Culture & Criticism Since 2003
When the first notes of “Citizen of Glass” sounded, I thought for a moment that I had started up a Lana del Ray song by mistake. The notes were rich, even lush; and Agnes Obel has always been more spare, even funereal. Then the back bass beat kicked in, and it was unmistakeable Obel.
In her previous albums, Philharmonics and Aventine, there was always an impression that only one piano key was being pressed at a time, and her voice just a solemn whisper. Then you listen again because the album haunts you, and you discover the score is very sophisticated, her voice utterly rich, so full of beauty and texture.
But there’s none of that delay with Citizen of Glass; it starts out rich and lush, no waiting to find it on the second listen. The Danish Obel has been virtually unknown in America in the wake of her first two albums, but I suspect that is about to change with the release of this material – the record is that stunning.
The title is a German term, “Gläserner Bürger,” or “glass citizen,” and today it refers to the scant level of privacy we have under an ever-watchful government. Back in East Germany the term resounded like a sinister admonition: live your life as if you were made of glass, because They are watching. In turn, the titles of the songs here harken back to the premise that dark and pervasive forces influence every part of our lives.
But Citizen of Glass is much more than a political statement. Instead, it’s a multi-dimensional record showcasing the best of Agnes Obel’s repertoire. Amazingly, Obel has never published a song that wasn’t beautiful, and that stunning string continues with this record – the album ideal for quite evenings and sober reflection:
Rend a black drop from my heart
With the weight of days
The end of time has just begun
I hear it call your name
And no straining of the string
Can reverse what will begin
(From the title track)
Obel will be on a 15-city tour in the US and Canada between February 28 and March 31, and then will play in Europe from May 13 to June 2. Her shows finish in Great Britain on June 4th. Go here for details.
Readers can hear or purchase Citizen of Glass at a variety of online locations.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.