THE CARDIGANS: LONG GONE BEFORE DAYLIGHT (2003)
1) Communication; 2) You're The Storm; 3) A Good Horse; 4) And Then You Kissed Me; 5) Couldn't Care Less; 6) Please Sister; 7) For What It's Worth; 8) Lead Me Into The Night; 9) Live And Learn; 10) Feathers And Down; 11) 03.45: No Sleep.
Five years between albums may not make such a long time now as they did thirty years ago, but in the case of the Cardigans, they were crucial — Long Gone Before Daylight gives us an entirely different band, with that dreadfully punched-up word «maturation» flashing blue, red, or green, whichever you prefer. No more jazzy Black Sabbath covers, no more cheerful Beatlesque pop, and not even any more trip-hoppy or disco dance numbers. With Svensson now providing all of the music and Nina all of the lyrics, this is a slow, unexciting, introspective record that comes as close to generic «adult contemporary» as they ever did. It's not as if they are getting more psychological on your ass than before — it's just that your ass gets the gist of it far more sharply when it's sitting in your chair than when it's being distracted by all those chuggy-funky or giggly-pastoral dance rhythms of yesterday.
Of course, this still comes on as somewhat of a shock — unlike the classic «young» stage of the band, the songs no longer jump out at you with the same immediacy, and, in fact, the album would most probably sink on a purely instrumental level, because music-wise, it seems to be riding on a fairly straightforward alt-rock and alt-country foundation. Where it eventually catches up with you (me) is on the vocal level. A few listens into the whole sucker, it emerges as an extremely intelligent and sentient record on the love-and-hate issue — the real thing, that is. It has all these subtle connections to the past (ʻAnd Then You Kissed Meʼ hearkens back not to one, but to two of The Crystals' hits, because there is a reference to ʻHe Hit Meʼ as well; ʻFor What It's Worthʼ does not accidentally coincide with the title of the Buffalo Springfield classic — although it actually includes the song title in the lyrics, unlike its predecessor), but it is an utterly modern record at heart, and the best thing about it, it is modern, clever, emotional, convincing, and it does all of that on a very humble, unassuming, unprovocative level. Which means, of course, that it did not seriously chart anywhere but in Sweden.
It is very easy to write the record as too long, too slow, too boring, and too clichéd, but... do me a favor and don't do this, okay? Instead, give Nina a chance, and she'll eventually turn this into a masterful soulful show for you. ʻCommunicationʼ starts off with the most ABBA-esque song on here, and the verse-chorus build-up is a perfect mix of tender sentimentality with quiet desperation (is the Swedish way, after all) — one might quibble that it is not very inventive to follow the call of "I don't know how to connect" with the response of "so I disconnect", but she's got such a... disconnecting way of saying that last word, it's pretty hard to think of a better ending.
The second song, ʻYou're The Stormʼ, amuses me to no end, because stylistically, it is precisely the kind of material that would soon win Taylor Swift her fame and fortune — sort of a neo-country rocker, starts out soft and slow, becomes loud and anthemic in the chorus, and even the lyrics, all based around a somewhat crude geopolitical love metaphor ("and if you want me, I'm your country"), kind of fit the bill. Except that ʻYou're The Stormʼ actually has an enthralling chorus, where modulation matters much more than loudness — the pitch change from "I like the sweet life and the silence" to "but it's the storm that I believe in" is true pop brilliance. It is true that lyrical lines like "come raise your flag upon me" or "come and conquer and drop your bombs" sound a little crude (not to mention that the song's timing, coming out right at the start of the Iraqi War, couldn't have been worse), but it's no hard crime to get a little carried away with a metaphor, and, after all, we don't cherish The Cardigans because of their lyrics (even if, word-wise, they are typically several notches above the ABBA level).
Everything after that comes on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, but the more I listen, the more I'm ready to take. Here's just a few moments: the plaintive vibe of "my heart can't carry much more" (ʻCouldn't Care Lessʼ); the quiet razor-sharpness of the "help me, I'm not feeling... okay" chorus conclusion (ʻPlease Sisterʼ); the way "for what it's worth I love you, and what is worse, I really do" moves up an octave from first chorus to last; the believable stubbornness in the "I live and I learn, yes I live and I learn" mantra; the sarcastic-tragic finale of "come to me, let's drown... come baby, let's drown in feathers and down" — it's all touching, inventive, and meaningful.
Nothing remains, really, except to reiterate the old fact about no musical genre being good or bad on its own, but everything depending upon the personalities behind it. Singer-songwriters come fairly cheap these days, and far more often than necessary, but Persson would probably make an excellent one (in fact, Long Gone Before Daylight is far more of a «singer-songwriter» record, genre-wise, than a «pop» record); and this is precisely the kind of album that manages to avoid both the «cheap thrill» pitfalls of fluffy country-pop à la Taylor Swift and the «musical boredom» pitfalls of, say, an Ani DiFranco. Yes, our acquaintance started out on a sour note, but in the end I'm perfectly happy to award it a strong thumbs up — and all you reviewers who panned it when it came out, well, you probably didn't even respect the three-listen rule.