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Emilíana Torrini Rarities Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A scattershot collection of old singles, B sides and remixes.

Jaime Gill 2010

Emilíana Torrini’s last album, Me and Armini, was one of 2008’s most gorgeous releases and scored a huge hit across Europe with the exuberant single Jungle Drum. In the UK, however, her fans are fervent but few, which is how many of them like it, since it results in her exquisitely intimate live performances here. They will be delighted with Rarities, a scattershot collection of old singles, B sides and remixes, which is both a reminder of her vivid early talent and highly unlikely to win many new fans.

The collection draws heavily from 1999 to 2001, when Torrini made the leap from the Icelandic music scene to the wider world. In retrospect, it’s clear that the move unnerved Torrini, and led to artistic compromises. While the idiosyncrasies of her songwriting are present – just listen to the way the wonderful Weird Friendless Kid lurches from nursery rhyme rhythms to a final growlingly ecstatic coda – they are often smothered by the glossy trip hop production so in vogue at the time.

As a result many of the songs now sound calculated and dated. Dead Things is beautiful and haunting in many ways, but its spooked synths and gently crackling beats could have been lifted directly from Björk’s Post album. Songs like this led to accusations that she was imitating her fellow Icelander, a charge that continues to be unfairly levelled. Although Björk is a massive step up from Morcheeba, which is what the loungy atmospherics and blandly upbeat chorus of Easy most resemble.

There are gems worth rescuing here. Tuna Fish is also cloyingly produced, but redeemed by the hesitant, lingering melody and Torrini’s crystalline vocal. And her slow-burning take on Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away is ravishing, capturing the desolate fear and desperate hope at the song’s heart. As for the remixes, while it’s questionable if even the most ardent Torrini fans need six versions of To Be Free, some add new momentum, such as Tore Johannson’s glitchy drum’n’bass take.

Torrini followed this period of uncharacteristic uncertainty with Fisherman’s Woman, its stark acoustics an obvious reaction against the overproduction of these songs, paving the way in turn for the quiet triumph of Me and Armini. So while Rarities is an intriguing reminder of where this great songwriter has come from, the truly fascinating question is what she will do next.

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