omewhere between the slick, danceable sophisti-pop of the nineties and the TRL-ready teen pop of today, there dwells a certain pasty loveliness on the Oslo Fjord. You may have a certain lass in mind with a parallel criterion, and if you guessed Annie, well, you’d be close. So close, in fact, that upon shuffling Rollerskating with tracks from Anniemal, one might be unable to distinguish one Norwegian semi-starlet from the other. In any case, Bertine Zetlitz (formerly just “Bertine”) actually got there before her much hyped contemporary. And by “getting there,” we’re not talking about blog-hype. We’re talking actually having a chart hits already.
But despite her all-around likeability, Bertine desperately lacks stateside exposure, which is a shame, considering she seems so well primed for domestic marketing. Her glossy, placid production is at once summery and wintry, and her polite accent would be decidedly comfy and non-alien to most English-speaking ears. Her recent singles “Fake Your Beauty” and “Ah-Ah” seem to be doing well on MTVe, with gorgeous, high-budget videos to boot. Even so, US press and radio have yet to acknowledge her, and most of the North American folks at EMI are completely oblivious to her. To put it into perspective, none of the people that I queried at Astralwerks or Capitol (both of which are EMI-owned) had even heard tale of Bertine.
Ah, well. Having seen a pic of her swanky, cozy tour bus, I can’t say I feel sorry for her. She’s doing fine. But I want her to be doing fine here. And sometime within the duration of my many hours spent listening to Rollerskating, I decided she deserves it.
Upon discussing the pleasures of this record, it’d be especially testing to do so without comparing it to the “other girl’s” record, Annie’s 2004 publicity fest Anniemal. On an individual song-by-song basis, Rollerskating is a step beneath its nemesis. There are no “Heartbeat” or “Me Plus One” equivalents in Bertine’s oeuvre. But what Anniemal lacked and Rollerskating has is the formula for any classic pop album: several great upbeat dance tracks, a few bona fide slow-dance ballads, and a couple in-betweens. To her credit, Annie did have the slow-moving “My Best Friend,” but it was never really cited as an Anniemal favorite, nor is it one of the album’s better tracks. On the contrary, Bertine’s soft-sung lullaby “Broken” hits the spot without question. On top of that, Rollerskating is equipped with several other unhurried make out tracks to complement the thoughtful dance floor packers.
Behind the boards, Rollerskating is less elaborate than Anniemal or Bertine’s 2003 effort, the Richard X-co-produced Sweet Injections. The songs are more organic and punctuated and less awash in showroom studio tactics than either of those albums. It has a polished live disco orientation that works exceptionally well. This is especially the case for the title track, which sounds like a moonlit jam session between The Neptunes and St. Etienne. The latest single, “Ah-Ah,” lacks a true hook but makes up for it with minstrelesque acoustic guitar riffs, fantasy flutist synth work and an incredible music video shot in icy, presumably Scandinavian regions.
Bertine’s few bad marks will tend to come back to her lack of a characteristic singing voice. As far as technicalities are concerned, she’s a perfectly accomplished vocalist, and her well-bred voice is indeed an appropriate backdrop to her pop escapades. The exact same dissuasions can be made about Annie (yeah, more of her), as the girls are strikingly similar in front of the mic. But while Bertine may be short of the trademark squawk of a Gwen Stefani or the timid, youthful finesse of a Kylie Minogue, she focuses on the record, and she’s all the better for it.
Reviewed by: Will Simmons
Reviewed on: 2005-04-20