Of course, it was a tumoulteous journey from the get go, especially when her then managers had scuttled and left her almost bankrupt. Even then, Ning preservered with tentative steps, releasing Always (1997) and the experimental Natural Woman (2001) ,which garnered a degree of success in Japan. Now, almost 15 years later, Ning will attempt her strongest assault yet onto the international scene with the release of 'EastToWest'.
While pop,R&B and soul has always been Ning's forte, true fans would readily aknowledge that she has always had an inclination towards dance and electronica. An early hint of this is the inclusion of the bonus song 'My Journey' in the Ke Sayup Bintang (1997) album. Even more evident is the Natural Woman album, which featured trance and two-step. For 'EastToWest', the featured genre now is classtronica, a fusion of electronic beats layered with classical elements. To put it simply, if Ning's earlier Malay albums are often compared to Mariah or Whitney, this one will evoke comparisons to Madonna and Kylie. Such is a testiment to her versatility and risk-taking as a singer.
Some of the tracks best exemplifying this are the joyous EAST TO WEST EXPRESS, hi-camp DRAMA (ENGLISH VERSION), the Abba-esque TANGO IN PARIS and the debut single, AGE OF POLLUTION, a miasma of heavy bass beats designed to complement Ning's whispery delivery in what could have been the club anthem to last year's Live Earth Concerts. Ning also revealed a suprising rock-chick side of herself with tracks like the edgy REAL MAN-EATER, A MATTER OF TIME and ASSASSINA, a romp of a song announcing her superheroic alter-ego. Things get a little dark with AGAIN (think 'Senang Tari' on acid), SENSELESS & BLIND and the mysterious ethno-vibe of MOTHER. Those who miss Ning's R&B roots will probably find it in SHARPENING YOUR BLADE. But perhaps, the most intruiging song in the whole album is WATER & SALT. It is an understated gem: completely unadorned save for acoustic piano, flute (by the renowned maestro Andrea Griminelli) and strings to accompany Ning's yearning vocal performance. Simply mesmerising!
That is not to say that the album does not have its shortcomings. While the sparse production by DJ Morano and Valerio Vicentini are competent enough, they are certainly no Mirwais Ahmadzai or Bloodshy & Avant. Meanwhile, Ning's straightforward vocal delivery is expected of for a dance oriented album, but at times sounds a bit rough in some parts probably due to the tight recording schedule in the prestigious Jamestown Studio's in London.
Overall, 'EastToWest' is a highly listenable album that rewards with repeated listens. DIESELFREAK looks forward to the critical reception here at home, and more importantly its intended European market.
- Tango in Paris (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini / Scobie Ryder)*** 1/2
- Real Man-Eater (Scobie Ryder)****
- Sharpening Your Blade (B Bajona / Olivia Cinquemani)*****
- Age of Pollution(Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini / Zara Ruban)*****
- Water & Salt (featuring Andrea Griminelli) (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini)*****
- Assassina (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini / Scobie Ryder)***
- East To West Express (Olivia Cinquemani /Marco Morani / Valerio Vincentini)****
- Again (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini)**** 1/2
- A Matter of Time (Scobie Ryder)*** 1/2
- Senseless and Blind (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini / Scobie Ryder)****
- Mother (Olivia Cinquemani / Valerio Vincentini)****
- Drama (English Version) (Audi Mok / Paul Gelsomine / Ad Samad)****