Cards on the table, I think that Finland made the right choice in sending Paradise Oskar to this year’s Eurovision Finals, but there was something in the haunting sound of Saara Aalto that many Eurovision fans have not forgotten. The release of her first album, “Blessed with Love” has been keenly awaited, and while many have fallen for its charms, I’m wondering if I missed the email.
Eurovision albums are always interesting to listen to. Some artists can capture themselves perfectly in three minutes, others have wildly different styles on display in their discography and you wonder just what led them to the Eurovision song they entered. Not with Aalto though, the album “Blessed with Love” is thirteen different variations on “Blessed With Love” the song, and one slightly different track as a little cherry on a vat of vanilla ice cream.
How to describe the style of the album… It’s actually quite simple. As the first track started to play, the style that came to mind was not ballad, Eurovision or power-pop. Just one word came to mind.
There’s no doubt that “You Are Home” has that soaring feel-good nature that Celine Dion could never pull off, but Carrie Underwood has nailed. Take a plucky you singer trying to make it in the evil world of show business, and I can hear this running over the credits.
And now I have that vision in my head, it’s tough to clear. But if I look slightly askew, this is a really nice coming of age album. “Shelter” is pretty much the signature composition of the album, with lots of uplifting and positive messages. In here also lurks a worry about the rest of the album, because it gets very repetitive very quickly.
Soothing that worry is her potential Eurovision song, “Blessed with Love”. This is the strongest song of the openers, and while it’s a lovely ballad, it would have struggled to stand out in Dusseldorf, even at the semi-final stage. On her album it does manage to be more than noticeable, and to be honest that says more about the rest of the songs than “Blessed with Love” itself.
“I Breath You” is up next, and the delicate skill that was present in “Blessed with Love” is lacking. This track has one speed, and once it finds it, it’s going to stay in “soaring” mode. Next up is the obligatory vocal showcase track, with just Aalto and a piano. We’re back in ballad territory with “Can I Keep the Pictures”, probably at the second plot twist in our mythical Finnish Disney movie when she’s suddenly single, walking through a shopping precinct at midnight. In the rain. With no shoes.
To be honest I found that Blessed With Love, the album, was a tough listen. There’s nothing that really stands out and begs me to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to the music. I’m in no doubt that Aalto has a fantastic voice, and it’s showcased here in a far more natural way than other artists I’ve reviewed this year, but technical accuracy doesn’t always convey emotion. With no kick to the album, it just sits there as audio wallpaper. Nice to hear, and people passing the office raise an eyebrow, but there’s no stop the press moment where you had no choice but to listen to the song playing.
Actually that’s not true. One song in the main body of work does get close to that moment, “Letting Go”. It’s not a home run, but it does score. You also have the intriguing “Cage Bird” coming in almost at the end of the album, which adds a hint of Americana, and it’s a welcome change to the twelve preceding songs.
The interesting thing about Aalto’s album is that when you leave it to run, as a Long Player it just about works. The subtle changes between the songs give it a gentle sway through the fifty five minutes of running time. Very few of the songs stand out on their own, but as a single unit there is a grace and beauty on show. Truly the sum is far greater than the parts. The question in my mind is whether Aalto is going to stay with this more traditional view of an album, or go for a hit factory approach to get as many potential singles on the second LP.
There is no doubt that Aalto is blessed with a wonderful voice, just that its been paired up with a lacklustre choice of songs that have resulted in a style that pushes just a little bit too hard to be “big”. There’s enough here that makes me want a follow-up album, perhaps with more restraint and diversity in the music. So a cautious thumbs up from me, and I’ll be looking forward to the second album.
Blessed with Love, by Saara Aalto, is published by Yume Records and is available as .