ALBUM THROWBACK: ALICE MERTON | MINT (2019)
Two years after the release of her acclaimed "No Roots" EP, Alice Merton returned with her full-length debut "Mint," released on 30 November 2019 through Paper Planes and Mom + Pop Music. "Mint" is an impressive collection of irresistible pop gems that showcases Merton’s knack for infectious hooks and dancefloor-packing beats. Alice Merton broke onto the music scene in 2016 when she went straight to the top of the charts with her powerful single “No Roots.” Merton also released two other singles, “Why So Serious” and “Funny Business,” in 2018. Before her album release, Merton seemed to have unyielding amounts of talent and potential. Merton also re-released the album in late 2019 under the title "Mint +4", with four new songs, including the sixth single, "Easy."
From the opening salvo of “Learn to Live,” with its ridiculously catchy guitar riff that recalls Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Merton establishes the formula to "Mint’s" success: unique, danceable beats, splashes of rock and funk guitar, massive sing-along choruses, intricate melodies, and Merton’s contralto croon. The chart-topping nomadic earwig “No Roots” needs no introduction, but it’s not even the catchiest song on the album. The stomping funk-rock of “Lash Out” trades one hook for another as it builds from verse to pre-chorus to chorus. “Everything is nothing until you realize it’s something you want,” Merton sings over the staccato riff. The slow jam “Speak Your Mind” is Mint’s best track. Merton’s rhythmic vocals pulse and contract, bolstered by a slow bass groove. Fitting for a song about silence and lack of communication, it is as powerful in its spaces between bass notes, between Merton’s vocal lines, as it is in the anthemic chorus when palm-muted guitars drop into the mix. “It’s hard for me to look at you and realize you’re part of me,” Merton sings, putting words to a deteriorating relationship struggling from miscommunication.
At times Merton and co-songwriter Nick Rebscher rely on lyrical clichés, and, intended or not, the chorus in “Why So Serious” can’t help but recall the Joker’s iconic line in "The Dark Knight." It can also be said that "Mint" overreaches to dramatic choruses when more subtlety would have helped. Even so, "Mint" shows off the young Merton’s immense talent. Her voice is soulful and powerful without ever over-singing. Merton sometimes sounds like a veteran soul singer while at others, especially the piano ballad “Homesick,” her tone and phrasing channels Fiona Apple. Songs like “Trouble in Paradise” and “Funny Business” show Merton at the top of her dance-pop game, with retro grooves, thumping bass, and standout melodic vocals. Even at her most bombastic dance moments, though, Merton relies on her compositional craft to avoid the monotony that often plagues the genre. These are fine grooves with unique beats, flourishes of guitars, pianos and other instruments, and a resulting sound as introspective as it is propulsive.
"Mint" is as catchy as any album that has topped the pop charts, but it is a lot more than dance beats and pop hooks. The album’s creative uses of rock and funk, Merton’s keen ear for melody, and the intricate compositions that tread the line between subtlety and dramatic catharsis make it a standout pop album. Merton wrote “Why So Serious” in response to constant questions about whether she was worried about being a one-hit-wonder. After dropping her first LP, Merton has clarified that such a thing shouldn’t be a concern. Any song on "Mint" had the potential to be another massive hit for Merton, both because they hit on a formula that has worked well in the past and just because they’re that good.