Love Is War
eing a largely-manufactured group shouldn’t preclude real emotions from coming out on your records. And real emotions don’t have to be serious, or expressed seriously. Just ask Vanilla Ninja. They’ve made a hugely successful career by making records called things like “Blue Tattoo” and “Cool Vibes.” Love Is War, their fourth album in as many years, is a defiant, triumphant pop-rock album in the style of Bon Jovi (but not Van Halen) and Bananarama (but not the Spice Girls). It comes in the wake of an acrimonious split from the manager who brought them fame across Europe.
Yet Love Is War, despite being assembled by an almost completely different team, recaptures the spark and hooks of their second album Traces of Sadness, avoiding the not-very-successful gothic tinges of pale facsimile third album Blue Tattoo. Significantly, two of the three members, Piret Järvis and Lenna Kuurmaa, have songwriting credits all over the album’s best songs.
“Kingdom Burning Down” is a terrific opening salvo, mixing rock with slight Europop flourishes (like a rockier t.A.T.u.) and a chorus big enough to fill a stadium of screaming teenage girls and children who don’t care that the instruments don’t seem to be plugged in. Kuurma in particular has grown as a vocalist, no doubt due to training (the liner notes thank a voice coach) and having settled into the role as bandleader since the departure of the original lead singer Maarja Kivi. Machine-gun guitars and drumbeats in lockstep with shouted accusations give the song a wonderful sense of punctum.
First single “Dangerzone,” a Pat Benatar-tastic, catchy pop song follows, before “The Band That Never Existed” takes things halfway to ballad territory, fusing a cute, childish narrative with a glorious classic-pop radio chorus—though the “Go get a life!” of the pre-chorus is the real highlight. “Black Symphony” strongly resembles their failed Eurovision contender “Cool Vibes” but is a much sturdier composition and its start-stop chug is great shout-along fun.
The more straightforward, grungy “Insane in Vain” steals riffs and vocal lines from at least five mid-90s alt-rock songs and is better than all of them together (unless one of them is “My Iron Lung” by Radiohead, which it may well be). Most of the expected, entertaining excesses of plastic, enjoyable stadium rock are present and correct, and the big closing ballad “Silence” is an unlikely winner as well—the blatantly oversung but underwritten chorus stays just on the right side of ridiculous and the verses have a beautiful melody as well. Even on an album whose pop is as subtle as a brick to the face, there’s enough shades and varieties to make the album interesting to listen to both as a whole and as individual singles. The one letdown is “Rockstarz,” which has a noisy but hookless chorus. Luckily, penultimate track “Bad Girls” does the same thing with more flair, more pop, and some wonderful hand-claps to boot.
Those who devoured the Kelly Clarkson singles that weren’t ballads, or the last Ashlee Simpson album would be strongly urged to investigate further.