Everything you ever knew, or thought you knew, about the Cardigans has changed. With their 1995 debut Life, the bubbly Swedish pop group burst onto the indie pop scene. With such optimistic and sunny songs as “Rise & Shine,” “Carnival” and “Happy Meal,” not to mention their entertaining cover of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” singer Nina Persson and the rest of the oh so Norse members of the group declared themselves positive pop pixies of the first degree. Even the cover image of Nina, Swedish blond nymphet that she is, as a coy figure skater screams cute. (Although the photo of one of the other band members as a gymnast with a pronounced package disturbed me somewhat).
Their second release saw their biggest success as the extremely catchy single “Lovefool” made its way onto the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack. The album First Band on the Moon also featured a new version of the great “Happy Meal,” the infectious “Losers” and yet another Sabbath cover in “Iron Man”. Other than a release of early versions of songs from Life entitled Emmerdale, only one other album was released and it was somewhat of a departure. Gran Turismo (yes, named after the video game) featured more of an electronic sound for the Swedish popsters and somewhat of a newfound maturity. “Erase / Rewind” was just such an example of their new sound.
Now, six years later, the Cardigans are back and they’re not what we remember. Nina’s short blond bob has become long brunette tresses for one thing (still smoldering however) and the Cardigans as a whole have grown up a bit in the passing of time. In the nine years since the release of the first album, Nina has lost some of her sunny disposition and is writing more heartfelt, serious, and introspective lyrics. The musical accompaniment has grown up along with it, featuring strings, horns, and a more lush composition to each song.
While bands like Architecture in Helsinki and The Polyphonic Spree have somewhat taken the mantle of happiest pop band on the planet away from the Cardigans, it seems that the fivesome is not fazed by the loss. Most of the new tracks seem to revolve around Nina’s failures at love and friendship beginning with the alt-country-esque “Communication”. Twangy guitars attend harsh lyrics such as:
“I never really know how to move you
so I tried to interlude through
the little holes in your veins
and I saw you
but that’s not an invitation!”
“You’re the Storm” soars into seventies’ AM rock radio territory with its anthemic chorus while using clever wordplay that sometimes borders on creepy as Persson uses `invading country’ metaphors to illustrate giving up to an aggressive and harmful lover. “A Good Horse” is an amazing Heart imitation whether they intended it or not, continuing with the theme of seventies’ rock anthems. The sobfest continues song after quality song, and while it might not equal other such dour albums as Jeff Buckley’s Grace, it is still a worthy album.
“Couldn’t Care Less” is a melancholy dirge with subtle instrumentation that sometimes recalls sixties rhythm and blues and sometimes Coldplay. I could keep on writing about every song, but soon I’m going to run out of synonyms for sad. “Please Sister” revisits the whole seventies’ AM rock thing as it sounds like an Ann Wilson fronted amalgamation of Journey, Foreigner, and Queen. Hey man, is that Freedom Rock? Well then, turn it up!
In all seriousness, the Cardigans have found a new sound and a new direction with Long Gone Before Daylight, a title which evokes the change from the bright and cheerful past of the band into the forlorn future which awaits them. Taking cues from seventies’ rock icons, the Cardigans have made the next daring step in their evolution. John Cusack, playing Rob Gordon in the film version of High Fidelity, expounds upon the fact that everyone worries about the culture of violence our kids are exposed to, but that no one worries about the thousands of songs kids are exposed to daily that deal with heartbreak, misery, and loss. He then wonders if he listens to pop music because he’s miserable, or if he’s miserable because he listens to pop music. Let’s face it, it can’t all be sunshine and roses, and the Cardigans have just joined the ranks of the thousands of bands dealing with their pain in musical form. Some things never change.
Heart- Dreamboat Annie
Blonde Redhead- Misery is a Butterfly
Aimee Mann- Lost in Space