Affirmation

Savage Garden

Columbia Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: JB

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/23/2001

Before I popped this one into the deck, I had just finished listening to Ricky Martin's Sound Loaded and was in a state of high pissed-offness.

Music Industry dudes... WAKE UP. WHY do you think Napster is so popular? WHY do you think Napster-ish piracy practices are more common than CD burning? IT'S BECAUSE YOUR ALBUMS ARE TERRIBLE. I buy an album after listening to "Nobody Wants To Be Lonely" on the radio, buy the album, and get all this CRAP that goes with it for 115 Baht... enough money for three full meals in Thailand! Do I feel ripped off? Do I feel like running out into the Internet to download a copy of Napster and never buy another album for as long as I live? HELL YES.

GET your act together. Figure out a way for us to listen to entire albums at home before buying them ("Web Radio Sony" etc.) or a legal, reasonable way to get individual tracks in a CD-quality format, or better. Paradigms are shifting and consumers are less willing to EAT your filler-filled TRASH. GET with the FLOW.

(Note: Sound Loaded is not really a terrible album, I just don't think I'm its target audience. Read our review on "The Daily Vault" and proceed with caution.)

I'm definitely the target audience for bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Affirmation. It's a solid pop album with no false pretensions of being rock, alternative, R&B or hip-hop (is Jennifer Lopez making "Latin music"? Or is she simply a one-woman Destiny's Child?). Former writing and producing partner of Mariah Carey, producer Walter Afanasieff spares us from his frequently banal songwriting by choosing to do only what he does best, produce. Combined with the tight, dramatic songwriting of the Darren Hayes/Daniel Jones duo of Savage Garden, Affirmation comes across as a sophisticated and honest pop album that IS worth three main courses of Thai cuisine.

The title song was performed to great applause at the 2000 Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony, and opens this album with an easy dance beat and smooth production values, none of that thumping, repetitive stuff few excel at and many imitate. It's still better live, but it'll get you up in the morning. Such fast, smooth and melodic songs seem to be a stylistic theme for Savage Garden like "Crash And Burn", "Hold Me" and "The Animal Song" ... all uplifting and absorbing, without being tiring. They have the lyrical strength of ballads and the emotional urgency of dance songs; in fact, it's difficult to really decide whether a given song on Affirmation is a straight ballad or a straight dance song.

Not that the ballads can't stand by themselves. "You Can Still Be Free" carries the tradition of the number one hit "Truly, Madly, Deeply" in emotionally intimate ballads, and "Two Beds And A Coffee Machine" misses being hokey by a hair thanks to its acoustic, intimate arrangement. "The Lover After Me" relies on lyric hooks ("without you I'm always twenty minutes late"), which is a nice change that might be missed in non-English speaking markets, a problem the songs "Gunning Down Romance" and the wonderful "I Don't Know You Anymore" might also suffer from. Bummer.

A few don't quite work: "Chained To You" is probably better as an outright rocker, and "The Best Thing" doesn't seem to say anything with its lyrics (implicitly or explicitly) which makes it fall flat. There's a similar weak-lyrics problem in the ballad "I Knew I Loved You" (and is a mystery as to how this, the weakest track on the album, manages to get released as the lead-off single! I will never understand marketing).

Lead singer Darren Hayes' voice isn't for everyone (personally, very personally, I love it) and audiences, especially American audiences, might be turned off by Savage Garden's somewhat whitebread sound that used to be such a hit in the '80s. But if you were always a fan of Madonna's pre- Erotica vision (a strong pop album that is what it is), you might like Affirmation, if only because of the relief it'll give you from the tyranny of Euro-pop and the mythic Latin Wave.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.