Melissa Naschenweng - Wirbelwind (Review)


Oh my, what wonderful hills - book your holiday now!


In 2017, Carinthian singer Melissa Naschenweng suddenly appeared out of nowhere and jumped into the top ten of the Austrian album charts, peaking at number 4. Although she released two records before, her third record was the first piece of music that caught wide attention, and stormed the charts with a mix of earworm pop, dominant squeeze box sounds and strong regional dialect. She wouldn’t be the first one to use this formula to major success: since 2009, Andreas Gabalier’s mashup of traditional Austrian volksmusik and classic rock’n’roll turned him into a chart topping yet controversial celebrity in Germany and Switzerland as well, and in the early 2010s Trackshittaz combined the Austrian volksmusik ingredients with Breathe Carolina-style techno-rap and had outstanding success in their home country.

Austrians have a patriotic heart much like Americans, although they can be quite mean spirited towards other cultures. Sure, we love Ellie Goulding and Lady Gaga as much as everyone, but whenever an artist comes along singing in a local dialect, praising the country’s nature and demonstrates national pride, the masses bounce around in joy. Living in Vienna is essentially like living in any other big city, but those closer to the countryside have a strong bond towards their cultural roots. This is the difference between Germany and Austria when it comes to the insanely successful and equally despised schlager genre: modern German schlager of the 21st century is very close to a light, listless vision of pop, Austrian schlager is deeply rooted in volksmusik, images of mountains and blue sky, and the traditional squeeze box instrument, although in the meantime often presented by a young and charming face (in contrast to the vision of middle aged to elderly man doing it, which was the norm for quite a long time and can still be found in the German schlager duo Amigos). The citizens of Vienna may laugh at this style and turn away to grab the newest Ariana Grande album instead, but elsewhere, this is the stuff for parties.

It’s no surprise that Melissa Naschenweng’s new album even managed to climb to the top of the charts and also entered the Swiss top ten. The singer uses simple melodies making use of the millennial whoop, backed by motivational, uplifting pop productions strongly interpolating traditional Austrian volksmusik elements. Her topics: living in the hills, finding love and enjoying the little things of everyday. In other words a perfect idyllic vision of a lifestyle with no troubles at all. She’s selling an image of joy and light-heartedness and ties it with her home country, which makes people forget that times are often rough and uncomfortable - which, in and of itself, is absolutely legit, yet the outcome should still draw from some kind of worthwhile music making that makes the songs feel like more than just repetitive schemes and tropes tied together to push people’s buttons. Her breakthrough album wasn’t exactly a peak in creativity, and her new CD “Wirbelwind” doesn’t exactly overflow with striking innovation either.

Melissa Naschenweng is the star of the moment, because she mixes the patriotic, nostalgic Alpine romance Austria loves so much with youthful energy as well a modern appearance and attitude. That makes her relevant for middle aged lovers of mountain aesthetics who speak a thick dialect (much like Naschenweng herself), as much as for teenage girls who have her poster hanging in their room. But still, unlike the genre’s biggest name Andreas Gabalier, she’s not a natural hitmaker that embodies everything they sing about, but instead feels set up with little thought put into the music itself - which also shows in the fact that she has had not a single charting song so far.

The opener Die Welt is so a schöner Ort (“The world is such a beautiful place”) sets the tone for what is to come: sung with an audible smile throughout, accompanied by a soft yet supposedly motivational underscoring with enough pop to be chart friendly and still feature traditional elements, Naschenweng’s optimistic and positive description of everyday joys in her local area would be perfectly suitable for a holiday commercial for the Alps. Lustschloss is even more extreme: all the lines solely describe how overwhelmingly happy, emotionally high and ecstatic the singer is, without even naming a few things that cause these feelings. The ballad Vergelt’s Gott musically has a bit of a chanson touch, most notably because the accordion resembles the traditionally French one more than the Austrian squeeze box, but its unimaginative structure (she simply lists everyone and everything she is happy to have, including family members and her home country) and intrusively Christian undertone still make it one of the lesser enjoyable songs despite said quality: “Ave Maria, God bless, thanks”, that’s what the entire chorus translates to. Die Nachbarin is about a promiscuous, all dolled up brat that steals every woman’s man and is hated by the singer. At least this song is somewhat cool, as there’s a bit of Avril Lavigne-ish anti-popular-crowd attitude inside, and it does give the song a bit of memorability, at least lyrically.

All of these songs are solid: they are polished and pleasantly produced, mixing traditional instruments and poppy drum kits / synths, there’s a bit of variety in there too, and flawlessly, yet not outstandingly, sung. What the project lacks is something to make the songs stuck, something that makes its performer unique. It will definitely contribute to a great time when it’s played in the background during a large BBQ grillfest, but is that really all an album by a popular artist should do? Listened to on its own, it’s quite underwhelming. Especially her accent-heavy volksmusik/pop hybrid cover version of Axwell Λ Ingrosso’s number 1 hit More Than You Know.