M2M’s The Big Room is the best album Digital Get Down will ever review. What else needs to be said! We are done here!
No no no. I’m kidding! I’m joshing! Let’s talk M2M.
M2M were a Norwegian pop group that did not get the popularity or respect they deserved. This is clear. A self-contained guitar playing singing duo with gut-emotional melodies and unmistakable teenage honesty. Made some mild commercial headway internationally, but barely made any headway in the United States. The only M2M song that managed to make a dent in America was “Don’t Say You Love Me,” a teen pop song so mature and sure-headed it managed to slip the line “It’s not like we’re gonna get married” onto mainstream airwaves. I suspect it was a hit mostly ’cause it was on the Pokemon movie soundtrack and that was it. A tiny radio blip. Their debut Shades Of Purple sold OK, but its reception was not glowing. M2M were not special. They were another cutesy teen pop act in a sea of future bargain bin teenybopper stars. It wasn’t their fault. How the heck could any teen pop act hope to stand out in the year 2000, maybe the most teen-pop-clogged year in the history of recorded music?
It’s ok. We know the truth. Shades Of Purple, despite being an obvious year-2000 product, was a special record. M2M dual singer/songwriters Marit Larsen and Marion Raven were supertalented teenage girls adept at communicating what it was like being a teenage girl through their music, their distinct voices managing to overcome obvious record label meddling. But as talented and savvy as the ladies of M2M were, they were still 14 years old when they recorded Shades Of Purple. Y’know – they were kids. They didn’t know all the ins and outs just yet. As good as that record was you get the impression that the girls were pushed into recording music they didn’t really want to record. R&B and dance-pop and dated millennial pop production. It’s honestly a miracle that Shades Of Purple managed to convey even an ounce of sincerity through all that muck. And yet it did.
But that was not enough. These girls wanted to do it their own way. They were growing up and their songwriting was getting better and their voices were changing and they were hitting the age where they were starting to understand who they truly were. Adulthood was right around the corner. Time to take control of their music, knock off the sterile teen pop silliness and make the record they really wanted to make.
Spoiler alert: M2M pulled it off, likely better than any other teen pop act before or since. There’s no point in beating around the bush here. The Big Room fucking rules.
You know, that’s not a new story. Teen pop act growing up, fighting for control of their careers and making an “adult” record. Tale as old as time. That’s the name of the game!
The Big Room is what the girls call “organic pop,” not unlike the recently discussed Never Gone by the Backstreet Boys: all live instruments. Full band arrangements. No slicked up Shades Of Purple teen pop corniness to be found here. This is a development I fully support, but before I get goofy and slobber praise all over this record I love deep in my heart I feel like I need a second to put myself in check. I tend to go overboard with praise when a teen pop act goes for the live band rock ‘n roll approach – your Hansons, your BBMaks, your McFlys. Because I like rock music a lot!
But I want to make one thing clear, for all of you as well as myself – the live band approach is not inherently superior to the glitzy synthetic modern pop approach. It’s not more “legitimate,” or “natural,” or whatever other buzzwords tend to pop up. I understand why Marion and Marit called this stuff “organic pop,” but that implies the production of Shades Of Purple was inorganic which I just don’t buy. I can only say I enjoy the teen pop live instrument trick ’cause live instruments sound good to my ears. That’s it, really.
What I am getting at here is that I endorse teen pop artists doing their own thing, in whatever way they want to do it. Whether that be *NSYNC’s over-the-top glitz, Beyonce’s world-dominating R&B or late-80s New Edition’s killer New Jack jams. Despite their dubious origins, most teen pop artists are talented young music people with good ideas, and given the chance they will produce – for the lack of a better term – rad, killer awesome shit.
I’m so happy someone out there gave M2M that chance. My guess was that Shades Of Purple was a big enough international hit to afford the girls some freedom, so they fucking took that opportunity and ran with it. And so, we have The Big Room.
OK! I’m done! It’s gush time!
It can’t underestimate what a leap The Big Room is. If you’re like me (which I am certain you are) and spent many lonely nights spinning Shades Of Purple over and over again, hearing “Everything” – The Big Room‘s opener – for the first time is a stunning experience. Pure shock. Baffled reactions abound. “Whoa – jangly guitars? Those drums! Jesus – is that Marion singing? When did her voice get GOD-SLAYER HUGE? Did they just say ‘damn’? Did they just emphasize the word ‘damn’? THEY SAID ‘DAMN’!!”
Ah yes. This was M2M’s plan all along. “Everything” is the most surprising and impressive adulthood level-up I’ve heard from a teen pop group. Kinda like hearing Taylor Hanson’s manly new soulvoice on This Time Around for the first time, but better. M2M do it better. This is a jump. A leap. It is a blessing to hear.
Let’s keep in mind, these girls started their music careers at what – age 13? 14? They were a kid act. Kid acts have it rough, ’cause eventually they lose their kid voices. Their cute kid self that everybody loves dies, and if they don’t reinvent themselves in the right way and win over a new adult audience they’re done. Sink or swim. Gosh, they might even lose their voices! Wouldn’t that be a nightmare!!
