Some albums have a standing almost more as a work of performance art than one of music, and this The Sticky Fingers, the work of Berlin-based singer-songwriter Albertine Sarges with her newly-formed band of the same name, very much feels like one of those. Not only the lyrics are heavily conceptual in nature, touching upon complex themes such as feminism and sexuality, gender and memory, the experience of life and the pressures of society, but the sound itself has a complexity that is not simply due to composition. It is bold to choose this title for a record, given the inevitability of evoking the Rolling Stones classic of almost the same name; while Sarges’ album in a way evokes the same sense of sexual liberation, however, it is completely a different beast, more intellectual in nature, taking familiar beats and then sharply pivoting into unexpected directions.
The first single drawn from the album, ‘Free Today,’ is an excellent example of this, incorporating a crisp pop-dance beat and blending it with vocals that would be perfectly at home in a spoken word performance. There is also a feeling that a number of international influences have come together in this record, which features English-and German-language lyrics (see the haunting ‘Stille‘ for the latter), but also incorporates suggestions that seem to come from further beyond. One thinks of Philip Glass and Klaus Nomi, but also of British rock of the ’70s and of more liquid, experimental sounds that come equally from American disco and Asian rock.
This charismatic quality of the way the lyrics are delivered, which definitely calls back to the spoken word and poetry world, is not unique to this one single, and it surfaces elsewhere. In other places Sarges’ delivery draws from glam suggestions: see the delightfully high-pitched moments in ‘The Girls,’ a track that in general has more than a little sprinkle of the Seventies in it and which also, perhaps not coincidentally, name-drops the title of the album. The snappy delivery in some tracks does not rule out an occasional indulgence in more melodic, slower-paced songs. She certainly is a strong vocalist and not scared to show it, delivering her high notes in particular with confidence but with no need for excess emphasis. Speaking of a retro mood, ‘Fish‘ — to me, a stand-out in this record — has a splendid late-Seventies/early-Eighties vibe to it, both in its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and in the bouncing rhythm section that provides its backbone. Even more so closing track ‘Roller Coaster,’ which has a dirty kind of sound in its guitars and vocals that goes back fifty years while still staying firmly grounded in the present. It’s almost a Blondie song for the new century.
Production is one of the highlights in this record: everything sounds clean and focussed without ending up on the overly polished side. The result is sharp but in its own way laid-back, making for an enjoyable (and danceable) casual listen perfectly capable of revealing a number of deeper layers under more careful consideration. In the hazy, almost-ballad that is ‘Beat Again,’ production contributes effectively in generating a suspended, cottony feeling, aided by a well controlled, subtle distortion. Elsewhere (as in ‘Oh My Love,’ for instance) the production knows when to take a step back, letting the full body of Sarges’ voice take centre scene – another quality not always seen in pop records nowadays.
The instrumental arrangements hold an interest of their own, electronic elements blending seamlessly with pop guitars and a rhythm section that sinks its roots very deep in the disco music of the golden years, with some unexpected acoustic highlights (for which look to ‘Post Office,’ which also has a clever use of backing vocals and some distinct earworm potential). There is more than one intriguing bass line, something that is often neglected in pop music; but then again, it feels somewhat limiting to call Sarges’ music just pop, given its potential to be in turn mellow rock, cheeky dance, and all in all a creature of its own kind.
One thing is certain: Sarges has developed a clear and confident voice of her own already, and this is clearly heard throughout the record. The Sticky Fingers could be more polished in places, but at the same time it’s admirable for its boldness and freshness, for its musical literacy and ability to draw from the past without becoming too derivative. It has good repeat listen potential and, what matters most, personality. A promising debut from an artist that has certainly quite a lot more to offer.
The Sticky Fingers is due for release on 29th January via Moshi Moshi Records – and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp, here.