Album Reviews

Elíza – Empire Fall

(Lavaland) UK release date: 15 October 2007

Sometimes, simple as it may seem to deliver, a hack wishes in vain for a press release that doesn’t promise the earth. A press release that manages expectations rather than launching into a fantasy land of half-truths that you just know will be completely impossible to deliver.

In other words, a press release which, rather than claiming that Eliza Newman has “sparkling melodies calling up the barren and heartbreaking delivery of ’60s songstress Nico“, explains honestly that she is offering us decent but essentially unspectacular Scandinavian pop of a type not too far away from The Sugarcubes or The Cardigans?

Admittedly, more people have probably heard of The Velvet Underground than The Cardigans but (a) it would be closer to the truth and (b) the fantasy does Eliza a terrible disservice in that Nico – uber cool and chiselled of cheekbone as she was – couldn’t actually sing, whereas Eliza can.

Former singer with Bellatrix and Skandanavia, she has spent much of the time since Bellatrix’s 15 minutes of fame at the turn of the century studying opera in London, but what Empire’s Fall really reminds you is that Newman and her Bellatrix cohorts were the darlings of the indie press at just the same time, moments before The Strokes and The Libertines would emerge from the wilderness, when we really did think Coldplay were the best thing since sliced bread.

A lot has changed since then. A plethora of latter day mope rockers from Keane to Athlete have shown us that turning the piano up to 11 and sounding miserable isn’t automatically a good thing, while Sigur Rós and Amiina have shown us what glacial musical landscapes can really be inspired by living further north than Alaska. Eliza’s addition to the genre can’t really compete anymore, even on songs such as Return To Me, which is the album’s strongest, or the haunting closer Stone Heart.

Empire’s Fall also suffers from being too disjointed. There’s post punk bass lines on the title track, Hjartagull and Island, tinkling indie la-la pop on Diamond and Secret Landscape, and post rock on Deep Blue and Return to Me. The latter in particular is waiting for a polar bear in need of a soundtrack. And okay, for a few bars at the beginning, Queen Of Solitude does sound a little bit like Venus In Furs, but not for long enough.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the music, but it’s all a bit old hat, tipping here and here into death metal riffs, here and there into ambient chill out. In the end, it leaves you not entirely sure whether or not it was actually any good. It probably is, evidenced by the way it grows on repeated listenings, but it would have been nice not to have had to make so much effort.

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Elíza – Empire Fall