CD Review: J. Freedom Du Lac on 'Fortress 'Round My Heart' by Ida Maria

Ida Maria, who hails from Norway, delivers a debut album with a full-throttle opener and a much-subdued closing track.
Ida Maria, who hails from Norway, delivers a debut album with a full-throttle opener and a much-subdued closing track. (Universal Music Group)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen's introduction to the international pop scene was a scream. Literally.

Sivertsen, whose nom de music is simply Ida Maria, came caterwauling out of the gates just over a year ago with "Oh My God," an insistent slice of musical agita in which the nervy young Norwegian sings and bleats about her existential crisis. "Find a cure/Find a cure for my life," she begs over a tension-building two-note guitar riff before landing on the explosive chorus: "Oh my God/Oh, you think I'm in control?"

Maria sings with undeniable urgency throughout the delirious, dynamic song; that's particularly true in the final third, when she maniacally shrieks the titular refrain, turning an expression of astonishment into a primal therapeutic tool as her backing band kicks out a thrashy jam.

Rarely has pop catharsis sounded so compelling -- or catchy -- making "Oh My God" one of the great singles of 2008.

That track and several subsequent singles (not least, the frisky, high-fructose pop-rocker "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked") have made Maria, at 24, a minor star -- though not yet one in the United States, where her first full-length album, "Fortress 'Round My Heart," is only now washing ashore, roughly nine months after its European release.

It's a bracing but uneven debut whose polished production values occasionally seem to be at odds with Maria's raw, husky vocals -- and whose sequencing is a total disaster: The album begins with the visceral kick of "Oh My God," as thrilling an album-opener as you'll likely hear all year, but it ends with a whimpering acoustic ballad, "In the End." It's as if the lovable raving lunatic of the opening rave-up has been shot with a tranquilizer gun and replaced by a Nico tribute singer in a sinister bit of musical bait-and-switchery.

But when she's good -- which is to say, when she doesn't sound sedated -- Ida (pronounced "EEE-dah") Maria is often great. In those moments, she sounds something like PJ Harvey with singalong choruses and actual musical hooks, or maybe Kelly Clarkson with a shard of glass in her pumps and some Jack Daniels in her glass, as on as the drunk-dial confessional, "Louie." The carefree, impossibly catchy youth anthem "Queen of the World" opens with a request: "Whiskey please/I need some whiskey please."

"Fortress 'Round My Heart" may take its title from a line in "Oh My God," but the album's lyrics often center on the pool of alcohol around Maria's liver. Except when she's singing about love, God and prostitutes in "Stella," a power-pop song whose lyrical depth and raw, riveting vocal add up to yet another standout, thus confirming that Ida Maria is a Scandinavian sensation worth screaming about.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Oh My God," "Queen of the World," "Stella"

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