One of the enduring scenes in Latvian fables is of the young man who sets off in search of adventure, returning home wealthier and wiser. Will this be the fate of the foursome from Jelgava known as Prāta Vētra? Already established as one of the most popular musical groups in Latvia, Prāta Vētra this spring released both Latvian and English versions of the same album. Recorded and mixed in Latvia, Denmark, Germany and Sweden, the album also represents one of Riga-based MICREC’s biggest marketing pushes to date. Will it succeed? Will Prāta Vētra do for Latvian pop music what groups such as U2 did for Ireland?
Under its English name BrainStorm, the group this August is scheduled to perform in the Pepsi Island Festival in Bulgaria and then head to Sweden and Turkey, according to a press release from MICREC. In addition, a video of one of the group’s latest hit songs, "Weekends Are Not My Happy Days," is due for release July 19. Whether we’ll get to see it on MTV or VH1 in the United States or on MUCH in Canada is questionable. Additional attempts to crack the music markets in Britain, Germany and South America are underway.
Is the effort worth it? Should it be precisely Prāta Vētra that carries the Latvian banner in the attempt to break into the international pop music scene? And is Among the Suns the vehicle?
Purists might well answer no. After all, there’s really nothing that differentiates this album from the multitudes of other up-and-coming pop groups the world over. Sure, the group is from Latvia, but there’s nothing Latvian about this album. Even the names of the performers have been changed in the liner notes to make them more palatable for English-speaking tongues (lead singer Renars Kaupers’ name has become Reynard Cowper, guitarist Janis Jubalts is Jonny U. White, and so on).
Unfortunately, one of the realities of the pop market is that English is the lingua franca. And keep in mind that Latvian opera star Inese Galante doesn’t sing in Latvian, either. And Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer… well, he doesn’t sing.
The Latvian album, Starp divām saulēm, is a nice production. But the material on the group’s first compact disc released in 1997, Visi ir tieši tā, kā tu vēlies, had more heart. All lyrics for the 11 tracks on Starp divām saulēm are by Kaupers. A number of songs have already become radio hits in Latvia, including "Brīvdienas nav manas laimīgas dienas," "Puse no sirds" and "Galvā tikai sievietes." We also like the title song, "Starp divām saulēm" and "Lēc." It’s Kaupers voice, especially his wonderful trilled "r," that carries the album.
The English album, Among the Suns, is largely a translation of the Latvian version. MICREC threw in a 12th track, "Under My Wing (Is Your Sweet Home)," the translation of a hit song off the 1997 album that saw some success in the Baltics. Again, all lyrics are by Kaupers, but the work of translating was largely given to poet Rolands Ūdris (Ūdrītis).
Comparison of the two albums reveals inconsistencies in translation, sometimes to the point where the songs yield slightly different meanings. Ūdris did use poetic license with some lyrics, MICREC Marketing Director Guntars Račs tells SVEIKS.com. For example, in "Brīvdienas nav manas laimīgās dienas" Prāta Vētra presents a song about the end of a romantic relationship ("Es meklēju vārdus kalna malā, lai teiktu tev mīļā, kad mēs būsim galā"). But the English version comes off a bit milder, with mana mīļā (my dear) changed to "my friend." Likewise, on "Galvā tikai sievietes" Kaupers sounds like a love-starved joker. But on "These Women Drive Me Crazy All the Time," the character in the song sounds more like a jerk (and perhaps that’s the same). But the English version does have one of the funniest lyrics on either album: "Got a cheesy poem in my head / Tom Jones is my favourite singer / Dreamy thoughts are calling me / Again I am in love and she’s not here."
Of course, for consumers who hear only the English version, translation problems won’t matter. What will matter is whether the album is worth purchasing. Among the Suns is a nice production with a few catchy tunes. With the right marketing effort and a good dose of luck, Prāta Vētra might just get some Western radio and video play and maybe sell a few records. We don’t expect to see them in the Top 40 any time soon, at least not on this side of the Atlantic. But the group is sure to return home to Latvia with more knowledge about the pop music market and perhaps with some profits to show for their efforts.
(Editor’s note: This review originally appeared on the SVEIKS.com site.)
Starp divām saulēm
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