Monthly Archives: October 2011

Album: Absolute Schlager (Part 1)

As part of my quest to learn a bit more about Swedish pop music, after my positive experiences with their Eurovision selection show Melodifestivalen, I thought I needed to cast a wide net. Happily there’s a rather extensive compilation that was recommended to me, so I’m going through that one disc at a time.

ANYWAY it’s a good start, considering Swedish-language (presumably) 70s era songs are a bit of a niche venture for me, but there was a good variety of tracks on this compilation, and a surprising number that I recognised already.

09 Lena Philipsson – Det Gör Ont – What a fantastic start! Well I was briefly introduced to Lena by Johnkm at the start of the year, with this track, Lena Anthem and Delirium. Someone I’ve heard a lot of chatter about, so definitely someone I want to investigate more. Love that chorus, catchy as Africanized Herpes, and I’m overjoyed to see it won MF in 2004 and did well at Eurovision, DESERVED. Love that key change!

08 Carola – Främling – Only the 2nd Carola song I’ve heard (after Invincible) and another infamous Schlager figure. I love this impression I’ve seen of her as some demonic high priestess of Schlager. This sounds sweet enough though, and it’s obvious that we are rolling back to the 80s. I had only heard this once before, as a weird live mashup duet with Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale. It’s a nice song, catchy and upbeat. Shocked to read it’s the title track to the (then?) biggest selling Swedish album of all time!

08 Charlotte Nilsson – Take Me To Your Heaven
– Now I definitely know this one, 1999’s Eurovision winner. At the time I didn’t really get on with it, and until recently I just found it too retro and camp in an uninspiring way, a bit of a Waterloo rip-off. But it’s really grown on me since listening to this CD. She totally blew this out of the water with Hero, so it’s a bit of a shame that Hero was so hard done-by in comparison. A fun song, but nothing new.

07 Ted Gärdestad – Satelit
– Male vocals? Guitars? What’s going on? Well I had to have some versatility sooner or later. Another Eurovision entry, albeit a less successful one than the ones we’ve had so far. In fact, after reading about this on Wikipedia I wonder how this got such high billing. Anyway, not one for rockier songs, but this has a catchy hook at least. It’s alright.

10 Måns Zelmerlöw – Cara Mia
– OMGZ now we are talking. LOVE this one, and Måns. Better than his follow-up entry Hope and Glory too. Who needs a long verse when you’ve got such a hot chorus? Catchy as hell too, I loved the choreo from his MF performance, and he’s a good performer. OK it sticks to a formula structurally, but it’s simple and effective. Love the middle 8 and inevitable middle 8. Wish he’d done that final glory note live though, that would have been incredible.

07 Arvingarna – Eloise – Is this CD really just Eurovision & Melodifestivalen entries wall-to-wall? Surprised to see this made it to a Eurovision, and even did well, finishing in the top 10. Not really my thing particularly, sort of falls into a gap between having a vintage sound and having all the bells and whistles of a modern entry, difficult to pin down to a genre. Like the harmonies and the chorus does stick in my head, but not one I’m in a rush to hear again.

08 The Ark – The Worrying Kind – Now this one I DO recognise, and I’ve really cooled off on this one since 2007. It’s a pretty basic catchy track, but I guess it boils down to how much you like that glam rock sound. I guess I don’t like it that much. It’s good for what it is, but no way should this have gone to Helsinki instead of Cara Mia.

10 Alcazar – Stay The Night
– Now Alcazar I’ve been aware of for years, since their successful assault on the UK charts, but I haven’t really explored them more. I’ve listened to the Greatest Hits disc on Disco Defenders a lot over the last month, and I really love them now! This is a particular highlight, really tight harmonies, amazing chorus, totally everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production, and a dizzying key change. Amazing. Have they really split up? Bloody typical!

08 Kikki Danielsson – Bra Vibrationer
– Another unknown artist for me, singing another unknown Eurovision entry from 1985. Christ, I just looked at her Wiki page, she looks like a cavewoman version of Chiara. I dread to think what happens when her bra vibrates. Anyway, much like the other vintage songs I’ve heard so far, this is nice enough, upbeat and fun, but not much else I can comment on without knowing Swedish. Never gives up that great rhythm though.

07 After Dark – La Dolce Vita – Another MF song, but this doesn’t really do it for me. Just something lacking here, not sure what. It is catchy nonetheless, I did keep revisiting that chorus in my head several times this week. Actually maybe I’m being harsh, it’s pretty good, but the production is a bit too generic really.

