Sunday, August 5, 2012

Heather Nova's Breakup Album: Storm

The Good: Beautiful lyrics and voice, Nice musical sound
The Bad: Thematically depressing, Obvious titles
The Basics: In her least-rock album, Heather Nova's amazing voice and lyrics guide the listener through the sadnesses that accompany the loss of love.

Heather Nova is a vastly underappreciated musical artist whose closest brushes with success in the United States came in the forms of her single "Walk This World," which charted in the mid-90s and the appearance of her single "Heart and Shoulder" on the television show Felicity. There's no accounting for taste in the U.S. and, sadly, Heather Nova's last two albums have not been released in the States. The first album that one must import if they are a fan of Heather Nova is Storm. Storm follows up Nova's two perfect albums, Siren and South. Unfortunately, Nova's use of a one word "S"-titled album falls slightly off the perfection she had achieved.

Storm is an emotive storm, so the album is aptly named. Unfortunately for the listener, this is an unrelentingly depressing album. Where South is about holding relationships together, Storm is all about the ends. It's all endings, like watching The Empire Strikes Back eleven times back to back. The closest to hope one gets in this outing is in the title track, the singer implores - after everything is torn apart - "Maybe we can start again?" This is not a cheery album.

Fortunately, it is an exceptionally well-done album. This album reminds one of Nova's first full album, Glowstars. It has an often-acoustic quality that reminds the listener of Nova's start. Storm is stylistically what one would expect of an artist continuing in the tradition of Glowstars after a decade of growth. Again fortunately for the listeners, the albums in between radically departed from the mold of Glowstars.

So, other than making one want to end their own life, Storm's other detraction is in the titles. All of the titles to the songs are obvious. There is no subtlety to them. Almost all of them derive their title from a word in the refrain. There's something insulting about a song called "Aquamarine" where the first, longingly sung word is "aquamarine." Sigh.

Storm came into my life when I was terribly depressed by my circumstances. I had experienced a huge loss and Storm didn't much improve my mood. But it did allow me to wallow and consider my positions. It's a sad album. Unrelenting. Even the lyrically upbeat song "I Wanna Be Your Light" is sad. Heather Nova sings it as a plea, a would-be lover begging for attention, trying desperately to make life better for a partner. And, without resolution to the song, one is left wondering at her success.

So, why bother with this album, especially if you are happy? First off, Heather Nova is an amazing poet. She has poetic vision that transcends a great spectrum. She simply captures the angst and emptiness of a breakup on “Storm” (the single) when she sings "The wind / The rain / The storm will wash us clean again" and she grapples with more complex lines on "All I Need" when she sings "Can we love each other? / And respect each other? / Find some joy together / That's all I need."

Moreover, Heather Nova has an amazing soprano voice. On "All I Need," she lilts, on Storm, she evokes the power and soullessness of a natural disaster. All from one voice. She has terrific range. For an album with a light rock, acoustic-feeling sound, none of the tracks sound like each other. That's a strength. Nova is able to keep her sound fresh and new and it works. This is especially important on an album that is so thematically focused.

Nova's other strength comes from the fact that the lines she sings are all her own. She sings them so soulfully because she is intimately familiar with them. These are pieces of her essence. If you're not familiar with Nova's work and are depressed already, this is a great entree into her greatness. When you're in a better place, there are her other albums.

This is definitely a more mellow album than any of Nova's previous outings and it fits the theme of the work. Heather is accompanied on piano or light guitars, but the real instrument is her voice playing her lines. This is not for someone looking for a good time or looking for an upbeat musical experience. But if you want soft and sad, this is definitely worth importing.

The best track is “Storm” and the weak link is the infidelity ballad "One Day In June." A strong album, though its power is to evoke sadness and melancholy.

For other Heather Nova album reviews, please be sure to check out:
Live From The Milky Way
The Jasmine Flower
300 Days At Sea


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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