8 October 2021
It’s so surreal. Fifteen years since their last album, Vanilla Ninja are back with a new album, Encore, and I can’t believe I’m really listening to it. Lenna Kuurmaa, Piret Järvis, Katrin Siska and Triinu Kivilaan certainly have not let us down with an album of 12 high quality songs, including several surprises. Appropriately for an album titled Encore, it completely satisfies the expectation you want from an encore performance. The most striking part of the album is that it traverses between the classic Vanilla Ninja pop/rock style to more subtle and varied styles, and it does so successfully and with the unmistakable stamp that this is Vanilla Ninja.
01 Gotta Get It Right
02 No Regrets
03 The Reason Is You
04 Driving Through The Night
06 I Miss You Like Hell
10 The Look In Your Eyes
11 Say It Loud
12 It Ain’t You
Gotta Get It Right was the first single and kicks off Encore with the Vanilla Ninja style familiar to most people: subtle verses and powerful choruses connected with strong instrumental sections and guitar riffs. Notably, Triinu leads the vocals with her hauntingly dark voice to immediately signal that her return to the band is not just a token effort to have the four girls again, she’s an important and integral member after leaving prior to the previous album, Love Is War. Into the chorus, of course there’s that distinctive presence of Lenna. Her exquisite natural tone, her clarity and simply her artistry – it’s immediately felt. This contrast in vocal styles infuses the song with even more drama, as is the hallmark of any classic Vanilla Ninja song.
The first surprise with Encore comes with No Regrets. A subtle, country style of a song, this time with Lenna first to sing and Triinu following. This was the second single released and it was wise to give it such attention. It’s an adorable addition that gives an insight into how 15 years of life experiences, and each with their own children, has moulded the individual band members both personally and musically, and that they are now much more than just high energy rock tracks and rock ballads. Even within this subtlety, there’s still those familiar vocals and harmonies to sweep you away and remind you again that this is Vanilla Ninja.
The Reason Is You was the first demo the girls heard when their producer David Brandes (responsible for their second and third albums, Traces Of Sadness and Blue Tattoo, and Cool Vibes at Eurovision) proposed a comeback, and after just one minute you know the answer could only be yes. This is the quintessential Lenna experience on Encore as she wraps you in her full range of vocal expressions. I don’t know where she gets it or how she does it, Lenna can produce these subtle vocal strains that she intertwines with her regular pronunciation that makes listening to each word a micro journey in itself. Then into the chorus she manages to soar without losing any of those trademark characteristics in her voice. Of course, it’s not the complete Vanilla Ninja experience without the other girls helping her rock the chorus, or the infectious melody and awesomeness of the song itself. It was the third single and got a special video too, with Vanilla Ninja rocking the set and leaving a touching finale.
While Lenna continues on lead vocals with Driving Through The Night, this is much more a team vocal experience as the other Ninjas augment much of the song with their haunting and, quite simply, beautiful harmonies. The song is also quite haunting in itself, as you’d imagine a lonely experience of driving through the night would be. Specifically, here, it’s about leaving a bad relationship, and knowing that you must do so, even if your heart is tugging you the other way. Many of the songs actually reflect these deeper relationship issues that adults face – a stark contrast to Traces Of Sadness and its teenage themes that most prominently included vengefully dumping bad boyfriends.
Faith brought me to tears as faith has been something I’ve been living without since I lost my mother just on two and half a years ago. The announcement last November of a new Vanilla Ninja album was the first time I felt any sense of faith returning, and here we are today. Triinu returns to help Lenna on this soft rock classic. The song successfully lives up to its title as it imbues you with a sense of warmth and, yes, faith, especially through the choruses. The pacing is perfect as it motors along nicely and demands you immediately listen again. Which I did… several times.
Triinu kicks off I Miss You Like Hell and it would be remiss not to mention that after living for 17 years in Switzerland, there is extra mystique to her voice with a subtle European accent present. It’s nice, and this is the track to really experience her. I Miss You Like Hell is best described as a rock ballad, with plenty of echoes from the Traces Of Sadness era. It’s an excellent track that ingratiates itself quickly and had me singing along before the end. Waterfalls is the most majestic track on the album, and just as dramatic. A big, powerful ballad with Lenna showcasing her vocal prowess and with an epic orchestral arrangement, along with monk choir effects as heard on Blue Tattoo, completing the package. No surprise it’s one of the favourites of the band.
Dare I say Incredible is incredible? It is! Piret gets us going here, followed by Triinu and Piret. Then Katrin joins them on the chorus. The way they sing is incredible, the way they harmonise is incredible, the way the song flows is incredible, and it’s all so infectious and delightful to be almost unbearable. This was the fourth single and was a welcome choice, especially to see the fun video created. The Look In Your Eyes follows nicely on from Incredible, and is part of the new group of mature pop songs seen on this album. It’s probably one that needs a little more time to reveal its full potential after the sensory overload of all the others.
Say It Loud returns to a more familiar Vanilla Ninja style, this time a moody rock ballad with a haunting undertone. Instantly catchy like all the rest, and with Lenna and Triinu sharing the lead vocal duties. In fact, the one notable quality about Encore is that all the tracks are so instantly appealing, and the inclusion of Triinu on many leads vocals gives it a unique identity. As much as there is a certain similarity about Vanilla Ninja albums, there is much that is different too. Curiously, that summarises It Ain’t You. It’s a bit of a microcosm of Encore itself. It takes elements from everywhere and melds them into one monumentally eclectic and interesting track.
