Sometimes you find something in a place where you did not expect it to be. An atheist at church. A dog at a cat rescue. Another thin analogy within a blog. Maybe the last one is to be expected, but this is what Maria Mena is to me. I didn’t know I’d be looking to a Norwegian pop star for some of the most honest lyrics and emotion surrounding everything from relationships to growing up as a child in a broken household. This is a blessing and curse for Maria as some of her lyrics come across heavy handed, at times narcissistic or at their worst, even whiny, but more on that later.
From a musical perspective, Maria is hard to compare to your everyday American pop singer. There’s nothing overly complex vocally or within the musical backing. It’s a lot of piano with a random smattering of synths, guitar and drums. Very rarely upbeat, but not always a complete drag either. She’s a bit like late-90′s Tori Amos if Tori Amos was completely uninterested in being unique and with a voice that is subtlety beautiful. You won’t hear Maria go on any ridiculous Mariah Carey runs and that’s fine by me.
Mena’s last album, Viktoria, was very obviously saw Maria working her way through being cheated on for the majority of the album. Needless to say, the album had a mood that can only be describe as a black cloud hanging over one’s head. Viktoria wasn’t any sort of stylistic shift for Maria when compared to her past work, but a logical progression.
Weapon in Mind differs from Viktoria in two ways. Maria is clearly much happier with life and this is the first time she has tried to push her music in a direction that she hasn’t before. Whether it’s on All The Love which has an uptempo pseudo-EBM beat with some digital chopping and screwing of her voice on the chorus or to a post-something-or-other guitar backing in Madness, Maria is trying a few different things here and there, but it sill all sounds very much like you’d expect, if you know her past work.
Some of the pushing forward works well, some of it does not. On the opening track, she literally screams “SHIT JUST GOT” and then whines “Interesting” for the chorus. It is… interesting, just maybe not for the right reasons. On Fuck You, a track with a little more digital vocal manipulation (thankfully not auto-tune) but that song should fall flat with anyone above the age of 20 because it is lyrically one of the more ridiculous songs that’s crossed my ears in quite some time. Of course that’s subjective and her intent is good (the song is directed both at digital bullies and critics who feel pretty comfy attacking her behind a keyboard), but it feels way too ham -handed.
Maria’s happiness has also given the entire an album a completely different feel from her last. While there’s nothing wrong with getting happy and having it infect everything you do, Maria’s just less interesting when singing about the positives of love versus the problems she’s had with it. Lovey-dovey songs can be good (I’ll point to Lamb as an example) and Maria pulls a few off fairly well. You Make Me Feel Good is pretty catchy, the following Caught Off Guard, Floord By Love has a chorus that sweeps in and commands attention. As a whole, however, the album’s much more upbeat both in mood and meaning and it’s less interesting than the Maria Mena of Viktoria.
There’s still some issues Maria’s gotta work out, of course, so there’s still some fantastic melancholy to be found. Madness has the feel of a track off Victoria while Maria sings about what she finds to be madness, the fact someone would want to be with her long term. This track has the most emotion behind it, when she sings the lead in to the chorus you get a little sense of the confusion she feels with her relationship. On You’re All Telling Stories, she’s clearly got an issue with someone’s opinion and while the track doesn’t have a heaviness to it, it does give some feeling that she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve.
All in all, Weapon In Mind is a step down from her last 3 albums overall, but still has listenable moments and I think this will appeal to her fans overall, just maybe not the ones who looked to her to get through harder times.
Overall: 3.5 / 5.0
Listen if you like: A girl with a decent voice singing over a lot of piano