Acoustic guitar pop is a cramped and overdone style, but Stern manages to get away with it on Herz; in fact, he walks away with his dignity (mostly) intact, thanks to a slew of simple but emotional tunes that stay clear of the the run-of-the-mill strum-and-croon sound. Not that there's anything unexpected here -- it's slow, polite, romantic, and laconically arranged, with only a sparse rhythm section and simple electric guitar textures backing Stern's vocals and chord progressions most of the time. But his influences are in the right place, from Philipp Poisel to Eric Clapton and '80s pop/rock ballads (think "More Than Words" with less emphasis on getting the audience to wave their lighters in the air). Stern adds some down-to-earth indie vibes to set himself apart from the old-school, especially early on in disc, but he only succeeds to a degree: as the record progresses, it becomes more and more smooth in the adult contemporary sense, with a laid-back, bluesy groove Dire Straits was known for. And in any case, Herz mainstream simply because it's all about love; not that this is easy to make out from the lyrics, with which not even regular German is of much help, but you don't need to speak any languages to understand what it's all about. Herz is actually comprised of sappy love songs for people who have outgrown sappy love songs of the regular variety, including those with dramatic wailing by cute teens, saccharine pianos and strings, hands stretched toward the camera and all. Yet the record is clever and melancholic in an understated fashion and, all in all, simply good pop. ~ Alexey Eremenko, Rovi

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