09 Linda Bengtzing – Jag Ljuger Så Bra – Another familiar name from recent years of Melodifestivalen, though she wasn’t one of my favourites this year. This is much better though, it’s like an amped-up modern version of Kikki’s song, relentless rhythm, lots of fun energy. She’s singing her heart out for most of it, you wonder if a key change is even possible, but she MAKES IT POSSIBLE. Really like this.

08 ABBA – Ring Ring – Oh now having just done ABBA’s back catalogue, this is now quite familiar. I really liked this first time around, and still enjoy it. Probably the best display of their promise as a group before their big breakthrough with Waterloo, and a highlight of their first album. Vocals are a bit shrill at times, but still a great pop song. PS I know it wasn’t technically ABBA at this point, but shut up.

07 Tomas Ledin – Just Nu – Another Eurovision finalist, but a distant 10th to Johnny Logan in 1980, and deservedly so. It’s alright, it’s not to full-on guitar rock, a lot of focus on the beats and vocals. I like those little piano flourishes throughout. Again, 30 year old Swedish rock isn’t really my genre of choice but for what is it, it’s still pretty good.
08 Shirley Clamp – Min Kärlek – OK another infamous figure, I’ve only really heard this year’s Shirley’s Angels track and that Band Aid cover I think. Came second to Lena in 2004’s Melodifestivalen final, which I think is fair enough. It sounds pretty good, memorable and plenty of big notes. Aside from the key change there’s not a lot of variation, but still pretty solid.

09 BWO – Lay Your Love On Me
– Now I’m a lot more familiar with these, a few tracks every now and then, and a proper listen-through of their Pandemonium hits collection. My criticism of them would be that they’re a bit of a one-note group at times. 3rd in 2008’s MF final, they would have been a good representative but they really had to make way for Charlotte Perrelli that year. This is a pretty standard BWO template but one of their better efforts I think. Something leaves me a bit cold with them, but this is a great pop song.

08 Pernilla Whalgren – Piccadilly Circus – Throwback time, to 1985’s MF final. What a lovely track, reminds me of some theme tunes to Japanese anime shows, very cutesy and light. I have to give credit for that eye-popping high note that just keep going UP, amazing. For a 26-year old song, this is still pretty charming. She can still bring it too, I loved her 2010 entry for MF.

07 Andreas Johnson – Sing For Me – I always pause when I see his name, he’s a one-hit-wonder in the UK after 2000’s Glorious that everyone loved for a few months, I recall I even had a copy of Liebling at the time. So it’s weird to think he’s been a pretty active force in MF for a while now. This is pretty generic sing-a-long stuff best saved for Take That fans and people who feeled compelled to prefix things with “Great British”. Sure it’s someone’s cup of tea, after all it came 3rd in 2006’s MF final but as listenable as it is, not for me.

06 Claes-Göran Hederström – Det Börjar Likna Kärlek Banne Mig
– Christ, that’s a mouthful. Well it’s obvious we are further back than we’ve ever been now, and indeed this was the 1968 Swedish entry at Eurovision. It’s very of its time, it’s weird to hear a Swedish language song like this, just sounds like it could easily be anything English from the same period, like Tom Jones or whoever. It’s lasted the 40-odd years pretty well, but not really a keeper for me…

06 Lotta Engberg – Fyra Bugg Och En Coca-Cola – Ech … got to love those simulated steel drums don’t you? Well no, happily we don’t. I didn’t really consider what a 1987 Eurovision entry might sound like, but this fits the bill somehow. Naff tropical novelty, don’t really like this one. Pleasant enough, as all these things are, but that Coca-Cola stuff just makes me cringe.

07 Afro-Dite – Never Let Go – 2002’s song for Eurovision’s show in Tallinn now, and some faux-retro disco froth. I guess production has moved on a lot in the intervening decade, so what must have sounded pretty modern in 2002 sounds a little dated now, like a Supersister track if I’m honest. It’s good really, don’t get me wrong, but I have trouble getting excited about it. What about that abrupt finish too?!

06 Orup & Glenmark – Upp Över Mina Öron
– 1989’s MF runner-up now, and if Lotta’s track is anything to go by, this wasn’t a vintage period. It sounds pretty Americanised more than anything, with a bit of the associated naff retro charm that some tracks from that period carry with them. Not doing much for me though.

06 Tommy Nilsson – En Dag
– And straight onto the song that pipped the above to be the representative in the 1989 Eurovision. Definitely not a vintage year, particularly if this came fourth! It’s not a total loss, even with the Michael Bolton-esque constipated vocals. I do like the final leg of the song when the gospelly choir claps their way in, gives a bit more punch to the finale. Probably came over pretty well on the night, I’ll give him that.

