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Dance Love Pop is quite a change from the previous two albums Agnes has released following her win on the Swedish version of 'Pop Idol'. Those weren't originally released outside of Sweden, but after moving to a new record company 'Dance Love Pop' was deemed strong enough for international audiences - but only after a long delay (two years).
The first song from the album is 'Release Me', which many may remember from summer 2009. It's whooping melodies and dance vibe helped it to stay in the top 20 for ages. The follow up, 'I Need You Now' wasn't as succesful - only placing number 40 in the UK charts. I put this down to the record companies decision to remix the single.
This leads me on to my next point. Dance Love Pop was originally released in Sweden in 2008, and was mainly a contempory mixture of hightempo pop and disco-friendly balads. 2010's UK album has been remixed to such an extent that it's hard to identify Agnes's amazing voice under the constant thumping beat. Tunes such as 'Big Blue Wall' and 'On and On' have been changed. The album is saved by keeping the original versions available after all of the remixes.
In the end, don't be put of by Sweden's label of europop queens. This album is much classier than anything coming out of September, Velvet or Robyn. Agnes's voice is very good indeed and carries alot of the album fillers such as 'You Rain' and 'Sometimes I Forget'. Dance Love Pop is an essential part of anyone's pop or dance collection. It's not quite perfect, but a commendable effort.
As if it wasn't enough that we have had "Pop Idol" on these shores, along with the "X Factor" and all those pesky "American Idol" contestants, the "Idol" franchise continues to produce local singers all over the world.
By and large it's only YouTube aficionados of the franchise who will be aware of the contestants but one young lady who has managed to launch herself internationally following a win on the Swedish "Idol" is Agnes Carlsson.
Better known just as Agnes, Carlsson won "Idol 2005" with a voice which is both powerful and laden with emotion. She is also an incredibly beautiful and photogenic girl, which always helps in industries as shallow as pop music.
She stuck with Sony BMG for her first couple of album releases. Her winners' song was typical "Idol" winner fare, "Right Here, Right Now" featuring a choir and the all important key change. Carlsson's vocals were, I felt, nasally and her diction when singing in English wasn't perfect either on this track but she has developed over time as a singer and her image has changed from girl next door teen star to a far more grown up look that she has today.
In 2008 Carlsson announced she was parting company with Sony BMG and seeking to change her direction a little from the pop genre towards a mainstream dance sound.
The resulting album was "Dance Love Pop" which originally surfaced in Sweden in late 2008 but has only just received its UK release date, which is rather bizarre following the huge success here of the lead single "Release Me" last summer.
~~Dance Love Pop~~
I was drawn towards this album purely on the basis of Agnes' voice. It is reminiscent in places of Leona Lewis but I believe is a stronger and more versatile instrument.
"Release Me" was one of my favourite singles of last year and I liked the follow up "I Need You Now" too, so I had decided I would pick up her album and get to hear a little more of the voice but have had to wait until May 2010 for the privilege - deciding the £30 price tag some sellers on Amazon wanted for import versions was a price I didn't really want to pay.
"Dance Love Pop" opens with "Release Me" a big pop dance track which opens with effective use of strings as Agnes mournfully asks to be released by her lover. When the drum beat kicks in for the verse the song moves from showing its influence in the lush string disco sound of Chic to a pounding dance track. The strings however remain throughout the song, almost mocking the vocals in places.
And what vocals - on this song Agnes sings her heart out, sounding sad, frustrated, heartbroken and joyous in the space of just over four minutes.
The only issue I have with this song is it's the album version that's included and it features a really unnecessary bridge that sounds incredibly dated - at first I thought it was something from an eighties track tacked on in a moment of madness. It's a pointless addition to the song - what a shame because the UK single release is just blissful.
Follow up single "I Need You Now" is another synth based dance pop track which once again features copious use of strings over the thumping dance beats. Agnes' voice is once again is soulful and touching. I have heard several mixes of this song and have to say that while I do like the strings on the album version of this song, there's a better dance mix which ironically enough features an acoustic guitar backing out there. The album version tends to show up the song's weaknesses whereas both the dance mix and the UK single radio edit highlight the strengths better.
"On and On" is pure Euro dance with a trancey synth backing and was Agnes' first attempt at the genre in Sweden. The vocals are intense which seems perfectly fitting on this mammoth pop dance track. Similarly "Secret Love" is a massive song which fits the big voice perfectly as the beat thumps out. This is pop dance as it should be - euphoric, melodic and absolutely beautifully sung.
Agnes changes tack on "Sometimes I Forget" however - a slower pace kicks in on a song and the vocals are less intense but just as heartfelt as Agnes sings over a beautiful arrangement that includes a delicate acoustic guitar and those mocking violins again. Occasionally the diction slips a little on this one however and you can hear the Swedish accent but this is endearing rather than annoying.
