Beatrice Egli - Wohlfühlgarantie (Review)


Yes, Beatrice Egli can sing. And yes, she has charisma. But no, the Swiss singer’s music ain’t that good, and I really wish she was offered material by someone who recognizes she is capable of more. Wohlfühlgarantie translates to “Feel Good Guarantee”, and in my not so humble opinion, she’s feeling way too good throughout the record, as if she is too scared to ever leave the absolute basics of what a song sounds like. In fact, she’s so comfortable in the bubble that has been created for her, she refuses to leave it even when she could explore a whole exciting world beyond.

In 2013, Egli won Deutschland sucht den Superstar, the German edition of the talent search show American Idol. Unlike most others, she was able to stay around for years to come and still plays a relevant role in the German language music industry. Dieter Bohlen, who has made hundreds of millions of euros since the 80s by writing and producing countless top ten hits in record time, and is known for his cheap, soulless and factory-like way of creating eerily successful music, was responsible for the most famous part in Egli’s discography, including her biggest hit single and signature song Mein Herz. However, Egli dropped him after two records (both of which were composed and recorded in one year), having been fed up with his ways of working on music, and one could expect that this is a sign that she finally felt free to create something more daring, or at least not as mind numbingly simple, not being restricted by her composer’s formula anymore. But no, even on her third album after the Bohlen era she’s still stuck in a musical limbo, and none of the tracks sound any different than what could have been expected from her former writer. Of course, you can’t blame her: it’s what the people want to hear, right? I mean, they must, considering her albums all went gold and platinum since her win.

Egli suffers from a similar fate many singers who won DSDS did before her. They appear at the show with the voice of an angel and a memorable personality that often adds a very personal touch to the covers she performs. Then, Dieter Bohlen, who has been part of the jury in every year since the show’s first season in 2002, writes and produces a soulless album consisting entirely of fillers for the winner in about a week (probably from a gazillion of scraps he crafted in the last four decades) so that it will top the charts before the short lived hype is over. When the public isn’t interested anymore, she drops them like hot iron and leaves them on their own, them desperately trying to somehow continue their career by themselves, but without any experience. The difference is that Beatrice Egli had the longest running hype and success of any of the show’s winners, and is still a popular singer in 2018, five years after her participation (most others were immediately forgotten after their debut, while this is already her fifth full studio album since the show). She easily found herself a bunch of professional producers and writers to assist her. However, instead of trying to give the album a new touch and show off how much better they are than Bohlen, they do their best to recreate his signature sound as close as possible. You can already tell by the album titles: Bohlen’s albums were called Glücksgefühle (“Feelings of luck”) and Pure Lebensfreude (“Pure lust for life”). Considering what this album here is called, I see a pattern.

The structure is pretty much always the same: soft techno drums, very little bass, steady synthesizers, simplistic piano melodies, compositions in major that spread a positive feeling, clean cut and overly happy lyrics and the beat of the chorus is barely different than that of the verses. I am not asking for much, and I get what she wants to be. The modern schlager pop wants to be easy digestible entertainment that’s soft enough for the older people to like yet still fresh and up to date for the younger audiences. Helene Fischer, the biggest star of the decade, added a touch of youth and energy to the genre that was lacking before and which was the reason why for years it was seen as music for the elderly, jokingly or not. But Fischer’s songwriters and producers know how to make song hits that last and speak to other listeners as well. Once you heard songs like Achterbahn, Ich will immer wieder… dieses Fieber spür’n or her blockbuster track Atemlos durch die Nacht you won’t forget them. No matter how polarizing she may be: it fully lives up to the possibilities of the genre. Egli wants to be just the same, but her music has none of these qualities. Everything, from lyrics to melody to production is unspectacular and feels rushed and manufactured. The sad thing that makes this record so frustrating is: she has huge potential to be better. Her voice is filled with natural and authentic happiness, and she has the singing talent to back it up. Many artists who perform summer hits try to sound as cheerful and come out forced and annoying. However, Egli’s attitude feels much more convincing, and even on the dullest of tracks, you can’t be mad at her, just at the writers.

It pains me to hear songs like Ich denke nur noch an mich. Not because they are entirely horrible, but because they flirt with the idea of offering variety and decent pop, but ultimately stop before it gets too ambitious. The verses are in minor key and even feature electric guitars, as well lyrics in which Egli portrays a woman who has enough of the men who play with her and declares independence. In modern schlager pop, this is actually a huge premise for a track (back in the 70s, when the genre was more influenced by the French chanson, it was often much more daring, but today it almost only consists of love songs). For a moment we have to admit: it sounds awesome. Egli’s delivery sounds truly fed up, the atmosphere is tense and the stomping beat just adds to it. It feels as if it climatically builds up to a big disco rock chorus… but no, it just changes back to her usual style: a positive, uplifting melody in major accompanied by glossy synthesizers, with the formerly dominant guitar having completely disappeared. It just shows the problem this album has in general: whenever it’s about to get interesting, it just snaps out of it and gets back to the standard sound, playing it nice and simple. Ironically, the beginning of the chorus of the next song translates to the following: “Let’s play Truth or Dare, you don’t have the courage / Are you all or nothing?”. Even more ironically, it’s the album’s best uptempo track, and possibly the only true earworm - and… are those sexual innuendos in the lyrics? Wow, I am surprised she actually went so far to hint at something going on at night.

Of course, as with every singer who has naturally good singing vocals, the true highlights are the ballads: Mein Ein und Alles and Ich steh zu dir are really tender, slow paced pieces of music that have done everything right. Unfortunately they are the only calm moments between an army of 12 upbeat tracks (except for the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, which contains a cover of Herbert Grönemeyer’s Halt mich - of course, you can’t record an equal cover of a legend’s work, but her version is just fine).

Although many people seem to think otherwise, schlager isn’t all bad per se, also the modern one isn’t. In fact, the music written for Helene Fischer is solid pop music (although it’s not really as outstanding as the record sales suggest) that has long left the limbo of beer fests and middle-aged audiences for a more diverse audience who also go to clubs or enjoy a heartfelt ballad. Same goes for the former queen of the genre, Andrea Berg, who is even the (co-)writer of most of her newer material. Schlager is ready to aim at audiences that can handle a little variety and at least some ambition, so why is Egli, who is not unlikely the youngest of the big names, still stuck in her uncomfortably comfortable zone?

A lot of people hate schlager per se, and even professional music review websites tend to give each album of the genre a 1 star rating. Let me clarify that I don’t do this. There are clear differences in quality, and when comparing Andrea Berg’s Seelenbeben from 2016 to Egli’s Wohlfühlgarantie, it’s clear who delivered the more irresistible guilty pleasure. The choruses are stuck in your ear, the happy songs fill you up with joy, the sad songs leave you heartbroken, and she even dared to write a honest song about the death of her father.
The problem with Egli is not that she performs schlager music, it’s that she performs schlager music that’s thoroughly uninspired, cheaply produced, barely memorable and not really entertaining. I don’t expect her to sing indie rock, anti-war anthems or classic soul, but her production could at least offer her something less stale and predictable. This woman is gifted with a beautiful voice and one hell of a presence, why restricting her like that?

Hearing Wohlfühlgarantie is like reliving a carnival of memories of missed opportunities. You spend your time constantly seeing what could have been done better, what choice should have been made and what might have come out if this and this would have happened. Beatrice Egli… I believe you can perform a good album. Please do me a favor and hold out for a young, fresh production team that takes risks and is in need for a singer to perform their music.