Album of the Week 48-2014: Anouk – Paradise And Back Again

Internationally, Anouk is probably known for last year’s Eurovision entry ‘Birds’, but the Dutch music scene explodes whenever she releases something new. There’s a good reason for that: Anouk is Holland’s best (and best selling) female Rock singer and she understands the power of scarcity. Granted, she doesn’t play live much simply because she doesn’t want to, but it does keep her in demand. ‘Paradise And Back Again’ is her ninth studio record and though it isn’t on par with the underrated diamond ‘Graduated Fool’, it’s another strong album with mainly her Soul, Blues and Pop influences at the forefront. The album’s live feel is part of its charm as well.

Let’s get some criticism out of the way first. ‘Paradise And Back Again’ is a front-loaded album. This is especially true when you have the limited edition that closes with three electronically oriented tracks that have Anouk performing well, but because of the sudden stylistic shift, they rather stand out like a sore thumb. But also without those bonus tracks, the album doesn’t exactly close on a high note. Having said that, the album does contain a large number of fantastic grooves. Many Dutch reviewers have pointed out that the album is conceptually weaker than its predecessor, but I do think the songwriting is better.

Not so long ago, a lengthy interview with Anouk in the TV show College Tour was aired and she closed it off with excellent performances of ‘Looking For Love’ and opening track ‘Cold Blackhearted Golddiggers’. Those performances made me very hungry for this album and the two songs are definitely among the album’s highlights. Especially the former, with its overwhelming vocal work and monstrous groove, but the latter is a fantastic, darkly brooding Blues track that serves as the perfect introduction for ‘Paradise And Back Again’.

For me, ‘Don’t Wipe Us Out’ is the highlight of the album. The song is built upon one of the most awesome bass lines I’ve heard this year, while the climaxes of the song are reached by adding or removing layers of instruments. That killer bass stays though. ‘She Is Beautiful’ is a well-crafted Pop song with a Daptone vibe in its intro, ‘Daddy’ contains one of Anouk’s most spirited performances of the album, not to mention some of the best lyrics and ‘Last Goodbye’ is a short, genre-defying Pop song. ‘Wigger’ has more depth than its title may suggest and I somehow really like the creeping vibe of ‘Some Of Us’.

Okay, so there’s no classic like ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Everything’ on this record, but give it some time and the album will grow on you. This is mainly due to its more subdued nature; the songs have a way of revealing their secrets slowly rather than punching you in the face with them. That is what characterizes ‘Paradise And Back Again’ and it is also its redeeming quality, no matter what you might think upon first listen. What the first listen will reveal, though, is that Anouk has a fantastic voice and a knack for writing good hooks. That should keep us satisfied until she wants to play live again. And admit it: that album cover is awesome!

Recommended tracks: ‘Don’t Wipe Us Out’, ‘Looking For Love’, ‘Cold Blackhearted Golddiggers’

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