Andrea Berg - Mosaik (Review)

Martin_Canine
ANDREA BERG
Mosaik
★★★½☆

Schlager’s vice-queen stays within her boundaries while the scene is stepping forward. And that’s okay.

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Before Helene Fischer had her blockbuster album Farbenspiel in 2013 (it was certified twelve times platinum in Germany and eighteen times platinum in Austria) and claimed the title, Andrea Berg was the face of the schlager genre. She was that one artist that appealed to more people than just the beerfest goers, as she brought in a bit of a lovable, tender side. Her music is kitsch as kitsch can, but it’s quite some fun if you’re in for love songs and heartbreak, full with over the top pseudo-poetic wordings. She’s within soap opera territory, but it’s a nice and enjoyable guilty pleasure, that for sure. If you had to buy a schlager album in 2016, Berg’s Seelenbeben was the right choice.

But in the last couple of years, schlager opened up a tiny bit and took a small peek beyond the structures that have been there for decades. Very, very slowly though. Schlager singers, songwriters and producers never felt all too secure in foreign territory, and so the fact that younger artists like Helene Fischer shoot music videos in clubs rather than in front of mountains or postcard-ready castles was more or less a huge step for the style. Sounds trivial to those not familiar with this German genre of music, but it’s a major part of why Fischer became the foremost pop star of her generation (next to trap rapper Capital Bra). Most recently though, the genre was left behind by Andrea Berg’s own daughter-in-law Vanessa Mai and her number 1 album ironically titled Schlager. In 2018, the young princess of the genre demonstrated on two discs what is possible within the schlager scene. Hip hop, dubstep and rave elements were richly interpolated into the music, giving it an undeniably modern sound that was never heard before. It felt like a heavy chain that enslaved the style for ages was radically broken to bits by an artist with wide mainstream attention. It should have been a game changer, but it currently looks as if it will remain a one time phenomenon. Because now the vice-queen Andrea Berg enters the scene again after three years, and continues exactly where she left off.

Mosaik, her newest effort, which immediately topped the German, Austrian and Swiss charts (her tenth number 1 album in both Germany and Austria by the way, and her third in Switzerland), is written, produced and performed much like any Andrea Berg album of the past 20 years. A normal pop structure, very soft but pounding trance-like beats, thick sugary synthesizers, uplifting lyrics that make you forget all the pain in your life (the sad content is far outweighed by the cheerful nature of the music). Mosaik is as far from a risk as the Sex Pistols are from being classical musicians. But somehow, it still works out in the end.

Beatrice Egli did the same in 2018 with her album Wohlfühlgarantie, and I really, really didn’t like it. And that even though Egli isn’t less talented than Berg. She’s a good singer, a young and energetic and on top, but maybe there’s the problem: she sounds like she could do more, but refrains from it. Her voice is youthful and filled with life, as if she would jump up any moment to explore the entire world. And yet, she sticks to the formula of cheaply produced techno beats with overly happy melodies that, despite the title translating to “feel good guarantee”, sounds too forced to entertain. Despite having written the thing herself, she voluntarily stayed within a world where she constantly needs to smile to spread unrealistically good vibrations. With Andrea Berg, it’s different: she is so natural in this habitat that we immediately sink in. We allow her to enchant us, take us on a magic rude through her feelings. Her vocals contain a certain grace, sweetness and maturity that makes the experience calmer, much less forced. She doesn’t need to constantly remind you to feel good, it just happens because she sounds likable. Whereas Egli’s album virtually shouts “Hooray! Let’s all repress any kinds of feelings unless they are utter joy at all costs because everything is awesome! Woohoo!” in every single second, Andrea Berg’s Mosaik gently soothes you, and says “Hey, my friend. Let me invite you to my wonderland. We can all have a good time here. Even if it’s not always perfect, we can always make the best of it.”

And even though it acknowledges heartbreak or betrayal, the tunes are mostly nonetheless as danceable and fun. After all, we got two experienced producers of the 90s, the golden decade of poppy EDM, being responsible for a majority of the tracks. Firstly, there’s DJ BoBo, one of Switzerland’s foremost dance music stars who had quite a couple of hits by himself, and then there’s Felix Gauder, who along David Brandes was responsible for a majority of E-Rotic’s hits. The latter also worked on Vanessa Mai’s brilliant Schlager album, although you wouldn’t find any resemblance. They provide criminally catchy earworm choruses en mass that compliment Andrea Berg’s voice and occasional lyricism, and again show us how a nice eurodance song is constructed, minus all the harder elements (less bass, softer kicks, no distorted acid synths, etc.). Es geht mir gut, Lass uns keine Zeit verlier'n and Jung, verliebt und frei are a thunder of 90s dance bliss, that push all the buttons there are for someone with a knack for turn-of-the-millennium chart-oriented dance tunes. But there are also softer moments: Geh deinen Weg is a love letter to her daughter who is slowly growing up, that brings to mind ABBA’s wonderful Slipping Through My Fingers. The second verse telling her child about what to expect of love and how it can hurt so bad but still can feel so great are authentically touching. The song shows far more genuine emotion than anything else on the album (which also results in the lyrics being less bland).

There are also two songs written by Xavier Naidoo, one of the biggest German artists of the last 25 years and the king of German soul music. Quality-wise, Naidoo is on a whole nother musical level than any of the other parties involved and released some of the best German language music of all time. His two contributions, one that he also provides duet vocals for, are beautifully composed ballads, which are richer in sound, rely more on vibrato and have a grander scope of lyricism - in other words: they are neo-soul, not necessarily schlager. Das Wunder des Lebens, the one not featuring his singing, is of the clear highlights of the album.

Another two songs were created by Dieter Bohlen, the equally hated and successful “pop titan”, and one of the, let’s say five biggest celebrities of the Germany. And here we get a fine example of the two sides of Dieter Bohlen: Du musst erst fallen is a wonderful ballad about getting back up, which fits better onto the record than Naidoo’s, while Davon geht mein Herz nicht unter is forgettable trash that sounds like a recycled outtake. The most frustrating thing is that Bohlen CAN write and produce good music, but mostly only does so when the singers are internationally recognized. He wrote for Bonnie Tyler, Chris Norman and even Dionne Warwick (!), and those were some fine tracks. Yet even when writing for successful German singers, he doesn’t provide anything but fillers. And he even built entire albums and whole careers on those. He’s often a soulless hit making machine, but between a thousand disposable tracks that he probably has a template for, there’s this one gem. On here, we get both.

In the end, schlager fans who never felt that their favorite genre needs a more modern outfit - which will be most of them - should be pleased with Mosaik. They get a fine selection of 15 songs that provide maximum romcom melodrama, uplifting synthie beats and simple choruses. The formula is usually the same, but in Andrea Berg’s case, it perfectly works out. She, Gauder and BoBo all know exactly what they have to go to put on a good show, Xavier Naidoo may not really fit into the mix but brings in higher artistic visions, and Bohlen doesn’t do much damage either. All in all, a harmless and pleasant package.

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