On her debut album, singer/songwriter/pianist Vienna Teng comes across more as a blend of two other well-known female solo artists than as her own individual. Her voice bears a striking similarity to Sarah McLachlan -- and the intro to her song "Between" could easily find a place on McLachlan's
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. In addition, she seems to come from the
Tori Amos piano school: half classical training and half rebellion against that training Amos displayed so well on
This certainly makes it easy to tell who Teng's target audience is, but at the same time it is unfortunate because, even after playing
Waking Hour repeatedly, I have no idea who Vienna Teng is; I only know her influences.
The first song ("The Tower") was obviously meant as a "single" due to its heavy production relative to the rest of the album. It is a really terrific pop song and is the best song on the disc, so if you're not a fan of Amos or McLachlan, just download it from Teng's
Web site and skip the rest of this review.
"The Tower" is the dark tale of a woman having a breakdown after she realizes her life has been wasted serving others instead of herself. Teng certainly has an Tori-an flair with words, although she is more readily accessible:
I need not to need, or else a love with intuition.
Someone who reaches out to my weakness and won't let go
I need not to need. I've always been the tower,
And now I feel like I'm the flower trying to bloom in snow.
Waking Hour is perfect for people who are looking for something very much like Amos and McLachlan. Others will be disappointed, which is unfortunate because if the music were different, Teng's poetic turns of phrase would be allowed to stand out more. The sameness of the music actually detracts from the lyrics, and that's a mistake.
It's not until track 8 that she shows any range musically, and that song -- "Enough to Go By" -- reeks of modern country music, but, hey, it's a change! "Unwritten Letter #1" has a definite ska feel (I could tell because it sounded just like No Doubt) and "Soon Love Soon" carries a note of African spiritual (complete with hand drum). But these are rare departures in an album rife with similarities.
This is not to say that Teng has created a bad album. Her playing is remarkable and she has a wonderful voice. The songs are simply far too reminiscent of other artists and led me, instead of listening to the songs, to play the "guess the influence" game; sad, because a lot of people obviously spent a lot of time and energy on this recording and to produce such an unashamedly derivative product just seems like a waste of time, money, and little plastic discs.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.
Vienna Teng: Waking Hour
As featured on LETTERMAN and NPR. Waking Hour takes listeners on an emotional ride through gentle piano ballads to multi-layered productions with lush landscapes.
VIENNA TENG: Warm Strangers
Featured on LETTERMAN & NPR. A dazzling collection of lush, melodic songs, incorporating Vienna's classical tendencies and folk sensibilities within a contemporary pop framework.
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