THE CARDIGANS: SUPER EXTRA GRAVITY (2005)
1) Losing A Friend; 2) Drip Drop Teardrop; 3) Overload; 4) I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer; 5) Don't Blame Your Daughter; 6) Little Black Cloud; 7) In The Round; 8) Holy Love; 9) Good Morning Joan; 10) And Then You Kissed Me II.
I may be the only person left to like this album, but even I have a hard time defending it — it's quite similar to the previous one, but even slower, drearier, and (at least superficially) duller. At least Long Gone Before Daylight reinvented the band, for better or for worse; but Super Extra Gravity merely persists in that image, with yet another series of dark personal broodings over not particularly impressive pop melodies.
By this time, as we can already see from the Roxy Music-influenced album cover, it's really all about Nina — if her charm still works on you, you might forgive the uninventive arrangements and recycled chord sequences; if it does not, Super Extra Gravity will simply crush you to the ground, like it's supposed to, and bore you to death with its depressive formula. Personally, I am a believer, and I am still willing to take at least some of these songs at face value and see them as deeply personal and, occasionally, even unique artistic statements. But that's just me.
At the very least, ʻLosing A Friendʼ is a beautiful tune, and it's all Nina, meticulously building up passion from the quiet, pensive first verse to the tempestuous coda — she is a rare singer who can package anger and desperation in one go, and that final "oh no, oh no, I'm losing you... oh look at you look what you're wasting" is a perfect example of that double package. Instrumentally, the tune is just nice — pretty guitars and keyboards, rough electric guitar solo, everything tasteful but nothing too special. The voice part, however, is something else.
The problem is that it's just one song, and although Persson is consistently energetic and involved in these tunes, she rarely gives us that much «character development», if I may be allowed to use a stock banality. ʻI Need Some Fine Wineʼ, the first single from the album, once again sounds like any other alt-pop guitar-based song ever written, and I do love the lady's sarcastic aggression and all, but it is not enough to make the song really stick — unless the "good dog, bad dog" metaphor somehow seems impressive to you, it's just one more attempt to say something meaningful on the issue of complicated personal relations between two ex-lovers. The second single, ʻDon't Blame Your Daughterʼ, was even slower and preachier, and its accusatory spirit is wasted on me; in fact, it sounds whiny, and that's never a good thing.
In fact, the worst thing with this record is that I simply have no wish to discuss any of the individual tunes. I still like how it all sounds (a very nice balance between acoustic and electric guitars, atmospheric electronics, natural percussion, etc.), I like to hear the sound of Persson's voice, always so reliable and so deep-reaching, and I can understand how they would want to put «soul» and «depth» before experimentation and unique personality, but the songs are simply not good enough to merit discussion.
To the best of my knowledge, the album was not intended as a swansong, and, in fact, after a long break the Cardigans eventually came back together in 2012, even if they have yet to write or record anything new. But maybe they needn't, because Super Extra Gravity does work well as a swan song — in fact, that is probably the only capacity in which it works well, by letting us understand that the band has nothing left to say (there's even a song called ʻAnd Then You Kissed Me IIʼ!), even if it still has enough strength to say it with grace and dignity. It was a jolly good ride, though — through at least three different stages of existence, all of which had their own charms, with not a single genuine stinker in the lot. Then again, I guess 10-12 years is close to the optimal limit for a good band before it stagnates or goes artistically bankrupt, so here's hoping that these clever Swedes take their cue from their ABBA compatriots, and won't ruin it with their latter-day equivalent of something like Sur La Mer.