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Arno Carstens

Papa ek wil ‘n Adult Contemporary Popster word

by Roger Young / 26.03.2010

Arno Carstens new album Wonderful Wild is designed for the international equivalent of a 94.7 listener and, in this regard, it is a success. A sea of unobtrusive, string heavy, over produced, mild, sing along songs that all seem to blend into one. It’s not that the songs themselves are necessarily bad, but something about the way Wonderful Wild is produced makes Carstens seem, well, not present. It’s like he is somewhere in the background, every time a song builds his voice is drowned in minor electronic effects and over-heavy orchestration. Perhaps this is because the album is produced by Youth, whose success with The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” over ten years ago, seems to have gone to his head and stayed there.

Based on an adult contemporary standard it’s hard to find fault with the songs individually, they do what they do, subtly inserting their melodic hooks in your head (albeit briefly) but the production and tempo on all of them is so similar that as an album it’s hard to find any songs that really stand out.

“Dreamer” and “Emergency” are basically interchangeable and both obvious choices for radio singles, they’re the kind of songs that if heard enough times will worm their way into your consciousness and lull your brain to sleep. Both “Heartbreak” and “Spoil It With A Kiss” are simple and superfluous; stunningly below Carstens song writing ability. “Wonderful Wild” is probably the most engaging track on the album, but only because it has a striking resemblance in places to Bobby Angel’s “Gentle On My Mind”. On “Avalanche” and “Note Of Bliss” we find him lyrically exploring darker territory but like all the other tracks, his efforts are undermined by the sonic layers that cover him. It’s not as if the songs, at their core, are badly written, it’s that they are all given the same treatment, I can even imagine that at least two thirds of this album would be incredible to listen to live, stripped of it’s bland over the top arrangements.

We all know that Carstens can sing, and he has always had a deft ability to put an illogical and engaging spin on a simple lyrical theme, but on Wonderful Wild, these are both second to the instrumentation. If Carsten’s voice and creativity was more present on this album, if he had only found a more accomplished rhythm section to work with, Wonderful Wild would have been lifted from the sameness it suffers from.

The one great disappointment in Wonderful Wild is that there are moments where the production does not overpower, (The opening of “Sunrise” is one) where we hear hints of how good this album could have been had Carstens just kept it simple. The other is that because it is a background album with just enough lyrical hooks poking through, it might actually be a radio success, which will only mean he’ll be tempted to produce more of the same.

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