07 Sonja Aldén – För Att Du Finns
– 6th place in 2007’s MF final, starts off a bit like Anna Vissi’s Everything, but doesn’t build into anything as powerful as that sadly. Spends the first half not really developing into much at all, though I do like the middle-8 with the breathy backing vocals. The big chorus at the end isn’t really as big as it should be, lacks oomph really.

07 Christer Björkman – Imorgon Är En Annan Dag
– Bit of an odd one to put in now, it won 1992’s MF final but came a disasterous 2nd last on home turf in the Malmö Eurovision. He’s now pulling the strings behind Melodifestivalen itself as the supervisor of the show. This is a nice enough ballad but I can totally see how it might have failed to grab the attention of Europe. Shame really, but I’m not too cut up.

09 Sarah Dawn Finer – Moving On – Another familiar name, though the first song I at least remember hearing. It’s pretty standard big power ballad territory and she performs it well. Of this CD it’s certainly one of my favourites. The production does get bigger and bigger, but she’s got a big enough voice to match it. Builds to a nice finale, shame it didn’t do better in the 2009 MF but it was a pretty competitive year.

08 Markoolio & Linda Bengtzing – Värsta Schlagern
– This is an odd one, the only one on this CD that wasn’t from Melodifestivalen, and it’s a parody song of Melodifestivalen?? Well obviously without knowing Swedish, this is a pretty convincing cuckoo in the nest, though the MF organisers evidently didn’t see the funny side and barred it from the 2006 contest. Without knowing all this, I thought it was a really fun peppy pop song, what’s not to like?

Keepers for the iPod: Det Gör Ont, Take me to your heaven, Cara Mia, Stay the night, Jag Ljuger Så Bra, Ring Ring, Lay your love on me, Piccadilly circus, Moving on, Värsta Schlagern.

Next: Absolute Schlager CD2

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Album: Bjork – “Selmasongs” (2000)

Now time for my first real unknown entry in Bjork’s catalogue. I had this at one point but never really gave it much of a chance despite sitting through its cheery parent film Dancer in the Dark (which I tried and failed to track down on DVD this week, never mind). It’s a short one, not much more than 30 minutes, and sort of bridges the gap between Homogenic and 2001’s Vespertine. As a film score it does end up a full-on orchestral affair, but she still has licence to twist things with unusual instrumentation and strange mechanical noises to tie in with the film.

08 Overture – Well, not much to comment on here, the name gives you the right idea: orchestral swells, general buildup for the film, setup of musical motifs used throughout. I do like a good bit of classical music, and this pretty much ticks the boxes. Very majestic towards the end, lovely stuff.

07 Cvalda – And into the action we go, with some mechanical thuds and buzzes as the base for the song. A rather manic-sounding Bjork tries to sing along to this, but thankfully moves on to the dream-like verse quickly. I love the instrumentation on those bits, but the chorus really is a bit of a mess, her “clatter crash pow!” bits go even more unhinged, with some distorted brass section kicking in too. The titular Cvalda joins in, thanks to Catherine Deneuve, though she doesn’t really vary much from the verse we’d already heard. Bjork’s really bellowing out those last bits isn’t she?! A bit of a mess but not totally awful.

08 I’ve seen it all
– Thom Yorke joins in on this Oscar-nominated duet, which is indirectly responsible for that amazing Bjork moment with the swan dress. I feel that this studio version loses something without the context of the film. For some reason I really hate that train-track beat that underlies it all, I can’t offer an explanation why though. Certainly memorable, I just wish I remembered the reasoning behind it. Rather offhand dismissals of supposedly amazing experiences, like seeing Niagara falls or being around newborn babies etc. I sort of like that statement of not giving a crap about these things you’re meant to get all emotional about. It’s a good duet, their harmonies don’t really work though. Love the lush string sections.

06 Scatterheart
– Start to lose interest with this one, the longest song on the album at nearly 7 minutes, and doesn’t really get me excited. All dreamy and glockenspiely to start with, not really much of anything. The weird beeping and buzzing kicks in, with some meandering vocals and rising strings. I don’t really know, I can’t hook onto this. The actual singy bits in the third minute just annoy me. Shame because Scatterheart is such a great name for a song isn’t it? Only thing rescuing this from a lower mark are the strings in the last 1:20, growing very menacing towards the end, beautiful.

