AUSTRIA: The Princess Pts 1 & 2 - Parov Stelar
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Despite being an album in two parts with distinct styles, Parov Stelar’s The Princess is an exceptionally consistent, coherent and entertaining album with a lot to offer
We’re cheating a bit here – this is two albums for the price of one (review). That may be, but they do cohere as one piece of music meant to be listened together, so I think we are allowed to bend the rules a little bit. Parov Stelar’s The Princess was recommended to me under the label ‘classic electro-swing’. If ever there was an overly specific superlative, this is it. I am unable to speak as to it’s classic-ness or not, I’m hardly an authority on the electro-swing genre (though if there’s any experts of electro-swing reading this, do write in and let me know), but I am able to certify that it’s a pretty spectacular album. It has a mammoth runtime, with both parts coming together at just under two hours long, and for it to be as consistently innovative, interesting, varied, and just plain enjoyable as this is, is a real achievement. There are songs here that are club bangers, some are more ambient mood-setters, others more poppy and easy-listening. The first half of the album leans more towards the ambient, pop, and dance music styles, whereas the latter half is full on electro-swing, with a charmingly retro tone that reminded me of Old Hollywood musicals, but remixed for the modern day.
He’s successful in creating a mood that makes you feel like you’re attending a Gatsby-esque party, but with a modern flavour.
Parov Stelar’s style can be described as a mix of electro, jazz, pop and, of course, swing. It’s this unusual mish-mash of elements that make this the success it is. His style is so eclectic and there’s so much going on in each track that there’s probably something in this album for everyone. There are dance pop numbers like Sally’s Dance, Baska Brother, All Night and Jimmy’s Gang, there’s more ambient tracks like The Beach or Song for the Crickets. It’s not fully ambient I should specify, he never goes full Brian Eno, but they are slower, more contemplative songs. All Night is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s a short dance pop song that is just eminently re-listenable.
It’s also an album that can work when listening to it attentively and closely, there’s plenty of interesting instrumentation that bears repeat and deep listens, but it’s also an album that sets a mood, a vibe, an atmosphere that can be left in the background. He’s successful in creating a mood that makes you feel like you’re attending a Gatsby-esque party, but with a modern flavour. It also works together, two albums as one. The first half is more contemplative, melancholic, the latter half more exuberant and energetic, though both sides of the album have a wide range of styles within them. It builds up to a high point in terms of energy around the start of the second half, and then it slowly starts to bring it in by the end. This is even reflected in the album artwork, part one has a pale grey colour palate, part two has a brash red colour palate. Furthermore, I am unable to tell how much of the album uses samples or original material, but lots of it to me feels original, and what must be sampled is integrated so well it never sticks out.
The swing aspect that becomes the focus of the second half of the album might put some people off initially (I know I felt that way to start), but Stelar integrates it in a way that seems completely in-keeping with the musical aesthetic of the first part of the album. It really manages to paint a picture of building up to a night out, and then it actually happening. It’s operatic and dramatic too, there’s a scope and scale to the album, given to it by its length. Stelar is able to fully explore every single musical theme and idea he wants to, and when given that space, he fulfils that potential.
The Princess is not an album with beautiful lyrics that deal with profound themes that inspire emotional reactions. This isn’t that kind of masterpiece. It’s a musical masterpiece for the most part, with almost all of the enjoyment, for me at least, coming from the consistently good musicianship and the catchy tunes. That said, the lead singer on most of the tracks, Cleo Panther, has a good voice, and a voice that fits the mood and tone of the album. Lilja Bloom is a guest vocalist on two songs, Dust in the Summer Rain and With You, both of which are slower, atmospheric pieces, which work really well, especially With You, which has a dramatic violin riff.
The Princess is a sprawling work with so much in it that I would accuse it of being scattergun and disorganised, were it not utterly successful on its own terms. There’s nothing I can really fault it for, aside from maybe being slightly too long. Apart from that, it’s magnificent.