Arriving with a reputation as one of Sweden’s most promising singer/songwriters, a handful of Swedish Grammy nominations and, of course, hailing from the same country as current media darlings like José González and The Knife, you’d be forgiven for expecting rather a lot from Elin Ruth Sigvardsson.
So what do we get? Fragile acoustic numbers in the mode of González? Weird, otherworldly electro pop a la The Knife? Or glacial cool indie-pop in the mode of The Cardigans or Shout Out Louds?
Funnily enough, the answer is none of these. In fact, if you didn’t already know you’d be amazed to find out that Ruth has even visited Stockholm, never mind has a Swedish passport. For her debut album sounds very American, all folky, country pop that fans of Michelle Branch or Avril Lavigne will be accustomed to.
Listening to Elin Ruth, the one name that leaps out at you is that of Lucie Silvas. The similarities are uncanny – both young, blonde, photogenic and a dab hand at lovelorn pop – and the same feeling of apathetic ennui envelops the listener when hearing both albums.
For, like Silvas, Ruth isn’t a particularly bad singer or songwriter, there’s just no character to her. She’s got a nice voice, and at her best she recalls the winsome poignancy of Natalie Imbruglia or Jewel. At her worst though, her songs become so sugary sweet and bland that they’re impossible to listen to without wanting a nice long nap.
The problem is that, in a sea of sensitive female singer/songwriters, there’s nothing much here to make Ruth stand out from the crowd. A song like When It Comes To You is pleasant enough to make the traffic jam on the way home from work bearable for four minutes, but there’s not much else to it. Tori Amos or Fiona Apple make for a more compelling listen, while KT Tunstall (who Ruth has been compared to by her record company) displays bags more personality and charisma than anything here.
The most successful moments on Ruth’s debut album come when she goes for a more stripped down sound. Claudia is a lovely stark ballad, featuring just Ruth’s clear voice accompanied by a lightly plucked acoustic guitar. Later, a string section joins, but it never overwhelms. It’s a nice listen, maybe nothing revolutionary, but it does its job well.
Similarly, If I starts off stark and dark as a piano chord, and then gently lightens the mood with some pseudo-country touches. It’s bright and gentle, the perfect accompaniment to the Sunday papers and a cup of coffee. Yellow Me, one of the best tracks on the album, is a excellent acoustic ballad with some nicely self-deprecating lyrics.
Elsewhere though, things just become a bit of a generic sludge of typical ‘Radio 2 friendly’ ballads. Contradictory Cut has a horribly twee backing, which is a shame as Ruth’s breathy vocals sound at their best here, and she demonstrates her way with a memorable lyric (“We are symmetric like the road-marks”). Gone Gone Gone meanwhile is a dirge of a ballad that seems to last a lifetime, while Dear I is blandness personified, worsened only by sub-Alanis lyrics, such as “Dear eye, don’t cry until it’s over, you’re fine and your looks won’t grow older”.
Ultimately, there’s very little to say about Elin Ruth as her kind of material can be heard by hundreds of other songwriters out there. Despite the odd excellent moment, she’s going to have to raise her game and write some more distinctive songs if she’s going to rise above her many contemporaries.