Ann Vriend

Album Title: When We Were Spies
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Genre: Pop
When We Were Spies is a concept album by Canadian singer-songwriter Ann Vriend based on the idea of Vriend and the person with whom she fell in love with in a previous profession as a spy. How love, freedom and meaning pervade her world of secret agents makes for a clever and attention-grabbing gimmick; however Vriend’s musical style is less cinematic and “spy film-oriented” than it is pop, with strong country sensibilities.

The cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” starts off very promising with the use of the electric guitars, but then launches quickly into a soft, country-tinged chorus as Vriend sings, “Keep on rockin’ in the free world.” This takes away momentarily from the mysterious background built around the verses; fortunately, the song’s outro redeems the chorus as sound effects return the mood the piece began with.

Vriend has a sweet and innocent voice and the songs have variety: witness the slow and romantic “Radio”, the sweeping piano and vocal echoes on “Now the Lights” or the upbeat and slightly jazzy “Where You Are”. But all too often, Vriend brings things away from the universe of the secret agent by lightening or “countrifying” either her singing style or the tune’s pace during the chorus, such as on the aforementioned “Where You Are”. Now, there is nothing wrong with country music, but how often are cowboys, crooning and St. Paul associated with the hidden and dangerous underground lives of detective work?

Nonetheless, Vriend knows her vocal capabilities and sticks within those boundaries, ensuring the songs on When We Were Spies are cute pop ditties for the most part. “Start Over”, for instance, is a happy-sounding track whose end fades into simplicity with her vocals and piano. Vriend’s request for a second chance at love is sure to lift your spirits, as will most of this record.

Writer: Stephanie Ng Wan

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