Sharon Van Etten has made a steady climb to premier American songwriter ever since her debut, 2009s Because I Was In Love. Dark pop complimented by layered harmonies, personal lyrics, and a dramatic feel that everything hangs in the balance, Van Etten has taken that intimacy and built it into a solid career.
Each album has gotten a little bigger and the production more ornate. In 2020 Van Etten released a song with Angel Olsen called “Like I Used To”, a big, full-throated pop rock track that had the grandeur of 80s Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde collaborating. It felt like a next level move for both artists, and Sharon Van Etten’s new album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong lives up to that track’s promise.
Ten tracks just under 40 minutes, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is a lusher, more layered record that 2019s Remind Me Tomorrow. Produced at Van Etten’s home studio, and without producer John Congleton who produced her last LP, this is a record that feels like an artist putting it all in the songs, making a record that reflects the world around her, for better or worse.
Opening track and first single “Darkness Fades” opens with acoustic guitar and Van Etten’s voice, which builds into a crescendo of percussion, drones, and an almost apocalyptic feel. This is pop music for end of the world. “Home To Me” is piano, an electronic beat, and of course that unmistakable voice. There’s something kind of magical in how Sharon Van Etten harmonizes with herself. It’s ghostly and ethereal, on this track especially. “Born” is sad and gorgeous with lyrics like “I knew where I was born/I knew where I was blamed by the world“, which builds to a grandiose finale. “Headspace” is all industrial noise and attitude, like Pat Benatar produced by Trent Reznor.
Sharon Van Etten is bringing back a kind of bombastic pop song that we haven’t heard since the 80s. That was a decade where adults could have big pop hits in the top 40. Hits written by one person, produced by one person, and performed by a band. It doesn’t really work that way anymore. It’s now an army of songwriters, producers, and PR people building a star out of a tween with 1.2 million followers of Youtube or Tik Tok. We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong sounds like a step in the right direction. Now we just need to get the rest of the world on board. Shouldn’t be hard, right?