No problems here. Marion Raven’s voice is almost unrecognizable. It’s just… huge. A force to be reckoned with. Marit’s voice doesn’t sound too different from how she sounded on the last album but that’s ok – Marion’s voice alone is enough to knock M2M’s cutey-novelty factor down at least 3 or 4 pegs. And it adds to their duo appeal, having the calm sweet Marit balancing out the powervoiced titan Marion.
Oh hey, and did I mention the live instruments? It’s all live instruments here! Yes I did but it’s time to mention them again! Do they sound great! They sound great! This is exactly what M2M should sound like. Drums bass guitar. Rockin’ guitar. Whoa, the guitar! How many guitar solos are on this thing? Like twelve?? Twelve guitar solos. Whoa man! Whoa!!
Again, I don’t want to fetishize the “live band” thing, but I don’t think there’s any arguing that it is a serious upgrade for M2M. Shades Of Purple‘s production was content to let its tracks just kinda sit around. Like lame ducks. The Big Room is nothin but well-fed excited ducks. Every song jumps right at you. Even the ballads! They’ve got a kick to ’em! It’s exciting! Wow, this is exciting!!
So what we have here is a wholly self-contained teen pop act. Take a look at those writing credits – with the exception of only three tracks, every track on here is written solely by Marion and Marit. They’ve cut out everyone who might muck up their vision. No awkward Full Force collaborations on here. They don’t need anybody else.
The Big Room lacks Shades Of Purple‘s innocence. That vulnerability. Remember “Mirror Mirror”? That youthful brokenhearted feeling? “Everyone knows friends don’t do that”? Yeah, none of that here. In its place is iron-hearted resolve. Independence. Self-determination. The Big Room takes heartbreak and kicks it into the sewer drain.
Oh yes, we’ve got some vulnerable moments, like “Love Left For Me” and the power ballad “Wanna Be Where You Are.” But then we have “Jennifer,” a necessary reversal of Purple‘s “Don’t Mess With My Love” where the girls go after the shitty boyfriend instead of the lady he shouldn’t be flirting with (good! that guy sucks!!). You’ve got the manipulative boyfriend putdown “Don’t,” the stalker-ex putdown “Leave Me Alone,” the shitty boyfriend and brother and dad putdown of “Sometimes” and – best of all – the obnoxious popular girl putdown of “Miss Popular.” These are primo teen pop putdowns of the highest order. There is no grey area here: if you stink, the ladies of M2M are going to put you DOWN, in a SONG, with their ROCKIN’ BAND. And you DESERVE it. They are Holy Judgement. They are better than you.
None of this would work at all if these songs weren’t all melodic and exciting and snappy, and if Marit and Marion didn’t harmonize so well and sing with conviction, and if these tracks didn’t rock as hard as they do. Because they really do. It’s a perfect marriage of a new self-determined lyrical voice and an exciting new musical direction. The Big Room is a triumph of teenage independence. It should have been a slam-dunk baller-ass major hit.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that it wasn’t, right? This is probably the first time you’ve heard of this album. Heck, it might be the first time you’ve heard of M2M! I’m making myself sad.
The Big Room sold piddly-tiddly-squat. Nothing. I’m almost certain it did not sell a single copy in the United States of America (please, if anybody of my fellow Statesfolk has their own copy on CD, prove me wrong). Sold mild amounts in Europe. Sold like gangbusters in the Phillipines, which is nice, but did Atlantic Records give a shit? Atlantic Records did not give a shit. Bottom line, M2M produced one of the best teen pop records ever and were rewarded by getting dropped from their label and kicked off a tour opening for their hero Jewel. In the middle of the tour. Yikes.
Hey, imagine that! Imagine if you poured everything you had into making a record ten times better than your last one, only to see it sell less. And get punished for it. What would you do? What would be your reaction. Mine would be to find a dog and eat it. I’d eat an entire dog, butthole to snout. Then I would throw it up and poop on the throw up and eat that. Then I would clean up the mess I had made and cry. That is how I would react!
M2M reacted by breaking up. I don’t know the details. I don’t know if it was acrimonious or cordial. Or somehow both? They just “disbanded.” That’s what Wikipedia says. I can’t find anything anywhere else. I’ll never know the answer, for as long as I live. Both started successful solo careers not long after, Marion going in a more pop direction and Marit with a more singer-songwriter thing.
You think they’re on OK terms? Do you think they’d ever reunite? I mean, there’s only two of them! It could happen! Does anybody have their email addresses?? I’m just – oh gosh I don’t know. Maybe if I emailed them and told them how much I loved The Big Room I could convince them. You think maybe? Aww shucks – aww. Naww. No.
No. No, I can’t. M2M were too good for this world. In the meantime, we have The Big Room, a classic in a genre that honestly doesn’t have a whole lot of them. I don’t know what else I can say. Cherish it. The Simon & Garfunkel of millennial teen pop deserves a little more attention.
Or… the Hall & Oates of millennial teen pop?? You decide!