Bertine Zetlitz

In My Mind 1997-2007: Best of Bertine Zetlitz

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One of Norway's most popular artists -- predictably (and unjustly) obscure in the rest of the world -- Bertine Zetlitz gets a well-deserved career retrospective in this consistently excellent collection that compiles all of her singles to date. In My Mind, which arrived during a performing hiatus following the birth of her first child, is somewhat inexplicably titled after a good but unexceptional ballad from her debut, which is not included here -- a more appropriate title might have been "Twisted Little Star," which apart from being possibly the most gorgeous song she's ever written is also an apt description of her perverse, cryptic lyrical tendencies. The non-chronological sequencing, though it doesn't necessarily make for a more effective listening experience than any given randomly selected order of these tracks, does commendably emphasize the cohesion and continuity of her body of work rather than the discernible but relatively incidental changes in her sound. Ten years is quite a long time in electronic dance music, and it's impressive that these selections, which span the late '90s to the late '00s, hang together as well as they do. Crucially, they strike an elegant balance between (often retro-inspired) trendiness and a distinct, sophisticated sonic identity (involving, notably, a blend of electronic and organic instrumentation), along with Zetlitz's consistently strong songwriting. Her 1998 debut, Morbid Latenight Show (the only one of her five albums to be released in the U.S., under the far less distinctive name Bertine), is well represented by four tracks of jazzy lounge-pop which have aged reasonably well (particularly the straightforward club cut "Getting Out,") while the more complex, decidedly darker albums Beautiful So Far and Sweet Injections yield three cuts apiece -- several trip-hop-inflected gems and twisted dance-pop nuggets, and the lovely ballad "Fate" (presented in the fuller, more radio-friendly Disclab version.) If there's any quibble to had with the selection, it's that the two fantastic albums Zetlitz made with Fred Ball (aka Pleasure), 2004's Rollerskating and 2006's My Italian Greyhound, are shortchanged, with only two tracks apiece. Admittedly, these songs -- Zetlitz's four highest-charting Norwegian singles except for the Richard X-produced "Girl Like You" -- were the only singles released from each of these albums, but it's a shame the rules couldn't have been fudged to allow such top-notch album tracks as Greyhound's "Obsession" and "Draggin' Me Down," or Rollerskating's breathtaking ballads "Broken" and "If You Were Mine." Zetlitz was on a tremendous roll in the years leading up to this compilation, and that's reflected in two new songs (perhaps modestly slotted at the end of the track list) which, in contradiction to typical wisdom about these things, are as strong as anything else on the disc: the unsettling, melodically ethereal "Ashamed," which sets the fears and anxieties of motherhood to a slinky electro groove, and the artlessly bittersweet, resigned ballad "Bubble Bursts." Unlike fellow Scandinavian pop trailblazers Robyn and Annie, who have at least made some inroads towards international awareness, Bertine remains a virtual unknown outside of Europe, but her work is every bit as inventive, idiosyncratic, personable, accomplished, and worth seeking out -- this compilation makes for an ideal place to start.

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