If there is one artist who I hold in higher reverence than Marit Larsen, it would be Maria Mena. Though I have not been with her through her entire career, I have to say that my time with her had greatly impacted my life and that her music has helped me through some of the hardest days I've had thus far. Her voice is equal parts haunting and evoking and whenever she sings, it resonates on the deepest levels of my soul.
(On a personal note, Maria responded to one of my tweets when my dog was put down so she will always hold a special place in my heart. I wont let that effect my judgement of her cd, but I felt it was worth mentioning)
"Viktoria" as a whole is a strong album. Her voice is as haunting as ever and her songs carry all the emotional punch of her previous albums. In the grand scheme of things it is not as strong as "Apparently Unaffected", but on the positive side of things she seems to have worked out a lot of her issues that have accompanied her previous albums, and made a lot of her last album, "Cause and Effect" hard to listen to.
The standout tracks on the album are the first two tracks; the title track "Viktoria", and the amazing "Homeless". Both let Maria do what she does best. Sing emotional songs that pack a punch in a way that only her unique vibrato can. The songs are reminiscent of some of her most brilliant work to date and are certainly the most commercial sounding on the album.
One thing that always seems to be the case with Maria is that her albums tend to feature a couple stand out songs that everyone can appreciate and a few deeper songs that require a careful ear and an appreciation of subtle changes in music. In this album this appears to be the case once again as most of her songs on the album are not easy listens, and will often require a bit of time to really get into. On this album songs like "My Heart Still Beats", "Takes One to Know One", "Secrets" and "This Too Shall Pass" often take too long to get to the payout and rely too much on the lyrics. This is not a bad thing, but often they feel underwhelming and often end up being the ones most likely to be skipped on the album. That being said "This Too Shall Pass" also features some of the best lyrics and one of the most encouraging lyrics on the entire album, which keeps it from being monotonous.
Maria's real strength lies in her lyrics. Her lyrics carry a heavy weight to them that latches onto your heart and refuses to let go. This is especially apparent in her song "Habits" which features Mads Langer in a beautiful duet that really stands out. The lyrics convey a heavy emotional poetry that stands out, especially compared to the onslaught of simple pop songs that lack both weight and depth. The song itself almost serves as a counterpoint to the equally excellent "It Took Me By Surprise" which manages to avoid the monotony trap by building to a catchy and exciting chorus that takes you by surprise.
However there are a couple songs on the album that fail to live up to the others. From "Am I Supposed to Apologize?" and "Money" it quickly becomes clear that Maria Mena still has some issues that she needs to let out. On the bright side, it does appear that this is now the exception. My biggest complaint with her previous album "Cause and Effect" was the over abundance of her issues on the album. I think that airing out your issues with family and lovers can be great motivation for song writing, but when the venom is so blatantly obvious it can make the song uncomfortable to listen to. Now, thankfully, none of these songs really impact in the uncomfortable way that some of her previous work like "Dear _____" and especially "Power Trip Ballad", but there are still hints of them throughout the album. I look forward to the day when Maria can finally leave her past behind her and put her amazing talents to further use.
Overall, Viktoria is a perfect next step for her. While it is unlikely to become a major hit on this side of the Atlantic, I do hope that it will net her quite a few new fans (or at least enough to get her over here for a spell. Am I right people?) I can't wait to see where she goes from here, but you can bet I'll be listening with whatever it is.