08 In the musicals – What an odd effect, sounds like it should be the soundbed of a basketball segment in a High School Musical movie. Adds a strange frantic pace to the song, even in the lush, bustling panoramic chorus of “There’s always someone to catch me”. The second verse is a bit more troublesome without that skittering beat, but it survives into the second gorgeous chorus. Loses its way a little over the course of 5 minutes, but still enjoyable.

08 107 Steps – A bit of an interlude now, with some counting towards something I’m presuming is not a good thing to head towards (without ruining the plot). The ponderous accompaniment confirms this early on, but Bjork makes the best of it, going into some lovely soaring vocals, even if she is just singing numbers. Actually the more I think about it, it’s all a bit conceptual, if they’d have just written some lyrics this could have been really lovely. Very climactic though.

09 New world – This was a real slow burner that I’ve really warmed up to now. Repeating some features of Overture with a few beats added, really well blended. I love the main sections, “A new world, a new day”, just keep getting that stuck in my head. It’s got such optimism despite the tone of the film at this point. The build in the second verse is really glorious, I had to check it wasn’t a David Arnold arrangement. This album has had its moments and misfires, but this is really a perfect blend of the sounds they’ve tried to involve the score. A gorgeous climax, really beautiful.

Well I got there in the end. I can see why I didn’t really get on board with this album, even when I had the context of the film, maybe I just never put it together. Either way, musically I am fond of the production as a noted fan of string sections and orchestral pieces. The experimentalism of Homogenic is reined in, though there are plenty of production quirks, notably the industrial noises used numerous times. It works sometimes, but I never liked that Stomp act, hitting dustbins etc., so it’s a bit much at times. Still, glad I revisited this, if only for New World.

Keepers for the iPod: In the musicals, New world.

Next: Vespertine (2001)

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Sooner or later

Have I fizzled out already? I’m not a good blogger, I get to ambitious and give up when I can’t meet those targets. Also I can’t be arsed a lot of the time, YouTube cat videos don’t watch themselves you know!

Anyway I’ve got a backlog of reviews to do, so I’ll have plenty posted soon. I hadn’t really planned this to be a review blog, but it seems like that’s where this is going.

I’ve just moved house too, that’s probably not helped, even though it has increased my internet time quite a lot. I’ll work it out. Just as soon as I get out of bed … and get lunch … and do my washing … etc. This morning I was so resistant to getting out of bed that I polished up my LinkedIn page, and I barely remember that exists most of the time!

MUST TRY HARDER

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Single: Carpenters – “Rainy days and Mondays” (1971)

Oh dear 😦 Time for a ray of sunshine from my iTunes, it’s as if it KNOWS I’m having a miserable week.

A bit of an oddity in my collection to have older artists in there, I’ve always felt more at home with more modern artists; only really venturing into the 70s with this pair, ABBA and a bit of Kate Bush. I do have a soft spot for Carpenters though, and this is one of their signature hits. Possibly this was ruined by one of those cloying Tetley Tea adverts, but I’ll try to ignore that.

Karen Carpenter really had a gorgeous voice, smooth as silk and capable of such melancholy. I guess that makes sense given the way she died (and that makes it even sadder somehow).

On the face, it’s a bit of a contradiction having somewhat upbeat production, like Julie Andrews singing about when she’s sad, sort of a brave face on the misery. It’s not all doom and gloom, Karen sings about a special someone who makes all the sadness go away.

I feel like I need to know more backstory to this, but I really hear the sentiment loud and clear.

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Album: Bjork – “Homogenic” (1998)

Right, time for round 3. Bjork was obviously doing pretty well at this point and it showed in the quality of her music videos from this album onwards. Not that the ‘Post’ videos were bad in any way, but this really was a great stylistic leap forward.

If I’m brutally honest, I don’t feel like some people do that this is her best album. I have to say that some of her finest moments are on Homogenic, but some of the more experimental moments just fall flat with me in a way that ‘Post’ never did. So it’s not for everybody, I think everyone can concede that this is a common theme for Bjork so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

10 Hunter – Right, good start. Fascinatingly simple video, and a hypnotic opening track. That shuddering drum machine with the strings surfacing every so often like Jaws. I love the dangerous tone to the song, it’s a real scene-setter. A perfect mix of the unusual lyrical style we got into on ‘Post’ but with something that still sounds pretty damn fresh and exciting 13 years later.

