Maria Mena

White Turns Blue

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The right time for Norway's Maria Mena to try and break America is 2004. As Britney's star falls further with each PR gaffe, Avril and fellow travelers like Katy Rose and Fefe Dobson find more and more favor. These girls, not yet women, might rock with production slickness, but self-examination, confidence, and even fear have soundly taken the place of empty objectification. Appropriately, "You're the Only One," Mena's wonderful debut single, rides its waves of emotion in the giddy first person. "You're the only one who/Holds my hair back/When I'm drunk and get sick," she sings over understated guitar and an insistent kick drum. "You're the only one who/Drags me kicking and screaming through fast dreams." Her giggly, lovestruck delivery is so wide-eyed and guileless that the lyrics are like diary entries, complete with hearts and stars doodled in the margins. "Fragile (Free)" is even more direct. Even if it sort of sounds like the acoustic verses to Skid Row's "I Remember You," Mena's tearful declaration to buck up and get over a breakup is doggone inspiring. If there was ever a time for a "You go, girl!," this would be it. Musically, White Turns Blue is the product of its producer and arranger -- and co-writer with Mena -- Arvid Solvang. This means it's kind of tentative sometimes, like they're not sure what to do with her talent. It favors simplistic pop arrangements, where quietly urgent verses give way to hooky choruses ("Blame It on Me," for example). Luckily, Mena's voice is a beguiling mixture of youth and husky sensuality. She's great when she's happy, like in the winter romance and chunky electric guitars of "Take You With Me." But she's better in "Your Glasses," where her voice wavers with bruised pride. You can really feel her trying to grasp the relationship's dissolution. Other highlights include the piano-inflected, Elton John-style ballad "Shadow," as well as "What's Another Day," with its disarming lyrical asides. "'You know concrete colored buildings all grow stale!/You say as I look up dreaming." White Turns Blue is actually Mena's European LP Mellow, filled out for Yanks with a few of her early singles. But the package is a solid domestic debut for Mena. If she loses just a bit of the pop sheen, she'll be awesome.

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