Finally, Encore. Not the final track, it’s the eighth one, and it deserves the final mention because it’s as much a nexus of the album as it is the most curious and interesting song on the album. Surprise, surprise, it’s a dance song, and a good one at that. Triinu’s voice really suits this style, enhancing its hypnotic feel, and when Lenna’s required to be more subdued, she can still bring her little twists and inflections to remind us all that this is Lenna.
As strange as Encore might seem on a Vanilla Ninja album, it does work, because it still is Vanilla Ninja. That’s the thing. This mix of four unique and talented women, great songwriting and great perseverance, it never fails to impress. In that sense, Encore, both the song and the album, feels like a celebration. A celebration of music and life. A celebration of history and legacy. Most of all, a celebration of Vanilla Ninja.
Encore – 11 Months Later
28 August 2022
In 2008 I went to Estonia for a Vanilla Ninja concert. Fourteen years later, I’m going again, specifically for their 20th anniversary concert on 2nd September. It’s surreal to think I’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing Vanilla Ninja all that time. Yes, you can eat Vanilla Ninja. They have their own range of ice-creams, and buying one will be the first thing I do upon landing in Tallinn.
With the concert looming, three new videos released, and Encore almost 11 months old, the time was right to make a deep introspection of the album and to see how it stood up over time. I discovered it’s still as full of life as ever. In fact, as is the hallmark of Vanilla Ninja music, it reveals more and more of itself the more you listen. First there’s the songs and infectious melodies, then the arrangements, and those vocals and harmonies – there’s just so many layers. Even within the vocals, Lenna, especially, has so many nuances that you can keep hearing new things years later.
Driving Through The Night is a great example of one that has revealed much more of itself over time, with those haunting sounds and harmonies increasing its stature to place it as one of the album’s strongest of strong songs. Say It Loud, with Triinu adding to the atmosphere, has bumped itself up similarly. The Look In Her Eyes, the one song I felt the least on the album’s release, has really blossomed into life. Again, it’s Lenna’s vocals, more on the subtle side this time, and those harmonies are so good, and it finishes with the most graceful of endings.
Then there’s the songs that make you want to sing out loud. With the lead track, Gotta Get It Right, it’s impossible not to sing the “gotta get it right” chorus, even you if you don’t quite get it right. You get it right enough! With its catchy instrumental opening, the soft verses, and the powerful chorus, GGIR has grown further over the months and singing those has become an addiction. The Reason Is You borrows much of that template and you can’t help join Lenna with “and I” as she launches the chorus. Then stop, because you really want to hear Lenna, not yourself.
Faith remains one of my big favourites of the album. It’s so catchy, with a bouncy vibe, and it has a very personal meaning that still resonates today. While the lyrics have nothing to do with losing a loved one (as I did my mother in 2019), just the energy of the song and with lines like “faith, oh faith, give me just faith” have provided a level of comfort and, yes, faith during this period when the world often still feels empty. Daylight, one of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the CD (along with the dance song, White Flags), has fast become a favourite due to its positive energy. In Waterfalls, the monument to Lenna’s vocal prowess, it’s a reminder of good times, both past and present.
Triinu’s “dark” vocals, as Lenna has best described them, are really at their fore in I Miss You Like Hell, and singing along to “I miss you like hell, I miss you like crazy” now has an ironic feel as Triinu, along with keyboardist Katrin, have since left Vanilla Ninja. Triinu will really be missed, as that distinct voice added a rich, warm undercurrent to the harmonies too. With their lives and careers in insurance and real estate established in Switzerland and Portugal, respectively, it became too impractical for them to continue. In Triinu’s place is younger sister, Kerli, who was included in a revised version of the title track, the surprise dance song, and still hypnotic, Encore. She sounds great, and it will be interesting to see her future integration with the band.
After these 11 months, Encore really feels like the encapsulation of Vanilla Ninja’s career, with the added twist of experimenting into new styles. The country-style No Regrets remains as beautiful as ever, and makes you appreciative that the band was bold, and took a few risks. It really personalises Encore, as have those aforementioned harmonies. Incredible interweaves them expertly with its mature pop sound and lush vocals, and it’s still so… incredible! “Hold me, Save me” – try stop yourself from joining in. It would be rude if I didn’t mention It Ain’t You, the dramatic and compelling ballad that gives us a little microcosm of everything classic Vanilla Ninja. All these touches truly enhance and expand the Vanilla Ninja legacy to make Encore a compelling listening experience. While Love Is War will always be the best Vanilla Ninja album ever, Encore is definitely second best.
My Top 3 from Encore
23 October 2022
So I’ve been to the Vanilla Ninja concert, ate plenty of Vanilla Ninja ice-creams, and the whole experience was amazing. Read about it here.
Encore is also now one year old, and after doing much listening while I away, I’ve settled on my top 3 songs:
1) The Reason Is You
I should say there are no weak songs. Very little separates most of them. It’s just that these three have something that little extra special about them.
Vanilla Ninja get it right with Gotta Get It Right
Vanilla Ninja back in 2021 with a new album
Moonland featuring Lenna Kuurmaa – Album Review
Pingback: The Vanilla Ninja Concert at Telliskivi Kvartal – Tallinn – Estonia | Mr Eurovision Australia·