09 Joga – Back to basics now, and a more environmental twist, evidenced by the wonderful landscape in the video. Back to the same hybrid of string sections with ultra-modern beats, but more skewed to the classical sound. I don’t know why particularly but it just reminds you that she’s an Icelandic artist, and never compromised her roots in that respect. I don’t know if her music means more to Icelanders… I don’t really know what point I’m trying to make.

08 Unravel – A lot sparser now, reminiscent of the more intimate moments of ‘Post’. A sweet ballad about missing her loved one, using a rather odd metaphor of the Devil unravelling her heart. Not entirely sure what she’s trying to say, she loves him less the longer he’s away? Maybe it’s not that sweet after all. A bit slow but there’s a song in there at least, and I’ll be grateful for that once we reach further into this album. Was going to give this a 7, but that church organ bit really MAKES it.

10 Bachelorette – Now THIS. THIS is the whole package, and while Hunter was brilliant, this really surpasses anything else on the album. The mix of classic and beats is as perfectly measured and potent as rocket fuel. The lyrics are just pure poetry, all the pieces really just fit marvellously. On top of all this, we get one of the most creative music videos I’ve ever seen, courtesy of Michel Gondry. Magic.

08 All neon like
– It would be practically impossible to follow Bachelorette, so I will try not to hold it against this one. Though I think the cracks begin to show as the album descends into style over substance, and the experimental moments miss more than they hit. That said, there is still some melody in here, and some interesting musical moments and lovely vocals. Those glassy electronic shimmers are lovely, and her vocal delivery has some wonderful moments, but those big lumpy beats (and that horrid buzzy effect during the mid-section) really don’t fit well for me. Perhaps it would be less interesting without them, but when they left up briefly there is a lovely moment. Not sure about it really.

06 5 Years – Now the beats really do get out of control. Speaker-crushing basslines really sound harsh to my ears, sometimes that works but not here. It distracts too much from the song, apart from a few brief moments where we are left to hear Bjork with minimal production. But the yelling starts soon after, so my interest really wears thin. A decent-ish song ruined by most of the production.

05 Immature – I wonder what I would have thought of this song if the first half of the album hadn’t contained such heights. Well the good news is that the beats don’t totally overwhelm this one, but the bad news is that the song is a bit of a dud. Not bad really, I just really don’t connect to it. Thank God there’s only 3 minutes. Not really enjoying her vocals, or as she would put it, “I doh-oh-ohn’t, enjo-oh-oy, her vo-oh-cals”

07 Alarm Call – I suppose you’d struggle to get 4 singles out of this album (though if Possibly Maybe seemed like a good idea, why not Unravel?). The show gets back on the road somewhat, an actual song makes an appearance. Can’t say I’m too into the bridges, nor the all-too-quotable ‘fucking buddhist’ line, or even the one-trick-pony of a piranha music video. But generally it’s a fair song, thought doesn’t really go anywhere particular. I’m just more happy to get to something more listenable. This all sounds a bit harsh, I QUITE like the song.

02 Pluto – Oh well, we had a good run. The beats have their way, with an ultra-intense migraine of production totally burying this one. I could see it just about working, but the song isn’t up to much. “Excuse me, but I just have to explode”… oh whatever, I don’t get it. The bridge is alright, the woo-hoo-ooohs and backing, but that brief spell of listenability seems to upset the drum machine, which promptly has a showstopping tantrum. And so it continues until I have a fatal seizure. The best candidate for the “Aural holocaust” award this side of Drawing Restraint 9. The 2 points are for the VERY rare occasions when I find this harsh bitch of a song vaguely listenable, like how you like eating fizzy sweets.

10 All is full of love – Is the album title some sort of joke? It’s the most uneven listening experience. Anyway, let’s finish rather unexpectedly on a gloriously listenable note. Again, perhaps the video steals the show (or even makes the song), with a disarmingly tender love scene between two robot Bjorks, or as close as you’ll get without any robot genitalia. I love the gentle rhythm of the intro, soaring into a gorgeous chorus that she puts everything into. The repeated title between her and the backing vocals always remind me oddly of church bells ringing, they have that weird overlapping rhythm to them. Not an awful lot to this song if I really think about it, but really beautiful nonetheless.

So there we have it, some truly inspired moments make up Homogenic, but I could never forgive those beastly moments like ‘Pluto’ to declare this her best album, it just doesn’t work for me. Visually I loved this campaign, something they really got totally right and trod the line between visionary eye candy and the slightly TOO high-art efforts we would get more regularly in later albums.

Keepers for the iPod:
Hunter, Joga, Unravel, Bachelorette, All is full of love.

Next: Selmasongs (2000)

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