Barbara Schöneberger - Eine Frau gibt Auskunft (Review)

Eine Frau gibt Auskunft

Barbara Schöneberger is a popular German television host who has become notorious for her likable directness and cheeky comments,who one day decided she also needs to try out singing. She wouldn’t be the first celebrity to attempt starting a musical career despite not being initially known for her singing. In recent years, it’s YouTubers who all release music albums, often with the sole intention of multiplying their income (after all, music still sells best with the youth). Of course, not all of these projects turned out bad, but some were. While ApeCrime made some thoughtful trap music with lyrics that actually criticize modern mentality on Exit, Leon Machère’s weak rapping attempts on F.A.M.E., with inconsistent themes, basic rhymes and clumsy vocals remain among the most underwhelming works of the decade. Also other stars have gotten themselves record to expand their career in the decades before - we remember the albums by K-Fed or Paris Hilton. Let me use this occasion to clarify that despite popular belief I didn’t hate Paris. It’s a completely basic pop record that stays within a commercially acceptable comfort zone, is professionally produced and written, and never dares to become any ambitious. That’s not worth AllMusic’s 4 and a half stars (which they could have better awarded to Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, Sarah Connor’s Unbelievable or Beyoncè’s I am… Sasha Fierce), but it’s not worth hate either. And even in this year, classy burlesque dancer Dita von Teese released her first musical output, surprisingly far off-mainstream, but suffering from thin vocals. In conclusion, although quite often media personalities don’t take their musical adventures all too seriously, it’s not always terrible, sometimes it’s just average, and every once in a while it’s good. Sometimes, but not always, this has to do with whether the music has been manufactured for her, or was made with their involvement.

Eine Frau gibt Auskunft (“a woman gives information”) is not Barbara Schöneberger’s debut album. In fact, it’s her fourth - the first one was released in 2007.
In the past, her reviews were never as disastrous as one could expect. Although she was never praised as outstandingly great, neither was she harshly panned like so many others before her. Nevertheless, it’s her first record that actually received notable attention, and managed to peak at number 15 on the German charts. That’s certainly not a blockbuster, but it was noticed.

Since she’s been in the music business for over a decade now despite poor sales, I think it’s safe to say that she actually sings because she likes doing it, and not to make a quick buck out of her well known name. A good thing about her is that she never claims to be more than she is: a woman who will probably never be known as a big pop star, but who just gives her best and has fun doing so. It’s a nice touch that she shows a healthy amount of self irony. After all, her debut is called Jetzt singt sie auch noch! (“Now she’s singing too on top!”), hinting that maybe the world wasn’t exactly anticipating her music career. It’s that level of humor that makes her albums far more pleasant than those of other celebrities who try to compete with the big pop stars. At age 44 and well known for her repartee, she knows that she can’t credibly pose as a seductive RnB singer. Instead, her role is that of a woman who always gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop but takes it with quick witted humor, often with a more traditional, swing inspired musical style. It’s clear that her target audience isn’t a young one wanting the next danceable chart hit, but a mature one that has already experienced several relationships, jobs, daily routines, disappointments, and maybe even has a family, that can relate to “her” stories. I set the quotation marks because the actual creative minds behind the projects were Peter Plate und Ulf Leo Sommer, also known as a leading member of the successful indie band Rosenstolz and his ex-husband. They are professionals who know what they do, and naturally, they wrote a couple of decent tunes for Schöneberger that have more thought put into them than the average cash grab wannabe pop star record you usually get from XY-turned-singer. One can’t help but think of the relationship tales of Annett Louisan, who wants to play with men but more than once ends up being heartbroken or unintentionally breaking a heart, but also takes it with sarcastic and cynical humor. Of course, the persona Schöneberger portrays isn’t THAT complex and interesting, but it does have that certain feel to it. With one major difference: their voices.

On the plus side, Schöneberger sounds all natural on the tracks, and her vocals are not in the slightest altered by Autotune or other effects. Since the songs all stay within a limited range that she is comfortable with, she also never fails to hit the right notes. Nobody would call her a great singer, but she’d definitely be the best at your local karaoke party. The problem is rather that Schöneberger often sings the songs without the slightest touch of the charm that she showcases when hosting, and will come off as monotonous. For example, Happy Patchwork Family is a great cheeky song about her ex-husband and his 23 year old new girlfriend, a song with great wit and full of irony, but lines translating “I am so happy… but not for this stupid b*tch!” deserve a delivery with much more bite.

When Annett Louisan starts singing, we believe every word coming out of her mouth, whether it’s delicate and vulnerable, playful or vengeful. On Das Liebeslied she feels beaten by that stupid feeling called love, on Drück die 1, she facetiously tells her clingy ex-lover that she doesn’t care about him anymore - and her voice feels just like that, sad or fun. Barbara Schöneberger on the other hand constantly stays at the same level, pressure and tone throughout, probably being very focused on not making any mistakes in pitch. This results in a constant feeling that she doesn’t really “feel” the music. On the ballad Mädchen mein Mädchen (“girl, my girl”) she sings about her parents telling her not to fall for men planning to exploit her, but the delivery sounds somewhat strained and very busy getting all the syllables into the lines, when she needs to come off sweet, lovable and easy going. But there are also some songs on which she perfectly embodies what she sings about, which brings the high musical quality to the surface. There’s the melancholic chanson Isabelle Huppert, in which Schöneberger sings about not being as mysterious and elegant as the famous French actress, and it’s a great piece that has just the right light heartedness for its topic. Das beste Date seit Jahren (“the best date since years”) is about her being on a great date, but concealing that she lives together with her mother and has children - and the downtempo song sounds just as foolish and hopeful as the topic needs to be.

Eine Frau gibt Auskunft is the classic case of a mixed bag. The material is professional and has potential for some nice old fashioned music, and the singer is likable and can master the absolute basics of what is needed, yet barely offers more than that. It’s immediately apparent that she isn’t a professional singer, but for what she is, her vocals work well. And most importantly, she dares to have fun without giving in to expectations or pretending that she’s doing more than just that. She hasn’t been helped out by artificial effects and doesn’t aim for the charts. She could have easily gone for a cheaper rip off of Helene Fischer’s or Andrea Berg’s multi-platinum selling pop adaptation of schlager, but instead Barbara Schöneberger gave a more tradition sound a try. And while in the end she may not have performed the best album of the year, she definitely gets points for a compelling personality.