Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Elisa has left an impression on the music industry. Or, at least if you live in Italy, you do. All nine of her albums since her 1997 debut Pipes and Flowers have hit the top-10 on the Italian charts, and her new album, On, which dropped last week, has already become her third number one album in Italy. The 39-year-old Trieste-born singer/songwriter remains a virtual unknown in the US, but Americans may recognize her song “Dancing” from the 2006-7 seasons of the TV program So You Think You Can Dance, or her 2012 Ennio Morricone collaboration, “Ancora Qui”, which featured in the movie Django. While opinions on her music vary widely, ranging from “intricate and nuanced” to “fluffy and superficial”, she has shown definite staying power in her two decade career.
Elisa’s strength is her defiance of any easy pigeonhole. Her music is a heady mix of electronica, trip-hop, alternative rock, dance pop, and balladeer; she usually sings in English, but her previous album, L’anima Vola, was sung entirely in Italian. With On, Elisa returns to English and comes up with a solid selection of uptempo pop tunes. While it might not be enough to put her over in America, it is primed to be her biggest mover since her almost accidental classic Lotus in 2003.
Led by the single “No Hero”, the thirteen self-penned songs on On present a self-assured and modern Elisa, as much at home with newer pop trends as she was when she broke in the 90’s. “Waste Your Time On Me” features a duet with British singer Jack Savoretti, and the album closes with a winning trio with Italian singers Emma Brown and Giuliano Sangiorgi.
On differs from its predecessors with its greater reliance on electronica tropes and contemporary dance pop. The songstress, who pared the song selection down from a pool of two dozen, says the “guys on [her] team understand what songs work, and what sound people want today” She also name-checked Daft Punk, Clean Bandit, and Skrillex as influences on her new sound, which can only be described as vital and energetic.
When asked about the inclusion of a cat on the album cover, the singer commented in a press release that “the cat is a creature which is simply alive; strong in his weakness, able to arouse emotion in all of us: pure, direct, authentic” With answers like this, it is almost tempting to say who cares if the music is any good.
“No Hero”, which features a glossy promotional video with a lot of hugging and kissing in it, certainly holds its own when held next to much of the current American pop music chart. Therein lies the rub; where “No Hero” fails is not in its execution, which is competent and commercial. It fails in transcending the competition; it lacks distinction. Still, this is not the fault of the singer/songwriter, whose music still emanates from clubs throughout Italy. Elisa remains at the top of her game.
Elisa “No Hero” (2016)