Today’s POP RESCUE from a loveless fate, is the 1999 debut album Playing My Game from Norwegian singer and songwriter Lene Marlin.
I was aware of this album when it was brand new, as many friends harked about it, and were surprised that it wasn’t in my collection. So, stumbling across it, I thought I better find out what’s so great about it… albeit 16 years later.
The album opens with the big hit Sitting Down Here which is a gentle acoustic guitar meandering. Straight away, I’m reminded of how by 1999 we’d found Alanis Morrisette, Natalie Imbruglia and The Corrs, and Lene Marlin fits right in amongst these acts. This song is catchy, it feels summery and light. The guitars are delicate, and the bass line gently prods it along.
The title track is up next – Playing My Game. This is a slow ballad, again with guitar, but this is joined by some soft dreamy synth pad sounds that sound like they’ve been borrowed from William Orbit and his Ray Of Light album with Madonna. This track allows Lene to show off her rich vocals, although they don’t really have much of a chance to show off a range here.
Intricate guitar opens debut single Unforgivable Sinner, which was a moderate #13 hit single in the UK. This one definitely fits in with the likes of Imbruglia’s hit Torn. It has plenty of acoustic strumming, but also plenty of ‘go’ in it too. It’s up-beat, catchy, and deserved to be a bigger hit than it was.
Flown Away is next, and this song whilst inoffensive, just sounds quite dull, probably because it is so slow. It feels like something that even Enya might have passed over, and the lyrics are slightly cringeworthy.
The is followed by The Way We Are, which returns the pace – opening with a nice guitar loop. Lene’s vocals dance gently over this intro as the beats and bass come in. This is a great contrast to the previous track and probably should have been a single.
Growling guitars burst in next track So I See, and this song is much stronger. The guitars stick around, joined by piano, and some synth strings. Musically this is a really good song, but vocally, Lene feels somewhat lost here, and like she’s struggling a little to be heard during the chorus. She’s fine during the verses. This song is where she most sounds like Alanis.
Maybe I’ll Go returns us back to mellow again, pitching her against bass and piano, whilst some gentle synthscapes evolve in the background like a Casio Choir, occasionally joined by someone turning a rain stick. Lene’s vocals are rich and warm here, and simple.
Up next is Where I’m Headed, which picks the pace up again, but this does sound quite a bit like hit Sitting Round Here. It has a nice intro that fades in, leading you into a warm, acoustic guitar-led song. Lene makes easy work of the lyrics here. This was the third and final UK single, which reached #31, and was taken from the soundtrack of Mauvaises Fréquentations (1999).
Penultimate track One Year Ago is a gentle wafting song, again laden with acoustic guitars. By the time of the chorus, some drifting electric guitars join in just to help pull it all together and make it at least somewhat memorable. This is quite a nice song over all.
The album closes with the tinkling piano of A Place Nearby, but whilst it’s a nice little ballad with lots of space for both the bass, piano, and Lene’s vocals to shine, the lyrics do feel a bit like a teenage girl singing.
Over all, this album would have been perfectly fitting for the late 90s chart, amongst the ranks of Alanis, Natalie Imbruglia, and perhaps even Dido. Aside from two of the singles (Sitting Round Here, Unforgivable Sinner), The Way We Are is the other gem on this album. The rest of the songs, whilst nice enough in a Dido way, aren’t particularly memorable.
Where is Lene Marlin now?
Lene Marlin released her fourth album Here We Are – Historier så langt in 2013. However, her second album stalled at #93 in the UK charts in 2003, and she has never charted here since.
She has had much greater success in her native Norway, and also in Taiwan and Italy.
Lene was one of the co-writers credited for writing the title track from Rihanna‘s 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad.
pop rescue rating
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1999 UK CHART POSITION: #18, certified Platinum.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.50 from a Cancer Research UK store.