Forget Free Fiona, Free Nelson Mandela and even Free Willy. The time has come to Free Marte Eberson.
Except that, like a magician, she’s unshackled herself from her chains already to tell us in her unique and detailed song and verse (I’ve referred to it previously as ‘Marte Pop’) about that freedom and what it means to her on what is her first solo album in seven years.
We’ve tracked many of the songs on this album as Marte has released successive singles over the last 18 months or so but there was a surprise in store when some of those tracks didn’t appear on the album while several new ones did, including an absolute corker of a final track. There’s never a dull moment in this business.
I said right from the start of the singles reviews (you can easily find them by searching for her by name on the website) that I strongly suspected this would turn out to be a concept album but that concept –live for today and prepare to take the bittersweet knockbacks on the chin – turned out differently to what I anticipated.
Marte is an inveterate story teller and doesn’t shirk the detail, warts and all. She evidently loves life with all its ups and downs, has lived a full love life too, and gives every indication on this album that she plans to carry on doing just that for as long as she can.
Being ‘free’ is central to the plan. She can’t exist within society’s boundaries be they manifested as responsibility, duty or other people’s opinions. As they say, YOLO.
She deals with some tricky subjects typically in a feisty, flirty, sometimes frivolous, and even here and there dance-y, manner. The result is more apposite than what any relationship counselor could offer a despairing couple as she ranges over the widely fluctuating emotions in the universe of lurve.
The 10 songs are little stories in their own right, chronicling, I’m sure, real life events. You could even interpret them as individual episodes of Norway’s version of Coronation Street or East Enders, with Marte playing all the emotional female roles from ‘woman scorned’ (Track 1, ‘Blood on my Fingers’) to insatiable man-hungry siren (Track 7, ‘Can’t get enough’) by way of many avenues and alleyways; and twists and turns.
In ‘White Birds’ she skillfully contrasts the white of peace, love and stability against the red (lights and flags) of conflict, hate and volatility then follows it with ‘While my baby sleeps’, a slow burner lyrically and melodically inspired by jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson’s version of ‘Guess Who I Saw Today’ and which could be a lullaby straight out of ‘It’s a wonderful world’ or any amount of similarly sentimental movies.
In ‘Come around’, which is a command, not a request, she flaunts it, with what sounds like a wolf whistle, enticing her now wide awake ‘baby’ to come over and play to the background of a wailing, anguished, lovelorn guitar solo.
The fifth track, ‘Free’ is the song the album hinges on as she describes in some detail how, for her, either love survives or it doesn’t and if he doesn’t match up to requirements he’s going to get a red card and then she follows that by a lament over the one that ‘got away’ in a brief examination of an unsuccessful pitch. It’s perfect for middle aged shoulder shakers on the dance floor with a terrific Latin beat.
Failing to score isn’t a regular feature of Marte’s lexicon though and in the very next song, ‘Can’t get enough’, an unusual product of jazz and R&B, very laid back again with an older (Forties?) feel to it, she lays straight into Mr Right, if you’ll pardon the expression.
By now you will have gleaned that this is a notably sexy album and ‘Saviour’ is the sexiest track of all with a luscious background guitar accompaniment, and in which she acknowledges the importance of Mr Right keeping his end up, when she can’t, metaphorically speaking – headaches, hair shampoo night or whatever – you know the story. Or at least that’s what it sounds like!
I can’t remember all the albums I’ve reviewed in which the best was left until last and this album rises to that challenge. While it may hinge on the fifth and title track, the ultimate one, ‘The end of us’, is the one in which she acknowledges that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t be in a romantic relationship or even a friendship if she can’t be free, arguing that it is not a case of denying responsibility, rather about taking responsibility for oneself and one’s own actions; to be free enough to be true to yourself, as she puts it.
If she was being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on the BBC’s Hard Talk programme he would probably be taking her to task over what he perceived as selfishness but in Marte’s defence you have to admire her honesty and her cojones for putting those thoughts into verse. At least any man who comes calling now will now know where he stands. He has to let his bird take wing and fly, or else. And there’s another, vaguer and more sinister, warning, “Once we thought we were special, that we were different, that was the end of us.”
‘The end of us’ is different from the rest of the album musically, sounding like a cross between what Marte used to do in her previous solo work and the songs she wrote for her band Löv on its 2020 album. It is replete with atmosphere, starts off like a clip from The War of the Worlds (which some of her relationships might have been) and then gravitates into something that sounds a little like Emmy the Great’s ‘Swimming Pool,’ all rich and cultured, while the choir could be a memorial one in a cathedral.
And that is why I’ve chosen it as the focus track.
There is a LOT going on musically across this album, with crisp bass guitar and drums contributions throughout, guitar riffs and breaks from the understated to the explosive, and big arrangements coming out of nowhere.
Marte’s jazz background is evident even if it isn’t a jazz album per se and there is something about producer Jonas Kroon’s ability to wring atmosphere out of anything he gets his hands on.
It is interesting that it is out on vinyl already because for all the latest technical trickery on show it has a slightly dated feel about it, as if it is from a different era when more thought went into relationships and whether they thrive or not, as opposed to the contemporary dial up of Tinder and TikTok as the first port of call.
Something I’ve been fascinated with since I started on the singles is the contradictory nature of some of Marte’s lyrics, which is clearly for a purpose.
Those contradictions continued right to the album’s end and you find yourself wondering does she really want to be free or will she eventually strike a deal with herself, settle for the middle ground, make a quid pro quo, but only in a relationship where she ‘wears the pants’? The seductiveness of some of her vocals, which are as close to ‘come to bed’ as it gets, suggests the latter.
Truly an International Woman of Mystery.
‘Free’ is an album you know you’d want to be playing at the beach bar while you’re sipping your sangria or necking a litre or so of San Miguel. And then later, in the bedroom, just the two of you.
Because, as Kelly Llorenna of N-Trance famously sang, only love can set you free.
There is no doubting Marte Eberson’s vast array of talent – just look at what she’s achieved already (I’ll leave it to you to do the research!). The only question is how she channels it from here on in as she reaches what, for most singer-songwriters, are their most productive years.
‘Free’ is released on 13th October on the Grappa label.
Marte and her band play a gig at Parkteatret, Oslo on November 8th, which is effectively the album release show.
The musicians on the album:
Marte Eberson – keys and vocals
Stian Larsen – guitar
Roar Nilsen – guitar and bass
Endre Hallre Hareide – bass
Audun Erlien – bass
Bjørn Ove Hagset – bass
Marius Simonsen – drums
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