Margaret Berger

Chameleon

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Margaret Berger's debut, released five months after she placed second in the 2004 Norwegian Idol series, is -- as befits its title -- something of a stylistic shape-shifter. Its ten tracks seem to snatch indiscriminately from rock, dance, R&B, and electro, though the cumulative effect is less of a hodgepodge than a harmonious cohabitation of electronic beats and rock guitars, within a plush, polished pop context, in a manner that hasn't been particularly prevalent (in mainstream music anyway) since the '80s. As a showcase for the 19-year-old Berger's remarkably rich, mature voice, it's impressive and charismatic; as a collection of pop songs it's relatively undistinguished, although nothing here truly qualifies as filler. Even the numbers that fall flat -- the slow, bizarrely menacing electro/jazz protest song "Elephant," for instance -- have some intriguing ideas behind them. Much of the material has a dark, slightly forbidding cast that stands in contrast to your typical Scandinavian teen pop fare, but it proves well-suited to the R&B inflections Berger evinces on tracks like the slinky, disconcerting "Main Offender" and the twitchy, twangy "Lifetime Guarantee" (which comes on like a digital update of a '60s spy movie theme.) Only rarely, though, does Chameleon hint at the sweetness -- or the brilliance -- that Berger would demonstrate on her stunning sophomore set, Pretty Scary Silver Fairy -- and never more markedly than on the gently nostalgic "Both Sides," whose lovely, lilting melody, swathed in acoustic guitar, bells, and piano, offers a simple warmth that cuts through the muddled menace, sonic trickery, and dance-pop drama of the rest of the album like a sunbeam through mist.

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