I could listen to Nicolai Dunger sing for hours. He has one of the best voices in music, if you ask me. He's like a Swedish Van Morrison. Singing seems to come so naturally to him that it barely sounds like he has to try. Last year's album, "Tranquil Isolation," had a desolate, ramshackle feeling to it that I loved. Much of that sound was admirably made in the production process by the Oldham brothers. Dunger's voice thrived in that setting.
"Here's My Song..." is much slicker, with more instrumentation. At times, it's over the top, but for the most part, Dunger seems at home. This is a blessing and a curse. "Tranquil Isolation" was good because he never seemed totally comfortable. He was a Swede in the back woods, somewhere in the Southern USA; he was a total outsider. But it worked. Here, he is often too comfortable and seems bored. "Someone New" is interesting, especially the horror film sound of the piano, but the song seems too cliche. It's like Billy Joel or Elton John: with a big rock beat and over-the-top strings to make it melodramatic. It sounds insincere, and is especially weak when followed by one of my favorite songs on the album, "White Wild Horses."
Mostly just a guitar and vocals affair, "White Wild Horses" is Dunger at his best. As he goes in and out of his falsetto, the song slowly builds momentum before eventually petering out. Lyrically, it tugs at your heartstrings with lines like "Won't you take away my sadness?", but musically, it's optimistic, especially on the bridge where an organ is barely audible. He doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles to be effective because his voice is so powerful.
"Slaves" plays like a once-great singer making his comeback. On this song, strings are used to a more subtle effect than on the aforementioned "Someone New." Piano chords and brushed percussion provide the backbone that Dunger wails over. Any additional instrumentation, like a plucked acoustic guitar, are tasteful; nothing is overdone. As the track heads into the chorus, Dunger opens up in true Morrison-like fashion singing "It was true that we're falling together / And it was also true that we made love together." But just as the last chorus begins, the song commits the ultimate sin. Back-up vocals? Come on! They're totally unnecessary. Anyone with pipes like this needs no help and it's a total disservice to add them.
Ultimately, this album just doesn't work. This is not Nicolai Dunger. I feel like he was cornered and forced to make an album that some record label executives felt would be marketable to a wider audience. Dramatic strings and ridiculous hooks make this more an adult contemporary album than anything. He's trying to actually be Van Morrison now. Or better yet, the lead singer of Pulp. I'm a big fan of Pulp. Jarvis Cocker's persona works because of who he is, but Dunger is now trying to be a less ironic version of Cocker, even though that's not Dunger's personality at all. It's sad, really.
Outside of the excellent "White Wild Horses," the only reason this album is worth owning is because of Dunger's massive voice. That voice is angelic when put to good use, but on this album it's wasted. "Here's My Song You Can Have It" is the most appropriate title he could give the record, though. He's given his "song" to some guy in a suit at Universal who has proceeded to shit all over it and make a complete mockery of it. Nobody in the world needs a cheesy, Swedish Van Morrison. Not even Will Oldham could have saved this record, but here's to hoping Dunger gets dumped by Universal and goes back to working with those back woods geniuses next time. Keep your "song," buddy. 4/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)