Marit Larsen

Chase

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Nordic roots pop starling Marit Larsen scored her second Norwegian number one with "If a Song Could Get Me You," the utterly charming lead single from her sophomore outing The Chase (which itself debuted atop her country's album chart.) In a typically starry-eyed twist on the song-about-a-song concept, the tune finds Larsen proposing to write a song in whatever style it will take to win her beloved's affections: "I could try with a waltz/I could try rock and roll/I could try with the blues." There's no doubt that she's capable but, as it turns out, she doesn't spend much time with those styles on The Chase (though "Steal My Heart" and "I've Heard Your Love Songs" are both waltzes, and lovely ones too; respectively dainty and sumptuous). Conspicuously absent from that list are pop and country, the two genres that most closely encapsulate her general musical approach. Larsen began her professional career as one half of the teen pop act M2M, and she hasn't strayed too far from that group's trendsetting brand of earnest, accessible bubble-folk -- growing into her twenties may have helped her develop a satisfying emotional complexity to accompany her penchant for pop melodicism, but her intrinsic sweetness remains resoundingly undimmed. Meanwhile, her lavish sentimentality, narrative lyrical bent, and colorful instrumental choices (mandolin, banjo, harmonica, and dobro, along with more Baroque, orchestral touches) suggest a link with country that was evident on her solo debut and is even more pronounced here (sometime between the two albums, Larsen started a low-profile sideline stint playing in the Oslo-based traditionalist bluegrass band Elwood Caine.) Of course, there's not necessarily much of a gap between classicist songwriter pop and country music in its chart-friendly contemporary incarnation. It doesn't feel like a stretch, for instance, to describe Larsen as a Scandinavian Taylor Swift, considering that her differences from the rising country star have more to do with geography and vocal inflection than anything musically substantial (though she has a not-insignificant seven years on Swift, experience-wise.) Much like Swift's own sophomore album, which was released around the same time, The Chase is an expertly crafted musical statement that balances rootsiness and polish, leavens its maturity and poise with undeniable flashes of youthful brio, and displays considerable mainstream appeal regardless of genre classifications. Indeed, it exudes confidence, not just musical and writerly, but -- this album's most striking difference from its predecessor -- emotional as well, as Larsen chides an indecisive new lover ("Is It Love?"), announces her plans to walk out on a sleeping, unwitting partner ("Ten Steps," whose sanguine empowerment marks a complete reversal from the crippling paranoia of the debut's "This Time Tomorrow"), and reflects calmly on the existential strangeness and unsettling simplicity of post-breakup life ("This Is Me, This Is You"), all with an assertiveness and aplomb worlds away from the passivity and hesitance that permeated Under the Surface. Even as it deals with some difficult situations, then, The Chase is far from a downer; and when things are working out in Larsen's favor -- as on the light-hearted title track and preposterously giddy new love ode "Addicted" -- it's absolutely effervescent.

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