Norwegian singer-songwriter Liv Austen’s music has variously been described as UK country, country pop, lightweight pop, ‘Taylor Swift meets Paramore,’ Americana pop, not country not pop and, even more bizarrely, Scandi dubstep. Her hotly anticipated debut album is finally here, giving us a chance to settle the debate by exploring her sound in detail. Spoiler: it’s well worth a moment of your time. Followed by many more. Actually, how long have you got?
The album opens with a cheating song. So far, so country. This one is from the perspective of the jilted lover but it’s no conciliatory Stand By Your Man, and there are no hats, trucks or twang for a country mile.
In fact, Miss Nobody rocks. After an intricate guitar solo, the steady drums and fuzzy Drop D guitar match the increasing intensity of Austen’s ruthless delivery. The opening lines set the tone with panache: “eyes done/lipstick on/my face is like a loaded gun/I’m a stirred not a shaken lady.”
Austen’s vocal control and expressiveness sell the song. Any hurt, anger or humiliation is sublimated into the wry pleasure of catching the dirtbag in the act and annihilating his excuses: “no party atmosphere/scented candles/where’s the beer? Don’t look like a bro’s night in, baby.”
When Austen’s singing, you can hear it in her voice if she’s smiling. In this case, you can hear that she’d burn worlds if provoked.
The breakdown breaks it right down: “I won’t waste my time moving on/I’m already gone, I’m done/but don’t come crawling back when she highlights her hair to look like me.” Although the two Kelly Clarkson references in the song were unintentional, they’re quite the happy accident.
In topic, tone and temperament, Miss Nobody could easily be a prequel to Clarkson’s duet You Thought Wrong about two two-timed women calling out their shared ex. By the way, comparisons to Kelly ‘queen of everything’ Clarkson don’t come easy. High praise indeed.
Watch out for the hard stop because you’ll be hearing a lot more of those. It’s Austen’s signature piece and it means that, vocally, she’s ready to end you now. In Miss Nobody, it’s cue for Jon Wright’s guitars to kick back in dirtier and chunkier too.
It’s worth pointing out that Austen and Wright produced the album, and it’s all the better for it. It sounds professional but with an electric edge and vibrancy that would have been lost with a traditional pure pop finish.
Austen’s picked up a reputation of being sweet to the point of perfection. She’s actually an evil genius. On an album called A Moment of Your Time, she’s tracklisted Miss Nobody followed by The Next Time. A moment? You can’t have a damn second – that’s one killer Austen/Sharman co-write after another. Giddy on up!
The Next Time is a truly impressive song. It’s clever, contemporary and moreish. A gentle boom-chuck guitar line keeps the pace. The echo effects early on are subtle but add depth and slickness. There’s enjambment as the lines run into each other seamlessly, more of the clever metaphor you’ve come to expect from Austen, and even low key foreshadowing of the harmony part that’s about to light up the chorus.
It could easily be a relationship song but Austen has been clear that it’s about breaking up with a friend. The lyrics are relatable either way: “I would change/you’d stay the same mistake for me to fix/you say you’re easy going but you’re not.”
Now, that chorus. A dramatic drumbeat then a forever earworm – “oooh oooh oooh oooh” – leading each line. It’s just the right kind of empowering song we need right now and, just to be clear, one of my favourite songs ever.
Another example of Austen not giving you a damn moment, the first single is followed immediately by Don’t Regret A Single One. So good they recorded it twice! It’s the only song from either of Austen’s EPs. Instead of a countrified treatment, this time it has a strong beat and chunky guitars (I see you, Jon Wright).
There’s particular passion in the vocal delivery of the chorus. Just one problem: “I remember fondly every boy I’ve kissed/and I don’t regret a single one.” Suuuuuure. Absolute lies!
Want It More finally allows us that moment Austen promised. The slow tempo draws focus to her soft vocals; not only beautiful but also skilfully expressing surprise, desire, pathos and a little bit of are you frickin’ kidding me?
Don’t Regret A Single One and Want It More make up the first set of back-to-back songs written by Austen alone; you’d better prepare yourself for the next one. Get the tissues ready.
With Train Of Thought, Austen Sharmans us when we least expect it. It’s on the slower side so it’s not immediately obvious it’s a successor to Miss Nobody and The Next Time. However, there’s clever use of metaphor, a signature catchy hook and a syncopated beat consistent with the locomotive topic.
Next up is the last single. Window Shopping hit the scene hard for three key reasons:
1) Everyone loves Liv Austen
2) It has a great video (111,000 views and counting!)
3) Three words: Kaity Rae banger.
This Austen/Rae co-write emerged at the same time that Lisa Wright’s lush single, Tennessee, also co-written with Rae, appeared. Finally some light shone on the talent we have in our midst, a ridiculously young star who’s consistently writing stellar chart-ready pieces (not to mention being a killer performer and producer in her own right.)
If there was any justice, she’d be up there with Sharman and Jeff Cohen as a high-profile writer of relatable and relevant songs. Just you wait until you hear Rae’s songs Her and Entitled, or the other Austen/Rae co-write that I will fight anyone for. I haven’t given up hope of a record called Liv Actually with that heartbreaker on it. Time to get working on the second album, Austen!
Public service announcement on how the industry is sleeping on Kaity Rae’s talent over, how about the song? It’s pretty difficult to review because that’s boring compared to singing along with this pop masterpiece! It’s going to drive the country purists crazy and that’s not even the best thing about it!
It starts out with controlled guitar work that Wright makes seem easy but probably isn’t – it could do with being a bit longer to really make the most of it.
