Sharon Van Etten: We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong - Album Review
Yearning, desire, and regret combine on Sharon Van Etten’s best record yet.
I can vividly remember the first time I heard a Sharon Van Etten song. It was way back in the summer of 2014. It was a summer I was about to spend very depressed: I was soon to drift from lots of close friends, I was soon to be outed to a social group, and I was soon to move away for university - a change that while positive, led to one of the worst winters of my life.
I remember all this when I listen to Van Etten’s fantastic 2014 album, Are We There - a beautiful record that I’m recently developing a newfound appreciation for. My introduction to her was that record’s centrepiece, I Love You But I’m Lost. She’d appeared on Jools Holland’s show, and performed the song under a stark spotlight alone at the piano. It was an unforgettable performance - eight years on, I still think about it often.
The intensity of such a performance shines through on We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, Sharon Van Etten’s best album yet. Her lyricism is sharper than ever before, and the album flows with a masterful consistency that she first demonstrated on 2010’s Epic. Of course, this record is a far cry from her early days. She’s teased this direction previously on Remind Me Tomorrow, a record that introduced a bigger, more abrasive sound to her arsenal. All Wrong expands upon that album’s template while retaining Van Etten’s trademark intimacy.
Take a song like Headspace. It opens with a reverberated electric drum sample that would sound more at home on a Death Grips record than any of Van Etten’s contemporaries. It provides a propulsive launchpad to one of her best songs yet. At its core, it’s a love song, but not one like any I’ve heard before. There’s something special about songs about old love, and this song evokes it in such a heartbreaking way. It’s full of fear - fear that your partner doesn’t view you in the same way, fear of losing your sex appeal, fear of rejection - but God, it feels propulsive and magnificent. By the track’s final crescendo of a chorus, it’s impossible not to feel something. “Baby, don’t turn your back to me,” she roars. How could you turn your back to this?
Headspace is followed by the other crown jewel of the album, Come Back, which features Van Etten’s biggest hooks yet. It feels like an old-school power ballad in the best possible way, all soaring backing vocals, crunchy guitars, and a colossal bassline. Van Etten has always been an underrated singer. Let Come Back ensure this is no longer the case.
The sequencing on the album is immaculate. The way the opening Darkness Fades begins as a tender, gentle hymnal, before blooming into a symphonic prayer, and transitioning into the instantly memorable Home To Me - it’s incredible. I’ve always loved her album sequencing - Epic flows together better than almost any album I’ve ever heard - and her new album is no exception.
All Wrong isn’t a total departure, and no matter which of her previous albums you enjoy most, there’s lots to love. From the skeletal Darkish which recalls the quieter parts of Epic, to the dancefloor-ready Mistakes, the album acts as a beautiful summation of all of Van Etten’s strengths. She’s always been one of the sharpest writers around, and her new album is perfect evidence.
Highlight tracks: Come Back, Headspace, Mistakes
Key lyric: I wanted to be ageless / I wanted to feel be here.
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.