ISSA – Crossfire

2Issa1The last time we heard from Norwegian AOR rocking beauty Isabell “Issa” Oversveen was back in 2012 when she released her cover album Don’t Stop. Every time an artist releases a cover album, voices are being raised, talking about lack of fantasy and on many occasions, those voices are right. Usually we get the same old interpretations by the same old songs / bands. “We want to show our fans our musical upbringing”, they say. Like we already don’t know their influences. However, Issa’s cover album was something else. Instead of the same old, same old, she had picked a lot of obscure AOR and melodic rock songs that she listened to as a kid and the fact that many of the songs weren’t known to the big audience did only make that album more of a surprise – and interesting. No “Smoke On The Water” on that album, in other words. Thank God! Also, Issa had previously released two albums, Sign Of Angels (2010) and The Storm (2011), that included pretty much the same kind of AOR / melodic rock with the same song writers and that cover album gave her a bit of a break. Those albums of original songs were both really, really good, but with this kind of music, it’s very easy to become repeatetive and make albums that just sounds like continuation of the record before. In Issa’s case, she has a way with melodies, a way that makes her otherwise pretty standard AOR sound very much personal. That said, her two first albums did sound a lot like each other and that’s why the cover album showed up like a breath of fresh air. That also made it possible for Issa to think about her next album of original songs without having to rush a new album out before it’s really finished and ready to rock for real. Now, Issa released three albums in three years without giving in on the quality and that’s kind of fast these days when artists take years and years between albums, so the fact that Issa, with this album, has taken three years to release, made me think that she has been biding her time to make sure that this album is perfect in both songs, performance and style.

The title track and first single opens the album and comes flying out like a bat out of hell right in your face. It’s a great AOR rocker and we immediately recognize it as a Issa song, it falls very much into that category and proves that nothing has changed. In the late 80’s, this would have been a smash hit – and then some! The exact same thing can be said of the following track and new single “New Horizon”, an 80’s pop metal groover so catchy it hurts. I smell hit here as well. “Raintown” is a killer ballad that very well could have been a single for Roxette back in the 80’s. Issa duets with Steve Overland of FM fame on it – and I’ll be damned what a couple they are. Overland is easily one of the best melodic rock / AOR singers around. The guy has lots of soul and with Issa’s feminine way of singing the contrast creates sparks – this must be the next single. “Long Time Coming” passes by more or less unnoticed before the fantastic ballad “Fight Fire With Rain” hits us. It’s an 80’s Heart rip-off, but I welcome that with open arms as Heart only makes pretentious, dull and mediocre records today, taking distance from their so brilliant 80’s records. With “Heartbeat”, Issa puts us in a time machine right back to sometime around 1986 – 1989. It’s a great little pop metal pearl and if you remember an artist like Alexa (made one record, written by Paul Sabu back in 1989 and then disappeared) you’ll get a hunch on how this song sounds – and I like it very much. “We Rise” is a mellow and atmospheric slower song with a killer melody, but it is a bit forgettable, I’m afraid. The album ends on a bad note, however. “Only You” is a mediocre AOR track that doesn’t do anything for me except making me wanna push the skip button. Too bad. It’s really sad when an album ends with a song that makes you wanna put the CD back in its case instead of playing it all over again.

But luckily enough for Issa (and me) is that her new album is strong enough to make me want to play it again anyway. But the thing is, this is now album number three with the same style of songs, the same sound, the same performances. All the songs on this album would fit on any of her albums and you wouldn’t even take notice. It’s always good to have your own style, sound and identity but when things starts to become same same and you start thinking you have heard this before, then it’s time for a change. I’m not saying Issa should go death metal on us or start to play techno or hip hop, but maybe she needs some new blood – new song writers, new producers, new musicians. Don’t get me wrong here, this is a really good album and all the performances are faultless, not to talk about Issa’s amazing voice, but this has to be the end of the line for this type of album or there might come a day when people just don’t care enough to buy her new stuff – they can just listen to her earlier albums as they sound so alike. Issa has such a personal voice that is doesn’t matter if she changes things around a bit, it will still sound like Issa. That said, if you like her earlier albums, you’ll dig this one as well and if you’re an AOR fan and hasn’t heard Issa’s stuff, then it’s about time now. She get away with it this time – the album is good enough for sure – but maybe she and her managers and record company folks (hello Frontiers) should take a look at moving forward instead of doing the same old all over again. Frankly, it’s a reminder of that something needs to be done when you realise a really good album – like this one – but it still feels like the artist is treading water. Let’s hope for a big surprise next time around.

Jon Wilmenius (7/10)

Tracklist:

01. Crossfire
02. New Horizon
03. Raintown
04. Long Time Coming
05. Fight Fire With Rain
06. Heartbeat
07. Electronic Lights
08. Ghost Inside My Heart
09. Red Lights
10. We Rise
11. Only You

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