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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Cardigans: First Band On The Moon

THE CARDIGANS: FIRST BAND ON THE MOON (1996)

1) Your New Cuckoo; 2) Been It; 3) Heartbreaker; 4) Happy Meal II; 5) Never Recover; 6) Step On Me; 7) Lovefool; 8) Losers; 9) Iron Man; 10) Great Divide; 11) Choke.

This is the one that has ʽLovefoolʼ on it — the song that made the band in the eyes of mass Euro­pean and American audiences, because, let's face it, if there is a pop-rock band that consists of several male musicians and one blonde female singer, it's Blondie, right? But no band is really Blondie until it has a genuine Blondie mega-hit, and so ʽLovefoolʼ was selected by mass tastes as their ʽHeart Of Glassʼ, with which it does share some things in common: the light-headed, bitter-hearted attitude, the disco danceability, the funky riffs, the sweet sweet catchiness. And it's a nice song alright, but for someone like me, who totally missed it in the Nineties, it is not even the best, or the most memorable song on this album, let alone in the Cardigans songbook as a whole.

Even without ʽLovefoolʼ, you could tell that the band is trying to modernize its sound here: ʽYour New Cuckooʼ opens things up with a strong neo-disco beat, and throughout the album there are plenty more signs of moving away from the relaxed, folk- and jazz-influenced atmospheres of the first two albums and into more dance-oriented, contemporary territory. However, this trouble­some «commercialization» is only superficial. Not only are the actual melodies as strong as ever, but the band's bittersweet romance attitude, as personified by Nina's singing technique, remains exactly the same as it used to be. Consequently, this is one of those rare cases where a sellout is not really a sellout — it is simply a matter of becoming able to sell precisely the same thing that, earlier on, you were not able to sell. For technical, unimportant reasons.

Besides, other than ʽLovefoolʼ and ʽYour New Cuckooʼ (whose saccharine disco chorus is admi­rably turned into a tongue-in-cheek expression by Nina's sarcastic "let's come together, me and you... your new cuckoo" delivery and the grumbly guitar riff), the only number presented as a modern dance track (slow trip-hop style) is, would you know it, another Black Sabbath cover. Unlike ʽSabbath Bloody Sabbathʼ, which they really nailed — unveiled, in fact — as the senti­mental pop song that it had always been in the first place, this take on ʽIron Manʼ is less succes­s­ful. They do a good job jazzifying the classic riff, and Nina's scat singing on the outro is hilarious (especially when she does that little «scratching turntables» routine), but the lyrics just don't fit in. More like ʽGingerbread Manʼ than ʽIron Manʼ, if you know what I mean. No purpose to it, really, other than a "let's really go down in history like that crazyass Sabbath cover band" sort of state­ment. Which, on the other hand, is also respectable in its own strange way.

But then there's just lots and lots and lots of other good songs on top of this. ʽNever Recoverʼ is a fast, upbeat, snappy post-Beatles / post-Bangles power-pop gem, with a resplendent chorus full of energy and sunshine. ʽBeen Itʼ should be primarily respected for the sexy-seductive instrumental and vocal melody of its chorus, and only secondarily for the lyrics ("ooh, she calls herself a whore! that's so Madonna! this is, like, disturbing!") — actually, she makes bitter fun of former lover boy rather than degrading herself, and all the guitar riffs sound like whips across poor un­fortunate male skin and flesh. Did I ever use the word "misandrist" yet in a review? Probably not; well, 1996 seems like the right time to start.

Slow, moody, haunting tunes? Yes, still plenty of them. The pretty moonlight waltz of ʽHeart­breakerʼ. Lounge sounds still pursue us with ʽGreat Divideʼ (chimes, strings, treated guitars, tempo changes, mood changes — there's quite a lot going on in these three minutes). ʽChokeʼ, closing the album, is impossible to describe in genre terms: it combines elements of alt-rock, R&B, and jazz, and on top of it, there is the riff from ʽIron Manʼ! Somehow, it slipped and fell through the cracks, landing on top of the final track and finding it comfortable enough to stay there. Gee, these whacky rover riffs.

As you can understand, this is yet another major thumbs up: the band's third melodically strong, atmospherically captivating, technically inventive album in a row. And I'm sure that, as long as you do not asso­ciate it exclusively with ʽLovefoolʼ, you'll be all right.

2 comments:

  1. "the lyrics just don't fit in"
    No problem for me. Lyrics don't play any role when I decide if I like music or not. They can recite the alphabet afaIc. Again I think Iron Man an excellent cover.

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  2. Loved this album when it came out and still do. The Cardigans are similar to Prefab Sprout in a couple of important ways: they both wrote melodic, emotional, clever and memorable pop music which has stood the test of time; and both groups have really bad names!

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