There are a few things over which rock critics will always obsess. The first is pop music. Not “pop” as in popular, but “pop” as in three chords/verse, chorus, verse/handclaps/sing along. The second is a good single, or rather, many of them. This of course, mainly refers to obscure seven-inches, but ones with good melodies, the kind that makes you drunkenly shout “They should have been huuuuge!” And the last obsession is with Scandinavia. ABBA, The Cardigans, Hives, The Refused, Annie; and do I even have to say Bjork or Sigur Ros? All of these things keep us amused, satiated, elated and satisfied, and combinations of these count for even more. Like, for instance, Annie’s Swedish pop, or an old ABBA 45. This is stuff we can’t live without, mind you. But if you combine all three, you create some sort of holy trinity. You yield something that is fucking critic-proof. Well, that’s what you would believe, anyway. I don’t know if it necessarily always works out that way. But then comes along Swede songwriter Jens Lekman and his new singles compilation Oh You’re So Silent Jens, and I’m led to believe that these three factors, in conjunction, can only bring good things.
All of the songs on Silent were originally released between 2003 and 2004, before the release of his debut full-length, When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Friend, and just about all of them are amazing; indispensable, even! Often compared to Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, Lekman contains a similarly versatile and varied songwriting style, as well as a like-minded self-deprecating sense of humor. The best example of both comes in “Black Cab,” a simple and super-catchy ball of fuzzy pop from which the album takes its name: “ I killed the party again/I ruined it for my friends/Oh, you’re so silent Jens/Oh maybe I am, maybe I am.”
“Maple Leaves,” yet another standout, comes in two forms on this record, each one stellar and individual in its own right. In the EP version of the song, Lekman takes a Spector-like production approach, adding dancey drums and reverb-touched vocals, almost to the point of sounding like early Saint Etienne, but, of course, with male vocals. The 7″ mix turns the volume up on both the drums and vocals, making for a slightly more radio friendly mix. The high point of both, however, is the amusing chorus: “She said we were just make believe/but I though she said maple leaves” Both contain samples from Television Personalities’ “Someone to Share My Life With,” which Lekman also covers to somber but lovely effect here.
The highlights don’t even come close to stopping there. Lekman gets jazzy on “Pocketful of Money,” sentimental on “At the Dept. of Forgotten Songs,” jangly on “I Saw Her At the Anti-War Demonstration” and even a little soulful on “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill.” And the more I listen, the more it becomes perfectly clear how similar Lekman and Merritt truly are. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lekman could create a sprawling set like 69 Love Songs and make it every bit as fun and smart. He just hasn’t quite gotten there yet.
Jens Lekman has proven that nothing beats a good Swedish pop single, however, and does it over and over again on Oh You’re So Silent Jens. Though most of this material may not be “new,” much of it is rare, and the entire product comes together nearly perfectly as a cohesive whole. And I can count on one hand the number of other singles collections that accomplish that feat.