sat 19/10/2019

CD: Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs

CD: Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs

Pop songwriter's widely appealing songs inspired by Netflix series

In the Upside Down: Ingrid Michaelson

Eight albums in, you can imagine why a singer-songwriter in the confessional vein of Ingrid Michaelson might be ready to look elsewhere for inspiration - and inspiration for new album Stranger Songs came from a curious place. Each of the album’s 11 tracks (Eleven, get it?) was inspired by Netflix’s Eighties-set sci-fi/horror smash Stranger Things - but don’t expect too radical a departure, because Stranger Songs gets its kicks from the series’ more universal themes of first love, friendship and teenage alienation rather than mysterious laboratories, monsters or The Upside Down.

Opening track “Freak Show” establishes the mood, its lyrics the defensive posturing of teens who rally around creepy as a gang sign rather than a way of life. It’s a gorgeous song, all atmospheric synths and staccato drum machine, in homage to Stranger Things show runners the Duffer Brothers’ idealised version of a 1980s they never really lived through. Similarly gorgeous is “Christmas Lights” - a reference, as fans of the show will know, to the device which Winona Ryder’s character in the series used to communicate with her abducted son in another dimension. Not a fan? That’s cool: the sweetly lyrical track, which began life as a poem and inadvertently kicked off the whole project, could easily double as a song about missing a loved one at the most nostalgic time of the year if you don’t take the references to “talking” literally.

That’s the genius of Stranger Songs - a project that, in less skilled hands, could have been a one-note joke but which, a week before the show’s third season begins, instead taps into that same vein of joy and nostalgia which made it such an unexpected hit. “Young and In Love” captures the sugarcane rush of first loves both real and televised; while “Missing You”, with its sultry synths and darker melody, may have been inspired by the show’s Steve/Nancy/Jonathan teen love triangle but again delights in its universality. Two very different songs inspired by the show’s telekinetic teen heroine Eleven complete the highlights: “Jealous”, a cheeky synth-pop number dedicated to anybody who’s ever done anything she’s ashamed of for love - up to and including using one’s powers to trip up a romantic rival - and “Pretty” which, with its refrain of “I’m not just pretty, I’m pretty damn good”, has already been recast as a generic girl power anthem, raising money to help women run for office in the US.

Lisa-Marie Ferla's website

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