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August 23, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Alice Merton album “Mint” leaves a bad taste

Mint

Alice Merton

Alice Merton broke onto the music scene in 2016 when she went straight to the top of the charts with her powerful single “No Roots.” Merton also released two other singles, “Why So Serious” and “Funny Business” in 2018. Before her album release, Merton seemed to have unyielding amounts of talent and potential. Unfortunately, the release of her 11-song debut album “Mintleaves much to be desired and suggests that the young singer might have already peaked before her true career even began.

“Mint” kicks off with “Learn To Live,” a pleasantly catchy song with danceable instrumentals. Though “Learn To Live” is enjoyable, it doesn’t allow for Merton to show off her abilities. “Learn To Live” doesn’t suit Merton’s voice at all because it forces her to sing in a high and almost pitchy range for much of the duration of the song. Merton has a powerful lower register, as displayed in “No Roots,” and it is frustrating that she opted to stray from what makes her voice great for a weaker product. It’s especially disappointing because the lyrics are robust and moving, especially when Merton sings, “They’ve got fire/ Well I’ve got lightning bolts/ They keep hunting/ Tryin’ to kill my hope.” “Learn To Live” also lacks individuality, following a similar formula to Merton’s old singles as well as the formulas of indie-style pop singers, primarily Florence + the Machine and Marina and the Diamonds. Merton emulates the singing style of these types of singers while also using similar instrumentals. All of these factors come together to create the extremely recognizable genre and style Merton is trying to emulate.

Merton latches onto the delicate yet fierce vocal stylings of both Florence and Marina and hangs on tight, barely allowing herself to truly show off her chops. Merton boxed herself in with this album and ultimately keeps herself from growing as an artist and exploring outside of her comfort zone. By sticking to her guns, Merton work ended up feeling stale and over-done. This decision is the nail in the coffin and ruins the total musical effect and quality of the album.

“Mint” also seems to have a few instances of poorly executed experimentation. For example, in “Funny Business,” the fourth song on the album, Merton tries out a voice synthesizer that throws her voice into a robotic, high-pitched melody during pieces of the chorus. It’s a truly intriguing attempt, but instead of adding anything to the listening experience, the experiment sounds horribly unpleasant and completely out of place. That being said, the rest of the song is amazing, with strong vocals and instruments, and should have gained more popularity than it did.

The problems that arise in “Learn To Live” and “Funny Business” are also prevalent throughout some of the other songs on the album. “2 Kids” does not flatter Merton’s voice in any way. “I Don’t Hold A Grudge” has a nearly identical bass riff to “Funny Business,” making it quite repetitive. “Trouble In Paradise” tries to utilize vocal percussion, but falls short, and “Why So Serious” sounds like just another dance tune that could have been released by anyone else.

Although there are numerous problems with many of the songs on “Mint,” Merton deserves praise where it is due. Not every song is a boring, formulaic concoction of other music or an unflattering experiment gone wrong. “Homesick,” “Lash Out” and “Speak Your Mind” are hands down the strongest songs on “Mint.” Every one of these tunes does something different from the indie-pop image Merton has been known for in the past. “Lash Out” and “Speak Your Mind” have a touch of rock in them, with headbanging drums, electric guitar and Merton’s voice sitting comfortably in a deeper, favorable range. “Homesick” utilizes plucky piano chords and strumming with a hint of electronic synthesized beats that come together perfectly with Merton’s rounded voice in a compelling symphony of sounds.

Even songs that are weaker, like “Learn to Live,” bring something to the table. Although these shaky additions aren’t clever and leave the listener wanting more, each song is danceable and fun. Not all are nearly as well-written or performed as others, but they still boast fun instrumentals that help redeem them.

Merton presents a few stand-out pieces with exceptional composition and execution, and every single song was thoroughly enjoyable despite its setbacks, but ultimately, the album brings very little to the table. Many of the songs rely too heavily on techniques and sounds that have already been mastered many times over by other indie-esque pop artists. While Merton has shown similarities to these singers in the past, it’s still disappointing that she didn’t use her debut album as a means to display what she’s really capable of.