There’s liberal gorgeous head voice and a signature Austen hard stop. It’s so uplifting they should really prescribe it on the NHS. It’s as relentlessly catchy as Hanson’s MmmBop with a sweet breakdown that gives it heart and Rae’s cute spoken word segment.
A lot has been said about the song being an anthem for the Tinder generation; kudos to the line “don’t care if you’re fit/just if we fit.” Surprisingly less has been said about the other striking lyric: “I gotta try you on/wear you out all night long.” Like a jacket, yeah? Sure! Turns out that when people think you’re perfect you can get away with saying *anything*!
Whole Heart is a fan favourite that showcases Austen’s vocal talent and songwriting ability. The recording is faithful to the live version but somehow gets a new lease of life in the long form setting. There’s real pain on show: “I had a similar thing before and I ain’t doing that once more/’cause in the end he went back to her and I can’t explain how bad it hurt.” Even with songs as undeniably strong as Miss Nobody on this album, it’s easy to see why Whole Heart has been chosen as the next single.
Yet again, Austen refuses to give us that moment she keeps banging on about. Going straight from Whole Heart to Detour?? We surrender! It’s fitting that these two lone writes are together as they’re some of the strongest lyrically, and certainly the most searingly personal songs on the record. Do you need a hug, Liv? I do.
Real talk: Detour would be devastating even if it didn’t come straight after the emotional dragging of Whole Heart: “Looking back now, I realise/I was nothing but a detour in your eyes/you became the greatest love I ever knew/While I was just a mistake to you.”
Detour is another live acoustic mainstay, but on record an infusion of electric guitar mirrors the intense hurt and frustration laid bare. It’s emotionally draining to listen to, let alone to live through or sing. Check out that little breath at the end of the song. One of the most adorable things in recorded history and indicative of the passion and effort that went into recording the song.
Austen has even Austenized the album with Whole Heart and Detour as an uber hard stop between Window Shopping and Part Time Sweetheart. It’s the only song on the album that Austen didn’t write (credit goes to Claydon Connor) but it’s a natural fit for her style and personality.
It certainly has a striking opening line “so you think I’m perfect,” all the more impactful because people really do think that. Mistakenly, of course; as previously mentioned, she’s an evil genius – but also a massive nerd. Fact.
The song could easily be mishandled as a throwaway pop song but Austen really delivers the unravelling story of how being put on a pedestal is worth nothing when the guy turns out to be as unreliable as his predecessors: “You were all I thought about that summer, summer, summer/but to you I was just another, just another, just another.” Again, electric guitar provides the song’s foundation.
The icing on the cake is the apotheosis of the hard stop. This one is “I need a ray of sunshine to put a sparkle in my eye” – hard stop – twinkly bit – boom! Get your coat you’ve pulled, whoever put that together. This would be a single on anyone else’s album. Anyone who didn’t already have The Next Time, Window Shopping, Don’t Regret A Single One, Whole Heart (and Miss Nobody waiting in the wings, if we’re lucky)!
In fact, the strength of the album shows by looking at the next track, A Moment Of Your Time. It’s hot, quietly catchy, effortlessly cool, co-written by the album’s producers Austen and Wright and it’s even the title track – but it gets overshadowed by the unremitting quality and memorability of songs that have gone before.
Nothing Less, Nothing More has a chilled 80s noir vibe and the only thing cooler than that is that it was co-written with yet another favourite singer, songwriter (and guest Redrospective reporter and photographer!) Emily Faye. As elsewhere on the album, what could be a generic song in other hands is given a twist. In this case, it’s a timely focus on self-worth and empowerment.
Austen’s delivery is calm and collected. There’s no doubt of the truth in the line “if you leave now love is a closed door.” As previously indicated with Miss Nobody, Austen will blatantly end you then dance on your grave if you cross her.
For an album that’s predominantly about lost loves and losers, it’s cathartic to end with a traditional love song. It’s been interesting to get a glimpse into the life-cycle of an album production; in demo, this song seemed like a ballad more suited to an easy listening commercial radio artist. In the final cut, it’s so obviously a Liv Austen song and provides the emotional closure the album needs.
The song was inspired by photographs and the lyrical description brings them to life. True to form, the gentle tone and nostalgic lyrics have a greater depth. It’s not just wistfulness but a more nuanced take: “our paths crossed when we ready/I wouldn’t wanna to change it/I’ll never meet that boy, I know that he’s long gone/He became a man before I came along.”
So, there it is. The album showcases more of Austen’s formative pop roots than the country influences that are usually talked about, especially when comparing it to the original cut of Don’t Regret A Single One or 2014’s Workin’ Man’s Dream. Even less often noted, there’s a heavy undercurrent of electric guitar, verging on grungy at times. Austen combines those elements with a strong singer-songwriter focus foregrounding the importance of lyric, specifically nuance and honesty.
Killer hooks, sass, clever wordplay and skilful genre mixing? That’s it, I’m calling it: Americana pop. A 12 heart, 60 star essential Americana pop album at that!
Final verdict: I love it as much as Liv loves Clara Bond. Yes, THAT much.
A Moment Of Your Time is out on October 19 on NUA Entertainment – available for pre-order now!
If you’d like to buy the album and help fund redrospective.com at the same time at no additional cost to you, please click on the album cover below.
You can also buy Austen’s 2015 EP, Workin’ Man’s Dream!
While you’ve got your credit card out, don’t forget to get your tickets for I’ll Cover You! Liv Austen will be joined by her co-writer Kaity Rae plus Lisa Wright and Clara Bond for a songwriters’ round with a difference. They’ll be singing each other’s songs and talking about things that matter. Head to illcoveryoulive.com for more information and tickets, and follow us @illcoveryoulive.com on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.