angry, filled with urgency, but mainly stands out because Anneke sings in a higher register than on the NB. The notes she reaches and the style in which she does is enough to make me grin and shiver every time and I would recommend it over the album version every time. The quiet middle section and build up to the ending is all the more effective now because of the higher register, the ominous synth, and the urgency of it all.

Strange Machines Live: It is a bit of a come down after the energy of the previous song to hear this. The Gathering are a great band because they are constantly trying new things, not only with new songs but with their classics. Like Metallica’s S & M, they get a full orchestra involved here to play possibly their most famous song. Also like S&M, it should work brilliantly but doesn’t. Maybe it’s the sound quality, but it just sounds flat, almost empty. There is none of the energy of the album track, and certainly none of the energy from their normal live plays. Part of my problem is that the brass is the main focus, whereas I much prefer strings swelling in from all sides. This could all be personal preference and it may well work for you, but I don’t think it woks like it should.

In Power We Trust The Love: This Dead Can Dance cover is one of the few cover songs I’ve heard which makes me search out the original band- I think the Gathering version is better if only because the song suits Anneke so well. An ethereal, soothing number which builds through various phases- the type of song The Gathering have been making throughout their career except with this we get some great lyrics, something which is rarely a part of the Dutch band’s repertoire.

When The Sun Hits: Being a big Manic Street Preachers fan, I suppose I should hate this Slowdive cover. I’d never listened to that band before I heard this cover, but it’s pretty good. The Gathering is known for downbeat sounds, if not quite shoe-gazing, so again this suits them. Again it is interesting to see Anneke sing some different lyrics, the type which the band would never write. The song has a sleepy quality and is one of the better ones in this collection.

Confusion: This demo from the EROC sessions isn’t too dissimilar from the final version on NB. The sound is slightly more tinny, and Anneke’s voice sounds like there are more effects on it. Aside from some additional synth and slight differences you are on familiar territory.

Shrink Alt: This version of Shrink is played on strings rather than piano, has lots of background sound clips, and has a dual vocal from Anneke.

Frail Live: This live version of Frail is pretty similar to the album track, soothing guitars and flawless Anneke vocals.

 

Cyclist: This instrumental theme for ‘The Cyclist’ movie is interesting as it doesn’t particularly sound like anything the band has done before. Having not seen the film I can’t see how well it works, but as a stand alone piece of music it is fairly good, lots of brass and percussion with a lead piano part. I like the string section coming in towards the end, but it isn’t a track I would listen to often.

Leaves Orchestra: Like the earlier Strange Machines this doesn’t always work, although it has a much more bombastic feel to it. It sounds like Anneke enjoys competing for prime position with the full band behind her, and some of her vocals are strained to extremes. I’m not a big fan of brass taking the lead so personally this isn’t a favourite, plus this cuts my favourite part from the original- the middle guitar solo and end.

Life Is What You Make It: This Talk Talk cover is the weakest cover in the collection, mostly because the original material isn’t as strong as the others. Nevertheless it is a decent song which sounds like a slight departure from what the band would usually play. There is a nice messed up guitar part in the middle, and lots of drum based effects and Anneke sings as well as always without having to try too hard.

Amity Live: This is an average live version of Amity let down mostly because Anneke sounds drained and here vocals aren’t great, especially towards the end. Mostly it is musically the same as the album version, with some different effects.

New Moon, Different Day: This opens the second disc- rarities. There isn’t anything too startling or exciting here, a slightly different version of the one we all know.

Kevin’s Telescope: This instrumental abandons the darker intro of the final cut and instead focuses on the light melodies of the verse and the emotion of the chorus. If the vocals were added it still wouldn’t be too different.

Shrink: This seems to be a slightly more up tempo take on the song, and the piano tone isn’t as dark. This is pretty good but again not anything surprising.

The Earth Is My Witness: We are on familiar ground with this one as not much seems unusual. There are a few differences- guitar parts, effects etc, but the structure of the song is the same.

Diamond Box: This is quite an odd one – an instrumental with plenty of effects and sound clips. The main part reminds me of a computer game level set in a dank sewer, or something with a slightly Eastern twist. For some reason it reminds me of Banjo Kazooie. It’s worth a listen but it isn’t one I come back to often.

Nighttime Birds: The main difference here is some background guitar work and less dense effects. Otherwise the song is the same length, same style.

On Most Surfaces: Again this is very much the same as the main version, a slightly more swirling and extended introduction and background guitar work being the main differences.

Hjeimar’s: This is a strange instrumental piece which consists entirely of some eerie guitar work. Just as it sounds like it is building towards something it is cut short. I’d like to hear what the band could come up with by extending this short piece.

My Electricity: This is a strange version of My Electricity with low sound quality but some nice dual vocals. The accompanying guitar seems too metallic though to fit (even though it is acoustic).

Probably Built In The 50s: This is another odd take on the original with Anneke’s voice being heavily cropped, and with some extra distortion on the guitars. This is quite a bit different from the original and is worth a few listens to appreciate the differences. Some great singing and a high tempo middle.

Illuminating: This version is slightly shorter than the main one but is mostly similar in sound and style. The introduction features different drum sounds and the synth isn’t as deep and brooding.

Red Is A Slow Colour: This is a much more distorted take on the original, with clipped vocals and less subtlety. The chorus is different as the guitar tone changes from distorted to a twang, and rather than the effects beats we get some interesting chord strumming and odd background phaser sounds. There is also a strange middle interlude with all manner of noises clashing together- a nice sign of the experimentation which would go on to make the finished album a classic.

Travel: The band like trying different things with their songs, especially when played live and Travel is one which is constantly tweaked. This version is completely different from the final one- it sounds like a very early version as many of the lyrics are missing. Mostly it sounds like a heavier take on the second half of the complete song, but extended to over 7 minutes.

This is definitely a collection for existing fans only as I don’t see anything here which would particularly charm any new listeners. Most of the demos and alternate takes are the same, with a few additional instruments and lower sound quality, but some of the outtakes and B-sides are interesting as they show the band’s creative process. For the live versions I would stick to the main live DVDs and CDs, or better yet catch them live if they ever come to Britain again. For a band with such talent I wish they would have recorded more B-sides and covers but that seems to be a dying art. This is a good album, but too long to listen to repeatedly- just pick your favourites.

If you have heard Accessories, let us know your thoughts in the comments!