WORTH A LOOK?: *****
TRACKLIST: Spiritual Awakening; XX; 24 Hours; Freedom; Here Comes The Night; Love And Appreciation; The Soul Has No Gender; Selfmade; Fingers Crossed; Free Your Mind And Free Your Body; Magic Still Exists
33-year-old Agnes Carlsson hasn’t released an album since 2012’s Veritas and that was some considerable time after her commercial peak with the international hit and breakthrough single Release Me which reached number 3 in the UK in 2009.
- Read on for reasons including why this is an album of the year contender
It seemed unlikely then that 2021 would even bring us a new Agnes album let alone 1 so memorable and packed with highlights as this collection which we feel is already a contender for our album of the year.
The Agnes of yesteryear was always blessed with an impressive live singing voice and a pop sensibility but we would liken this album to the moment when fellow Swede Robyn graduated from Show Me Love to Dancing On My Own.
There’s a line in single 24 Hours, a song of the month for us in June, that we can’t help but feel is pivotal: ‘As my world fell apart, it hit me like lightning in the dark, This is my sliding door moment, here and now I choose my future.’
The route Carlsson has chosen to travel may not be the easy 1 but it has gifted us an album from an artist which feels like she is truly finding her own voice, doing something decidedly idiosynchractic and having an absolute blast at the same time.
It’s an infectious enthusiasm that can’t help but bowl the listener along with it and the rewards could not be richer.
It’s an album campaign that started promisingly with Fingers Crossed, a 2020 song of the week for us, which we said: ‘goes immediately for the pop jugular with a hook that is so captivating in its high-pitched kookiness it could be a sample of Kate Bush or Florence Welch at their most commercial – but probably isn’t.’
After 24 Hours came Here Comes The Night, a song of the month for us this month, of which we said: ‘It begins like Destiny’s Child sampling Stevie Nicks on Bootylicious and builds with, we’re guessing, a list of qualities wanted from a new lover: ‘Faith. Love. Spirit. Heart’ and: ‘There’s a keyboard motif which sounds like the briefest sample of classic 70s ABBA like Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) before we hurtle into a chorus boasting soaring, longing backing vocals and eulogising the qualities of the night.’
If we had just 1 complaint it would be that at a time when albums seem to be getting longer this 1 has just 4 other songs and 4 scene-setting fillers. But when the mood is so sustained and quality so high it’s a very minor gripe.
New songs include XX which has a vocodered vocal that lends it a 70s feel. It’s a self-exortation to ‘XX Express yourself’ and ‘show off your colours’ with a lyric that repeats the words ‘brothers and sisters’ which adds to the feeling of community with the confession that ‘deep down I knew I wasn’t true to myself’.
Love And Appreciation revels on the dancefloor with string stabs and throbbing bass while calling for ‘good vibrations’ and backing vocals that remind these ears of Diana Ross at her most disco-friendly. ‘Life can seem more complex than it is but it all comes down to this’ sings Agnes before concluding: ‘We all need Love And Appreciation‘ in the joy-filled climax.
Selfmade once again shows off that soul-filled vocal that propelled Agnes to fame through TV show Idol in Sweden in 2005 and then breaks down on the dancefloor into something inspired by Giorgio Moroder-produced Donna Summer as imagined by Goldfrapp. The lyric also displays a confidence in the pursuit of unlikely dreams: ‘What today seems like insanity, tomorrow might be reality.’
Title track Magic Still Exists boasts majestic and beautiful piano in its introduction before an instruction to ‘Free your mind and free your body’. It’s something ABBA might have done if they were less shackled to pop form. It builds brilliantly into a triumphant: ‘Keep believing that we stay forever young, keep believing that we’ve only just begun.’
If this album is the result of Agnes’ ‘sliding door moment’ we couldn’t be more delighed for her. Lyrically it’s about belief and self-empowerment and feels authentic which can’t help but buoy the listener at a time when mental health is challenged.
Musically it’s a thrilling and cohesive vision that is a heady blend finding joy in some of disco’s most potent cocktails.
Magic definitely still exits and its alchemy can be found here.