Review by Vard Aman
Metalheads who only listen to Metal and refuse to even give anything else a chance need not bother reading beyond this full stop. < That one there if you’ve accidentally overshot it. For those whose tastes are more varied, or who wish to experiment a bit, or who just have an open mind when it comes to music and will listen to anything as long as it’s good, then this album is something you might seriously want to give a listen.
Anna Beliva (aka Anna Belaeva) is the former vocalist of a Russian Symphonic Metal band called Lanewin. (You can read a review of their last album here and an interview with Anna conducted when she was still in Lanewin here). Now Lanewin is no more and Anna is pursuing a solo career making a very different kind of music. Beliva is an obvious twist on her surname, combining her childhood nickname Iva to make it sound like “believer” (if I may paraphrase from Captain Obvious). This is apt because the one thing that has not changed from Lanewin is that her subject matter is largely about being positive and believing in oneself, but like it was with Lanewin, it’s more of an attitude that comes across rather than being the equivalent of a lyrical self help book put to music.
One of the main issues I have generally had with Pop music is the excessive commercialization (without which, of course, it wouldn’t exist in the forms that it does today). This is the music “industry” – a commercial industry that works like a multinational corporation…. because the companies driving the commercial music industry ARE multinational corporations. Too often, songs are written by or have to be approved by committees; artists are selected for marketability over talent; and trends are generally dictated to the consumers rather than set by individual artists (with a few exceptions). The industry controls what is out there, and will promote only what they think will sell in the market that they have created. According to an article by the BBC World Service called “Global Music Machine”, as much as 90% of the global music market is owned by just 5 corporations (EMI, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros. and BMG). These corporations own many smaller commercial labels across the world and have bought out many of the larger ones as well (for example, RCA and Columbia Records are owned by Sony, and Gala Records in Russia is owned by Warner Bros). They have absorbed each other too: since “Global Music Machine” was written, Sony has acquired BMG, and Universal has acquired EMI; so that effectively makes it 3 multinational corporations controlling 88.5% of the market (according to Nielsen SoundScan’s 2012 report). While these 3 multinationals have their headquarters in the US and control the global music industry (with a large degree of favouritism towards US and UK artists), local music industries are allowed a degree of autonomy within their own countries and regions, and favour and encourage local artists, but operate on a local level in the same way that the global music industry is run. So the commercial music industry in Russia is no different; and if anything, it is concentrated even more in the hands of a few.
In addition to this, according to “Global Music Machine”, it is estimated that the bulk of the commercial music industry’s profits come from only 10% of their releases, so these artists represent their biggest investments, receive the most marketing, and are therefore subject to the most industry control. …Or do you really think that Justin Bieber is where he is today because of his… erm… “exceptional talent”? Metal, and Alternative music in general (hence the name “Alternative music”), has always mostly been driven by the artists themselves, and by mostly smaller independent labels (once again with exceptions, although the exceptions here are more plentiful compared to the exceptions when it comes to Pop music). There are far less independent labels in Pop music, as none of them are able to compete with the large corporations that dominate the industry, and the few, if any, that do become competitive are quickly bought out. What all of this means is that for young, independent Pop artists, breaking into the big-time is even more difficult than it is for Metal bands to break into the Metal world’s equivalent. Many an aspiring Pop artist has tried to find their way into the industry on the merit of their music and have come back after finding their way blocked. I remember two particularly good Pop artists from Lipetsk (where I used to live), Муза (Muza – meaning “Muse”) and Оса (Osa – meaning “Wasp”) who were every bit as good, and in a lot of cases much better than what was being aired on the popular radio and television stations; but Муза came back from Moscow after being told she had no chance because they already had all the artists they needed and if she wanted to make it, she had to pay her own way and do it herself. Чи-Ли (Chi-li), with her unique contralto voice (or maybe despite her unique contralto voice), from Kaliningrad had better luck forcing her way into the seemingly tightly controlled Russian Pop industry. So even if the music is not your thing, bear in mind just what Anna Beliva is trying to achieve, and has already achieved when you listen to her debut album, “Fire” (as I am writing this, Anna Beliva is on tour in China). All that positivity and self-belief must be paying off for her! Unless there is something about her that we don’t know, which is highly unlikely because the commercial music companies are not usually in the habit of remaining anonymous when they promote artists – even “the other 90%” represent investments or potential investments. That, and the entire album was written, arranged, recorded and produced by Anna herself; the only thing she did not do herself was the photography and the artwork on the album. She is a true independent!
If there is anyone still reading this (especially those who should have stopped after the first full stop, but are still here), then here are some conclusions and revelations: Pop music, including the Pop music that is under the control of committees (although not as much), is extremely diverse (just like Metal is extremely diverse); Not all Pop music is in the hands of the commercial labels, and in turn not all that is is subject to the same amount of industry control; A lot of the better stuff, perhaps not surprisingly, comes from smaller artists who are able to control their own artistry to a much greater extent, but which also means that it’s much harder to find (again not really that different from Metal); Some of it is actually damn good; and the composers, musicians and singers that are responsible for it are extremely talented. For example, listen to this song by Чи-Ли if you dare; you’ll have it stuck in your head long after you’ve forgotten who even sung it, trust me. Or you could listen to “Discolove” by Ukrainian Black Metal band Semargl if you’re curious as to how a Black Metal band would deliver a Dance-pop song. Or you could listen to Anna Beliva‘s recently released album, “Fire”.
On “Fire” Anna Beliva makes some catchy and melodic Dance-pop (with a hint now and then of Classical Crossover). The music itself is nothing special, as it seldom is with Dance-pop; it mostly just provides the beat, driving rhythms and basic melodies beneath the vocals. I mentioned in the Lanewin review that Anna is vocalist of phenomenal ability, “with the full vocal repertoire at her disposal”: from deep, dark and sultry; to raw power; to operatic vocals with which she is able to reach almost impossibly high notes; including notes that are within the “whistle register”. I’d love to know exactly what her range is. Anna uses these high range notes with great effect, complimenting the song and the melody and making the listener break out into gooseflesh (as opposed to the likes of Mariah Carey, who really does seem to use the whistle register only to show how cool she can sing). This is because Anna Beliva‘s music is strongly melody driven, and that along with her vocal delivery is what makes this album special. It doesn’t matter what your musical tastes are, if you can appreciate well written and catchy melodies and a superb vocal delivery, this album will appeal to you. Because Anna is a quality song writer, there is more than one hit on this album (for me, there are five: “Not Gonna Be”; “Run Away”; “Tonight”; “Please Don’t Leave Me”; and “Siberia” – more than half the album).
Lyrically, don’t expect too much – it is a Dance-pop album and if you’re listening to Dance-pop for the lyrics you’re kind of missing the point; you need more zig-a-zig-ah and dun da di dun. The exception is “Siberia”; but that song also has a different overall feel to the rest of the songs on the album. So, to Metal fans (who have gotten this far): Go ahead and give this a try. You won’t regret it. (And if you do regret it, you can just blame me). And to Pop fans: If you really want some superb quality – an album that has everything you want and a lot more – forget about the Billboard No.1, or anything in the “Hot 100”, and rather buy this. Trust me, there is nothing hotter on the Billboard “Hot 100” than Anna Beliva‘s “Fire”.
Rating – 87/100
- I Got This Feeling
- Not Gonna Be
- Run Away
- If You Wanna
- Please Don’t Leave Me
- Taste This Power