The quandary when reviewing Conchita Wurst’s debut album Conchita is that you’re rooting for the Austrian to succeed from the get-go. Eurovision, the platform on which Conchita first came to fame in 2014 is widely renowned at best for saccharine, cookie-cutter pop, and at worst as a heavily politicized ersatz in which infamous geo-political contours and dogmas are produced continuously, whether being manifested in tactical voting or in “interpretative” dance. In this miasma then, it was pretty incredible to see a drag queen win through, especially considering the ongoing, widely documented controversies in Russia and to a lesser extent, the Balkans regarding LGBTQ issues. It could be read as a representation of an increasingly tolerant European mainstream, crystalized in the exuberance and uplifting dynamics of Wurst’s performance, and her excellent song, Rise Like A Phoenix. Not only is Wurst a transnational icon for all the right reasons, her publicity is also undeniably endearing – she, for example, calls her fans “the Unstoppables”, which reminds me of the similarly inclusive, emancipatory langue we saw from Lady Gaga circa Born This Way. All in all, we’re all backing Wurst to do well, but does the music stack up?
The short answer is no, and the long answer is no, but we shouldn’t really expect it to. With a few notable exceptions, Eurovision doesn’t have a track record of producing aesthetically incisive talent, so whilst Conchita is a bit average, I can’t help emphasize that the generic parameters in which it finds itself will always hinder it from becoming a Yeezus or a Fluorescent Adolescent. It would be a bit unfair to expect Wurst after all to retreat into a forest for her freshman effort and release a stark concept album à la Bon Iver. What we have instead is an album of forgettable but uplifting-whilst-it-lasts Europop, oversaturated with reflective piano, swirling strings, soulful backing choirs, and thumping minimalist percussion. Admittedly, within this blanket description, there is tangible variety, with Colours of your Love for example, transitioning into a rather unexpected drop – with an equally surprising inclusion of what sounds like a synth banjo. The subsequent track, Out Of Body Experience similarly deviates into a scurrying, playful string arrangement, but is still grounded in same-y drums and vocal scores, which are replicated over and over again throughout the album.
That being said, this is hardly a losing formula, and as I mentioned, there aren’t any duff tracks on the album and everything is a diverting listen, but not memorable or good enough to really merit a return. Whilst the vocals aren’t particularly adventurous, Wurst is still an engaging performer who continuingly handles sprawling vocal parts with aplomb. The problem here is, whilst I have no grievous criticism, the album just doesn’t have enough variety – as bar, the admittedly completely antithetical interlude of Where Have All The Good Men Gone, which sees Wurst channel Amy Winehouse, everything else is indistinguishable. To get a sense of Conchita, I’d listen to the two best tracks, which helpfully bookend the album, Rise Like a Phoenix and You Are Unstoppable, as these will leave you satisfied. The rest are unfortunately rougher carbon copies.