Another ballad is "You Rain" which is just lovely - Agnes sings over piano and strings on the verse as the tempo picks up on the chorus with the drumbeats kicking in. The star of the show on this track is Agnes' voice however - it is delicate, heartfelt and deeply intense as she meanders through a song which covers the highs and lows of her vocal range.
Synth led dance beats return on "Big Blue Wall", but much as I love Agnes' voice I find the actual backing track to be of more interest on this - the thumping beats and the strings are what make the feet tap here rather than the lyrics which are banal and uninteresting and Agnes sounds as if she's going through the motions on this one.
"Love Love Love" is a belter of a song. Originally aired as an entrant for Sweden's annual "Melodifestivalen" in 2009 - the contest that chooses the country's song for the Eurovision Song Contest - this sadly only managed to place 8th following what can only be described as a lacklustre vocal performance from Agnes on the night.
What you get on the album however is anything but lacklustre - here the song is everything pure pop should be - euphoric, sultry, joyous and uplifting. The vocals are superb too - utterly sincere and deeply touching.
The pop theme continues with "How Do You Know" which has a distinctly 1980s synth pop flavour to it but this lacks the real vigour contained in "Love Love Love" - Agnes' vocals are strong though perhaps not as convincing but the overall sound is good - however probably this is a victory of production over a relatively weak song. "Love Me Senseless" is better with the return of the strings and synth backing sound and more convincing vocals from Agnes as she explores themes of love and lust frenetically on the verses. The chorus isn't so good however - perhaps an older singer might have been more convincing on this ode to physical love. She does redeem herself on the bridge a little however as her vocals seem far more convincing.
"If I Could Build My World Around You" is a live duet with Erik Hassle, another prodigiously gifted Swedish singer. Hassle has a really soulful voice which blends beautifully with Agnes' on this Motown inspired pop song which is a real joy to listen to - although it seems a little out of place on an album which is predominantly uptempo pop dance.
The album features a few oddities including an acoustic version of "Release Me" and "On and On" which are good at showcasing the big voice Agnes undoubtedly has, but are just inferior to the originals, along with original mixes of "Big Blue Wall" and "I Need You Now" - the latter is quite interesting as it features a slower tempo and a more pronounced string section on the arrangement.
This is a great introduction to a great singer but only really has a few killer tunes. "Release Me" is in a league of its own and is strangely the only song which Agnes had a hand in writing.
That's not to say the album isn't very good, but that song casts a long shadow over what is to come and while "On and On" and "Love Love Love" are strong Euro pop-dance songs they just don't compare to the lead single.
The production on the album is overall very good. Produced by Anders Hansson, Felix Persson and Marta Grauers, they manage to keep the listener interested for most of the proceedings with copious use of strings in particular over a largely synthesiser based backing.
The only thing is sometimes it's hard to hear the essence of Agnes' voice over the jiggery pokery they have done in the studio so while the overall sound is good, one cannot help but think perhaps they are missing the point in not letting us hear her sing clearly in places. It's also worth noting that this isn't dance pop as innovative as that currently being produced by the likes of Lady Gaga - it will entertain but it's nothing groundbreaking.
Agnes' voice is remiscent of Leona Lewis' in places but I personally prefer her voice over Lewis' as it seems somehow more sincere to me. I also think the music she has released on this album is somehow more relevant - both to the music scene in general and to her as a young woman herself - than that being produced by Lewis in collaboration with Simon Cowell at Sony BMG.
I do appreciate however that her musical style will alienate a lot of people who simply don't like, or sneer at, the dance pop genre, which is a shame because it means a lot of people are missing out on an incredibly gifted young singer.
As someone who loves pure pop music I think this is an enjoyable and entertaining listen due to the production, instrumentation and vocals on here. It may not be thought provoking but it will lift your spirits and make you want to move about a bit in time to it.
You can't say fairer than that really - dance, love and pop are beautifully covered here.
I Need You Now
On and On
Sometimes I Forget
Big Blue Wall
Love Love Love
How Do You Know
Love Me Senseless
If I Could Build My Whole World Around You
Release Me (Acoustic Version)
I Need You Now (Original Mix)
On and On (Acoustic Version)
Big Blue Wall (Original Mix)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Release Me
2 I Need You Now
3 On And On
4 Secret Love
5 Sometimes I Forget
6 You Rain
7 Big Blue Wall
8 Love Love Love
9 How Do You Know
10 Love Me Senseless
11 If I Could Build My Whole World Around You (Duet With Erik Hassle) (Bonus)
12 Release Me (Acoustic Version) (Bonus)
13 I Need You Now (Original) (Bonus)
14 On and On (Acoustic Version) (Bonus)
15 Big Blue Wall (Original) (Bonus)