Christina Stürmer - Überall zu Hause (Review)

Überall zu Hause

What an utter waste of personality.

When this woman first entered the stage - quite literally, as she participated in the Austrian talent search show Starmania - she was unlike all the others. A young, somewhat butch woman who listened to indie rock and has punk aesthetics, and never performed one of the current pop anthems in her auditions and recalls. She ultimately came in second place to Michael Tschuggnall, who had two top ten hits afterwards (one topping the charts, the other one featuring Stürmer), and then was completely forgotten. But Stürmer stayed. She ended up having five number 1 hits, 21 top ten hits and 8 albums on top of the charts (including the one I’m currently reviewing), and her career still goes on. Not so many recall where she came from, but she influenced the Austrian music landscape significantly, and her leading role in the game is indisputable.

Now it’s 15 years after her first release. What’s left of the spirit of her Freier Fall blockbuster debut album is essentially her vocals, and even those are barely recognizable anymore. One of her biggest strengths was that her voice did not sound like that of a pitch perfect polished pop star - now it does. The little cracks and flaws in her vocals that made her performance so authentic are gone. Her trademark style, productions and compositions consisting mostly of a mix of electric and acoustic guitars as well as percussion, was replaced with deliberately uplifting, semi-inspirational background music that would the dream of every advertising company whose strategy is boosting the viewer's self esteem to promote their feel good products. You know, the ones where a guy “just like you and me” walks up a hill and looks into the sky with a proud smile, implying having overcome all obstacles through his hard work.

Maybe it’s just a logical consequence. Her first two albums were made for the admittingly little Austrian market, before in 2005 an updated version of her 2003 single Ich lebe (with lusher production and replacing two lines, translating to “the bomb is ticking / you kidnapped me, you terrorist” and “I stand on the front / thoughtless horizon” with two more harmless lines, “you bring me no luck / I am and always will be a pessimist” and “I stand here alone / thoughtless horizon”) became a major hit in the much bigger music market of Germany and made her a star there as well. She since had top ten albums in Germany additionally to chart topping positions in her home country. In the mid-to-late 2000s, alternative bands such as Juli, Silbermond or Revolverheld had a major impact on the mainstream charts, where Stürmer perfectly fitted in without having to alter her style dramatically. A positive effect was she felt more secure to write more of her music herself. However, as time went by, the style evolved. Juli’s legacy is still felt, but the charting German rock projects became more mellow, and ultimately blended very much into indie pop. Even the biggest bands of the movement became tamer and poppier - not the dance and trap inspired pop of American artists, more like soft, offbeat music. And Stürmer jumped on the bandwagon.

It is apparent that P!nk’s successful 2017 album Beautiful Trauma was the main influence for Überall zu Hause. The production, moods and even some of the melodies sound very much alike (compare Stürmer’s In ein paar Jahren to P!nk’s Where We Go). And in a way, Stürmer has always been kind of an Austrian P!nk. Her major appeal was making music that somehow fitted the mainstream and was catchy, while remaining punkish and nonconformist. While P!nk had Dear Mr. President, Christina Stürmer had a number 1 hit with Mama Ana Ahabak a few years before, a stripped down guitar ballad set in the Iraq war told from the perspective of a young child. Her vulnerable and imperfect delivery made it so rough and honest. You won’t find such moments of roughness on Überall zu Hause. But while P!nk’s last record is undeniably more pop oriented than her previous efforts, it also still contained her distinctive personality and attitude, and the lack of wild rock’n’roll appeared more like a result of her increasing age, using more mature and less loud ways of spreading her lyricism, rather than a step towards the mainstream (that being said, it was good, but still not on the level of I’m Not Dead and M!ssundaztood). Stürmer however appears to be following the trend, noticing how well P!nk did and studying the structure of the single What About Us to copy the formula.

The result definitely isn’t a bad listen, but it’s a soulless one that sounds like made in a hit factory. If only the tunes did have a few earworms. But it’s a more subtle approach to chart oriented music - there are no stomping house beats, no rap verses, no excessive uses of autotune, no fast paced trap hi-hats, no lush synthesizers. It’s the kind of pop that disguises itself as anything but pop. We live in a world in which both blatant dance pop as well as obvious non-mainstream gimmicks aren’t enough to be seen as individual, you have to be so casual that it’s already outstanding. Stürmer’s new album will please exactly this section, which in and of itself isn’t bad. Where Überall zu Hause fails is to ever develop its own characteristics. Flawless but light, it lacks any wit or edge. Whether you listen to Heiser vor Glück, Das ist das Leben or Fahrtwind, they all work the same: simple melodies that aren’t obtrusive but easy accessible - even the “oh, oh, oh” chants of the latter are so reserved they never appear like a sing along chorus - in combination with light beats implying both strength and humility.

It could be a good concept if it was a bit less predictable and a bit more innovative. And also, if it wasn’t released under the moniker of Christina Stürmer. You’re better off getting a copy of Freier Fall or Lebe laut and rock out to that, enjoying the moment. But maybe moshing to the sound of electric guitars is not what people want these days. But it’s getting harder for those who do to find artists that mix the aesthetics of punk with pop appeal.