Madeline Juno’s ‘Salvation’: A Breath of Fresh Berlin Air
“Someone’s always loving more, and that someone’s me. I guess I never learn…”
It’s been a while since I accidentally stumbled on music that I really love, as opposed to shoveling through heaps of press releases in search of a sign of life that makes me feel something more than “that’ll do.” (There’s a whole lot of “that’ll do” pop out there, unfortunately.)
But as a certain pop princess-turned-Queen of Pop once declared: Don’t you know I still believe?
While halfheartedly scrolling through my Twitter feed on the train ride into Manhattan after visiting my family for the weekend (which doubled as a very necessary 24-hour detox from the city), I saw a tweet of endorsement a singer named Madeline Juno and her song “Cliché” by the lovely Mel of Melismatic. (C’mon, OG ’00s pop bloggers!)
I hadn’t heard of Madeline before, but the cover art intrigued me — most likely because she looked like Sky Ferreira from afar. (A surefire way to win my attention, always.)
After skimming through social media, I determined this much: She’s 20. She’s German. She she sings “about life pretending I panic less and figure it out that way.” She released a follow-up record this past Friday called Salvation. She’s pretty. And her hair color is great. Sold.
That, and she’s also relatively new: She signed a major label deal after uploading covers on YouTube. She debuted a song called “Error” back in 2013, released her debut album in 2014 called The Unknown to middling success in Germany, and then competed to represent her homeland in Eurovision that year. (She didn’t make the cut.)
So, she hasn’t quite had a major moment yet. After listening to Salvation in full from Milford to Manhattan, what I’m trying to figure out now is why.
Salvation doesn’t emulate any one artist’s sound in particular, but enthusiasts of e•mo•tional electronic pop princesses like Ellie Goulding, Tove Lo, Lights, Diana Vickers, Carly Rae Jepsen, Phoebe Ryan and Foxes will almost surely draw some comparisons and fall in love on first listen, too.
Atmospheric opener “Into The Night” has a kind of London Grammar appeal. There’s the finger-snapping “No Words,” which smacks with all the right kind of quivering anger and frustrated feelings that a break-up banger should. And “Stupid Girl,” unlike P!nk‘s snarky hit, rightfully stands out as a single worthy moment of overly self-aware, self-loathing synth-pop. (“Whattya call it when you love someone who doesn’t love you back? I’m such a stupid girl…“)
But it’s the understated and entirely vulnerable “You Know What?” that made me stop sexting altogether (or whatever I was doing) and look up from my phone. That sweetly sad chorus? My heart.
“We got caught in a dream but it’s not what it seems / Guess you’re Enoch and I’m Annabel / If I got to decide if this love’s gonna die, I know I never want to wish you well…”
I’ll admit: Enoch and Annabel? I don’t know her. But upon further research, they appear to be the lead characters of the 2011 movie Restless, which I haven’t seen (YET), but now feel compelled to see. (Madeline Juno — her impact.) But more than that: A lyrical reference to something beyond just a lovey-dovey cliché? Into. Now that’s a song.
Speaking of, “Cliché,” the song that unintentionally first caught my first attention, is like Tove Lo at her wondrously messy best — you cannot not appreciate this as a proper pop tune. “It’s so cliché, I’m spilling my guts like it’s Valentine’s Day / When you get your shit together, it’ll be too late.”
“On My Toes”? Fantastic, especially for anyone who enjoyed Ellie’s latest album. (It’s like a hybrid of “Lost & Found” and the stuttering bits of “Don’t Need Nobody.”) “If you’re a cliffhanger ending, I’m patiently waiting…” And for the foot fetishists, all this toe talk ought to really get you goin’. “Please Don’t Have Somebody Else” is crushing, and does nothing to help me work through my jealousy issues. “Hindsight” is like a sad distant cousin to Taylor Swift‘s “Style.”
The album is just as glossy as any other blockbuster pop record today, and perfectly punchy and hook-heavy enough to appeal to Top 40 radio. But polished production aside, the way Madeline tells her tales is charming, clever and conversational enough to keep all the tracks compelling, even if the themes are familiar, as with the ‘love in a hopeless place’-ness of “Salvation”: “Do you know how they say in the movies / ‘Once you stop searching, love will come your way’? / ‘Never again will I let someone in,’ I said / I might have just jumped the gun.”
And don’t forget those specific details: “You went crazy when you heard that old Coldplay song / And I must have been crazy when I let you go,” she sings on the propulsive “Yellow Car,” a lump-in-throat bout of nostalgia dedicated to a former flame now miles away.
Oh, right. And the chorus of “Less Than Heartbreak”? “I’ve kissed more bottles than boys/ I’ve learned a hangover hurts less than heartbreak.” Tattoo that right across my chest.
Strong memories, stronger melodies and messy feelings from a fresh face…get caught up in the dream.
Salvation was released on February 26. (iTunes)