My Italian Greyhound
ow five albums into her career, Bertine Zetlitz has achieved enormous commercial and critical success in her native Norway without making so much as a dent outside Europe. This probably doesn’t bother her in the least. Being famous and successful means she gets to make strange music videos in which she gets to chase after women with phallic objects. It also means she gets to put out albums which are lush, expansive, simultaneously retro and modern and quite brilliant—and enough people will buy them that she can do it all over again every two years
My Italian Greyhound boasts creative, playful production by Pleasure, but the real star is Bertine’s skewed songwriting, which plays out as some kind of psychosexual melodrama, in which she is the hunter and the hunted, moving between fixation, obsession, and regret while never once being anything other than accessible, interesting pop music.
The singles “500” and “Midnight” are but the tip of the iceberg; cool, detached pop both, seemingly looking at the before and after of lust and fascination with confident, catchy melodies that belie the rueful narratives they weave. “Midnight” especially bears a strong 80s influence, recalling Eurythmics and Madonna at their finest. “Draggin’ Me Down” has a tough, elastic-band synth-bass groove, amazing lyrics about a dog called Suzi-Q, and an aura of sheer menace.
At its simplest and most catchy, such as on “Sleep Through the Storm,” Bertine’s way with a tune is not that dissimilar to fellow Scandinavian Robyn. Her stories, though, are far more disturbed. “Obesssion,” an early standout, mixes fairly banal lyrics with one single line that could floor you if it catches you unaware—“you’re the only one I’ve ever made a home for in my heart,” delivered with the coolness of a woman with her hand on her gun and the other woman in her sights. Its technicolour keyboards and snapping, sashaying drums make for a woozy effect, keeping with the demented lyrical tone.
“Get What You Deserve” sounds like prime Fleetwood Mac, but Bertine sings it as herself, sighing wistfully while she breaks your heart with each elongated word, audible breath or weeping pedal steel. Likewise, “This Moment”—an affecting, doomed love song—sounds like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” filtered through Moloko’s “The Time Is Now.” If her previous album Rollerskating was buried in the romantic, My Italian Greyhound is more about unhealthy kinds of love—insecure, longing, defensive, and protective.
The range of styles covered over the album, even within the template of electro-pop is fairly impressive, but closer “I’ll Be Fine” might just beat anything else here: it’s almost like a power ballad in its composition and defiance, but set to synths and backwards beats with a backing vocal swoon of the type that melts hearts and brings tears to eyes. It also bites “Leaving on a Jet Plane” on the lyric sheet.
Bertine’s way with a tune and ability to craft one or two memory-resident, devastating lines mark her as a distinct talent. It won’t make her a star outside Scandinavia. Freed from the commercial need to cross over, secure in her fanbase and popularity, My Italian Greyhound is a gifted, ambitious pop artist at the absolute height of her game.
Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz
Reviewed on: 2006-09-27