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The Cardigans | Super Extra Gravity | review | alternative | Lollipop
Super Extra Gravity (Nettwerk)
by Tim Den
The Cardigans took an extended break in the early '00s, only to reinvent themselves as subdued pop masters on '04's Long Gone Before Daylight. The album turned many heads, mine included, to become a near-classic to many songwriter hopefuls, as its masterfully controlled sense of melancholy rivaled that of Aimee Mann's. But apparently, in hindsight the band felt that it was too polished, calculated, and "put together," and in response, decided to take a rawer and more "bratty" approach to Super Extra Gravity. Unlike Long Gone Before Daylight's meticulous arranging and recording process, The Cardigans worked on their new album in short, sporadic bursts, placing deadlines on themselves in order to capture the slightly-rushed, spontaneous feel of a jam session. Between some of the members' newly acquired parental status, songs had to be recorded quickly and lyrics finished at the 11th hour. The result, the band stated, was an album that retains Long Gone Before Daylight's melodiousness, but also sprinkles some dirt and grime on top.
So is this true? Sure, but don't expect the same kind of mulled-over-brilliance that's on Long Gone Before Daylight. In order to keep the proceedings more "alive," The Cardigans experiment with all sorts of lo-fi/garage production and stylistic values, but in the interim, kinda forgot to strengthen the songs' cores. Cuz as much as the "live band" feel of Super Extra Gravity rocks like a seedy club, its half-hearted hooks leave you a bit empty afterward. "Godspell" has a snotty riff, and "Drip Drop Teardrop" has some loud cymbal crashes, but when they're done playing, you'll be saying "eh, not that memorable or interesting." Even when the band revert to Long Gone Before Daylight-ish weepy torch songs like "Overload" and "Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)," you can't help but feel they're b-sides. It's fine to test out sonic possibilities, but there's just no hiding rushed songwriting.
Of particular note are main songwriters guitarist/backup vocalist Peter Svensson and vocalist Nina Persson. It doesn't take many spins of the disc to quickly realize that Svensson seems to be purposely derailing certain chord progressions with premeditated left turns. Think "Feathers and Down"'s strange twisting-and-turning key changes, and then apply them into almost every song on Super Extra Gravity... when there's no need to. A perfectly good verse doesn't need a "psych!" just for "clever songwriting" sake. Let the melody flow! Such attempts at spicing up the arrangement only feels like an obstacle. You want to get to the heart of the song, but roadblocks keep getting in your way. Lyrically, not even the help of Persson's husband (film composer and ex-Shudder To Think's Nathan Larson) can reproduce such universal lines as "and I hold the record for being patient with your kind of hesitation... if this is communication, then I disconnect." Instead, try these on for size: "I'm learning to dance/dum-ditty dance/I'm dancing, m'kay?" But I'm not scared/I don't care/cuz we dance the night away/let's dance the night away, yeah!" Ahem. Can you blame me for thinking that maybe rushing the lyrics wasn't a good idea?
"Holy Love" perhaps sums up my feelings best: I love the hook, but the unnecessary key changes in the bridge and the numerous awkward pauses during the verses make it that much more difficult to fully embrace it. Same with opener "Losing a Friend." Fantastic song, but the intrusive downbeat disrupts the flow immensely. For every great element, a negative one counterbalances it.
Utilizing "unruly" recording techniques after you've just made a "prim and proper" album certainly isn't a bad idea, but it also doesn't mean that you must abandon careful songwriting choices. Unfortunately, The Cardigans lose a significant amount of their radiance on Super Extra Gravity. I can only hope the band counter-reacts by the time the next full-length is written.