Back in 1998, Swedish singer Emilia scored a Top 5 hit with Big Big World, a catchy pop song that sounded a bit like a Disney ballad. But a follow-up single failed to crack the top 40, and British music fans never heard from her again… until now.
Emilia has returned with a surname, which turns out to be Mitiku, and a completely different sound. She calls I Belong to You a “vintage pop” record, inspired by music from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
At first, this looks like a tricky makeover for a singer weaned on Sweden’s 90s pop scene. And actually, it’s an opposite move to one of her contemporaries from the time.
After a lengthy absence, Robyn returned to the UK charts as a forward-thinking electro act. Emilia has turned the other way and gone retro.
But from the album’s first track, it’s clear this music suits Mitiku. A visit to YouTube confirms she’s the same girl who sang Big Big World, but her voice has ripened over the years.
It’s a versatile instrument, allowing Mitiku to mix up those “vintage pop” sounds across the album. Ooh La La is a jaunty jazz shimmy, there’s bossa nova on Winter Beach, and You’re Not Right for Me could almost pass for an old Dolly Parton single.
Perhaps most impressively, Mitiku keeps a straight face while covering Zou Bisou Bisou, the French pop song that left Don Draper so unimpressed during series five of Mad Men.
Sadly, not everything is quite as successful. A cover of Dream a Little Dream is pleasant but pointless, while some of Mitiku’s originals are as bland and forgettable as their titles: So Wonderful, I Belong to You, Lost Inside.
Her own songwriting is better when she ditches the mushy stuff for edgier themes. Substitute Arms is a classy take on the old Mr Right/Mr Right Now idea, and You’re Breaking My Heart offers a neat metaphor for what some guys are after: “You didn’t want fulfilling / Just a piece of cake.”
Both suggest Emilia did some living in that big big world while she was away.