Amanda Jenssen

Happyland

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Happyland, the full-length follow-up to Amanda Jenssen's debut album, Killing My Darlings (2008), follows more or less in the same direction as its chart-topping predecessor, whose soul-pop style was a massive hit in Sweden and made a minor impact overseas. Though not as exciting as Killing My Darlings, which found the 2007 Idol runner-up stepping out on her own as a commercial recording artist, Happyland is fortunately more original. As many critics were quick to point out, the throwback soul-pop style of Killing My Darlings, in particular its smash hit lead single, "Do You Love Me," was highly reminiscent of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black (2006). Then again, so were innumerable hit albums at the time, from Italian singer Giusy Ferreri's Gaetana (2008) to fellow Swedish singer Veronica Maggio's Och Vinnaren Är (2008), not to mention Adele's 19 (2008) and Kate Nash's Made of Bricks (2008), two of the more successful releases by the legion of English singers following in Winehouse's footsteps. Given the deluge of retro-fashioned young female soul-pop singers out there in the music marketplace eager to take the place of Winehouse, whose self-destruction was unfortunate, it's nice to hear Jenssen coming into her own on Happyland. Once again, she teamed up with songwriting partner Pär Wiksten, the former lead singer of the alternative rock band the Wannadies. Wiksten is credited with co-producing the album and co-writing most of the music, which includes lots of horns and strings, in addition to piano, bass, drums, and light touches of guitar. Jenssen penned all the lyrics, and she absolutely shines as a vocalist, showcasing an impressive command of her talent. Moreover, she often sounds impassioned and invigorated, especially on the album-opening title track. Far and away the album's most unique and memorable song, if not necessarily the best, "Happyland" is driven by a rhythm track reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder and bolstered by a chorus of backup vocalists. The remainder of Happyland is more traditional in style, generally alternating from bouncy soul-jazz songs like "Save Me for a Day" and "The Rebounder" to ballads like "Autopilot" and "Sing Me to Sleep." The greatest strike against Happyland is that the orchestration is sometimes too much. Jenssen is a talented vocalist. She doesn't need such a big production job. Yet this pop-oriented approach is what makes her so accessible. After all, she's an Idol singer; Melody Gardot she's not.

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