Nena

Chokmah

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Warning: Too much Chokmah can upset your equilibrium. Not even Nena herself expected this album to become what it turned out to be. From 1999 to spring 2001 she had written a sizeable collection of (unreleased) new songs, some of which she had even started playing on-stage during those years to great effect. Nevertheless, in a unique decision, as soon as her new producer and songwriting partner, Florian Sitzmann, suggested that she disregard those songs and start the new album with him from scratch, she agreed. The resulting songs they created turned out to be a clear departure from what anyone was ever used to from Nena. Listeners suddenly find her engulfed in soundscapes that bear close relation to those used by Björk or Radiohead (featured elements ranging from electronics to symphony orchestra), which also means that this album's mood is radically different from all her previous albums. In keeping with that, Nena's singing is uncharacteristically sullen, but with the added surprise bonus of odd new kinds of flourishes that pop up during the journey through this album's strange new territory -- even oriental-sounding melody lines make a number of fitting appearances throughout. Nena took her cue for this album from one lone lyric fragment ("Das schockt mein system," meaning "shocking my system") and its sound affinity to a term from Jewish Kabbala mysticism that she had heard of by chance around that time: "chokmah" (meaning -- among other things -- wisdom/energy/transformation). That might look like Nena has "gone new age," but luckily that's not the case. All the lyrics of the new songs are variations on one common theme (a theme that Nena has touched on regularly throughout her career): contemplating the worth of consciously facing life's contradictions and trying to transform that consciousness into a kind of creative energy. The album sort of asks the question: How does it feel to try to live life without holding on to any "isms" anymore? Nena obviously recommends that approach for herself, but -- in keeping with the openness of that approach- there is nothing dogmatic about the lyrics. Although that's pretty life-affirming, it's not a very comfortable proposition as such, and the combined weight of the album's songs is not easy to bear. What we do have here, however, is the most ambitious collection of music Nena has ever presented. Although some of the songs slightly suffer from over-arrangement, there are a number of absolute triumphs on this album. The highlights (about 50 percent of the album) are perfectly arranged, confidently elegant, and powerful songs like "Silbermond" or "Du Gibst," to name but two. The other half of the songs are close behind in quality, but watch out -- there's no denying the downbeat feel of the album when listened to as a whole. Listened to individually, however, these new songs are quite a joy -- the difference in effect really is that pronounced. For instance, when listening all the way through the length of the album (at over 70 minutes, it's Nena's longest-ever album), after all the studied elegance, it's quite a relief to hear Nena reverting to rocking-out mode on the hidden track at the end -- and that's a trait she made clear (in interviews after the album's release) that she was in fact not about to give up. The intention was rather to integrate her newfound style and scope into the kind of music she's famous for.

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