While her vocal enthusiasm is commendable – there’s plenty more lyrical bounce to this debut LP than was evident on, say, the similarly pitched Operator Please’s Yes Yes Vindictive album – there’s not enough bite to Ida Maria’s zesty jump-around-the-room pop-rock for it to really impress. Fortress Round My Heart drags its heels more often than it kicks them, leaving its makers’ explosions of endearing energy exposed as the rarest ingredient in the Norwegian singer’s writing formula.
As a ‘sufferer’ of synesthesia, one might expect Maria’s songs to be rather more colourful than they actually are – if the vocalist truly does hear sound as colours dancing behind her eyelids, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that she sees a sort of Plasticine-shaded grey-green mess when playing Fortress… back, like every colour imaginable squished and mushed into a single, gloopy whole. Like the colour of that split Locust and Arab on Radar single… no? Wrong audience? Sorry.
But such a mistaken cross-genre reference raises a question: just who does make up the audience of an artist whose attempt at making an album rich in diversity – boisterous bopper here, slow-burn ballad there – has left her neither Abba nor Zappa, but rather a la Roxette or, more accurately, The Primitives raised on a diet of mainstream post-millennium indie-rock? Mothers, air-drumming in their cars once the horrors are dropped off for the day? Skinny-legged kids just taking their first steps of exploration into the wide world of guitar-centric rock ‘n’ roll via NME’s gig guide recommendations? Listeners to Radio 1’s breakfast show? Xfm? 6Music? The blurring of stylistic lines isn’t beneficial – a better album would have possessed a greater sense of focus, a more deliberate attempt to carve a single niche rather than half a dozen with only a modicum of effort expended on each.
Singles ‘I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked’ and ‘Queen Of The World’ prove relative high points – the former certainly captures Maria at her banshee best, providing her Marmite (spread over very burnt toast) vocals do it for you. Elsewhere, ‘Forgive Me’ is a foot-down on-the-road anthem wannabe that’ll probably appeal to the idiots currently keeping Kid Rock at number one (and the fucking unforgivable pricks at DFS); ‘Morning Light’ finds our protagonist celebrating her “mixed-up mind” and cackling between bursts of verse-chorus-verse familiarity; and ‘Keep Me Warm’ and ‘See Me Through’ dribble sloppily to themselves, making up the album’s slowest shuffles and never once engaging with their audience at an emotional level.
The object, according to the artist (and to paraphrase the press release), was to create a record of ten short, sharp, perfect tracks; pop music that hits hard, that you can dance and drink and go crazy to. There are moments of decently sassy pop-rock here, songs that you can just about see someone singing along to, hairbrush for microphone, in front of the mirror before a night out. But these moments are few and far between, and are exclusively the tracks featuring a vaguely vibrant BPM count. When she eases off the gas Ida Maria’s wheels begin to fall off; when she’s careening along to the point of near control-loss, Fortress… is a fun, undemanding listen.
Then again, advice comes her way courtesy of an act she echoes well: if you don’t slow down you are going to crash. But maybe it’s worth the risk next time around.
5Tony Robert Whyte's Score