Anneke Van Giersbergen has long been a revered vocalist in the world of metal and progressive music. Rising to prominence thanks to her stunning performance on The Gathering’s seminal ‘Mandylion’ album, hers is a voice to fall in love with, a voice that can reach dreamy highs and sweep through epic valleys; a voice that conveys power and emotion in equal measure (listen to the sense of joy she conveys on Devin Townsend’s ‘addicted’ album for example) and a voice that can deeply under the skin no matter what musical vehicle she lends her considerable talents to. ‘Drive’ is Anneke’s fifth solo album and one that arrives after its predecessor met with considerable success. Drawing upon the strength of her live band, all of whom were actually in the studio with Anneke rather than coldly exchanging files on line, the result is a rich and rather wonderful mix of nitrous-powered pop, stadium-threatening rock and yearning ballads.
As soon as the first track, the powerful opener ‘we live on’ kicks in you can feel the benefit of Anneke working so closely with her band. You can also tell that her recent work with Devin on ‘Addicted’ and ‘Epicloud’ have had an impact, Anneke neatly tapping into that sane vein of epic pop music with a metallic twist that made those albums so riotously enjoyable. In contrast ‘treat me like a lady’ is pure pop music, crafted by a flesh and blood band with attitude, but pop music nonetheless which, back in the eighties and early nineties when such things were respected, would have carried its way to the top of the charts and lodged there. The music is effervescent, full of the energy that Anneke seems to bring to every project she is involved with, and the band bring a vitality to the sound that no amount of expensive programming could simulate. The pace softens for the initially gentle ‘she’, which tells a sad story before exploding into a neon-lit chorus complete with ‘woahs’ and a melody that is utterly irresistible. In truth so few artists make music such as this anymore that it stands out as being refreshingly different to anything SonicAbuse has heard in recent years, but for loose reference points the metal-tinged pop rock of Veruca Salt, the gathering at their most pop-infused, Genesis towards the end of their career and Devin Townsend’s recent joyous outings all fly past the flashing windows of Anneke’s ever-moving pop vehicle and it’s impossible not to be drawn into its strangely backwards looking soundscapes. Take the title track for example, the guitar sound of which is straight out of the Dire Straits book of phased pop gloss, the keyboards drawn from the cheesiest euro-pop anthems and the four-to-the-floor disco beat enough to make you feel you’ve put on the wrong album except… except it isn’t the wrong album at all. It’s simply a song that could have been recorded quite happily in the eighties, nineties or early thousands, supercharged by Anneke’s stunning voice and electric personality. It’s impossible to tear yourself away even though it is musically quite unlike anything you might have expected to find yourself listening to.
The pace changes once more for the staring-out-into-the-rain ballad of ‘my mother said’ which in the hands of a lesser artist would be impossibly trite and yet played here, with Anneke’s unfailingly excellent voice it is elevated to something far more special than that, tugging at the heartstrings no matter how cynical you might like to pretend you are to the outside world. ‘Forgive me’ is a guitar driven blast of pop-rock with a chugging guitar riff and plenty of electricity crackling through its chorus, which sees the title of the song almost wailed out with unhinged abandon, the odd phrasing of which almost slips into Bjork territory, albeit a Bjork powered by a thousand pounds of TNT lashed to her wispy Icelandic frame. ‘You will never change’ sees the vein of quirkiness continue with Anneke’s voice tripping over the punky guitars of the verse before crashing headlong into a blazing chorus that shines out with an intensity that no modern pop act could match in a million years. One of the most exotic tracks on the album, ‘Mental jungle’ has a taut Eastern feel to it which is quite unexpected and which adds yet another layer to the myriad sounds already represented on this album. Another track which draws on that oh-so-familiar eighties pop guitar sound is the unbelievably gorgeous ‘shooting for the stars’ which somehow taps into a vein of nostalgia whilst sounding as forward looking and fresh as everything else on the album, a trick only Anneke and Devin Townsend seem to be able to pull off. The album closes with ‘the best is yet to come’, a driving, furiously energetic slab of pop-rock that leaves you with the feeling that you’ve fallen in love with Anneke’s majestic voice all over again.
It is fair to say that this album will not appeal to those whose appetites are purely metallic, but for those who occasionally (or even regularly) indulge in music with a lighter touch, this is a fine pop album with plenty of bite. It is difficult now to use the word ‘pop’ without images of Lady Gaga or One direction springing unbidden to mind, but pop music, for a time, was a fine genre in its own right with acts like tears for fears, Genesis, Bjork and Belinda Carlisle all representing the face of popular music made by real bands with a penchant for melody and genuine talent with their instruments. Anneke returns us to that time, her stunning voice backed by strong songs that can only come from genuine inter-band collaboration, rather than the more commonly heard sound of a soulless diva backed by a producer’s idea of what constitutes a ‘hit’. There is blood on these tracks – power, emotion, love, loss and excitement and if you love melody and bite in equal measure then there is no doubt that ‘drive’ is the album for you.