Time to get back on my Swedish pop odyssey, with one of my favourite discoveries Måns Zelmerlöw. I’ve been interested since I first heard Cara Mia, and while his latest studio album “MZW” (which I reviewed here) didn’t really set me alight, I’d had it on good authority that his debut album was a lot stronger. So was it?
08 Miss America – Oh someone’s got a problem! A pretty bitchy track about her some beauty queen feeling unfulfilled with her superficial life. Maybe it’s not bitchy, maybe it’s like Britney’s “Lucky”. Sounds a bit pitying though, I don’t know. Anyway the song is pretty memorable, the chorus is strong and his vocals aren’t tested too much so it all hangs together pretty well. That breakdown is alright too. I know I don’t sound enthusiastic, but I do actually like this a lot.
06 The Prayer – What’s this about? Some troubled friend? Well I haven’t got enough to dissect this, so let’s see what we have. A pretty standard downtempo, still has a hook, but there’s not enough about this song to make too much of an impact. His vocals feel a bit lost, without enough production to cover up his vocal shortcomings. I’ve always quite liked his rough tone, but the melody is too pedestrian here to even get much mileage out of that quality.
07 Paradise – Back to the uptempos, quite energising and a nice vaguely electro pop song. Understated verses and a nice melodic chorus in the same vocal style as Miss America. Works for me, but as usual it’s nothing ground-shaking. It’s just a nice pop song, of the kind that would never be a massive hit, it’s just a product of its time in the pop landscape.
06 Lively up for Monday – What?? A string of total nonsense lyrics kicks things off before it springs into a song that it’s a million miles away from “Shine” by Take That (albeit only a fraction as annoying). I wonder if this is a cover, it’s got a different set of credits to the other songs. Anyway it’s nice enough but that quirky lyric sheet really does more harm than good.
08 Stand By – A bit of buildup now, I quite like those “Stand by…” bits over a really grubby-sounding electro bassline. Things really get moving now, the verses are a bit dull aside from the production, but the chorus is really pretty hot. I think just the whole production keeps this afloat really, it’s just got a bit of fire behind it. I think it’s a standout feature of the album, as a sort-of title track, and he even gets the chance to ad-lib at the end without it sounding too cringy like it did on the previous track. Abrupt finish though!
09 Please me – Ugh a bit more of that bouncy sound from “Lively up for Monday”, but at least it breaks that cycle and moves into more modern-sounding waters. The chorus is pretty mediocre too, but melodically it’s pretty catchy so I can turn a blind eye to that. That middle-eight is really good though, pretty passionate and climactic, well done. Key change too, we are saved!! Really gets some great momentum by the end.
10 Cara Mia – Third-place finisher at 2007’s Melodifestivalen, and totally robbed. This is an incredible pop song, I can’t express how much I love this in a mere rating out of 10. Let’s call it a 10+. So simple, with a stone-cold killer chorus, I LOVE singing along to this (actually pretty demanding) track in the car at the top of my lungs. A deadly key-change, it’s just so perfect. How could this only come third? I just wish I could find a live performance of him actually attempting that epic glory note at the end.
07 Agent Zero – More nonsense lyrics, is Agent Zero a famous thing? Presumably from the other lyrics he’s supposed to be some sort of spy? Well he’s not Agent Zero evidently (though he WOULD say that…), but all he can do is write a simple love song. It is pretty simple to be honest, even seems to make reference to Melodifestivalen, seeing as his song has be “not more than 3 minutes long” (as per the rules). Curious, and memorable only mainly for the lyrics. It’s a pretty laid-back and forgettable little downtempo. Not BAD, but not really much of anything.
09 Brother oh Brother – The other Swedish hit from this album, and a strong track. Singing about some femme fatale who’s messed poor Måns around, and now he’s warning her next victim. Either that or he’s just trashing this poor girl’s reputation out of spite. Noooo, I can’t believe Måns would stoop so low. She sounds like a bit of a bitch if he’s to be believed anyway. We end up with an almost Mediterranean holiday hit feel to this one, and that chorus really sticks in your head. Love that middle-eight too, and the inevitable key change does the business as it always does. Well done.
10 Maniac – No idea why he covered this song from “Flashdance” but my god I’m glad he did. Totally poptastic and amazing, I really can’t get enough of this. A strong song anyway, and quite distinct from the other tracks on the album. That intro is just irresistible, almost as much as the insane dance routine from the live performance I’ve put at the end of this review. Oh my! A magnificent cover, and the one that tipped me over the edge to tracking down this album. She’s a maniac, maaaaaniac on the flooooor!!! *dies*
09 Dreaming – Feel like the track order of this album is a bit shuffly, but at least it’s not front-loaded like just about every album I’ve ever bought. A very pacy dance-pop song, with another deceptively simple chorus. The harmonies are pretty solid too, really like this one. I wonder if this might have been better served earlier in the album, but it’s a pleasure nonetheless. I’d expect nothing less from Cara Mia’s writers. His voice does get a bit of an exercise for that middle-eight, and he just about sees it through.
07 Work of art (Da Vinci) – Hmm naff title, doesn’t bode well. As you can expect, this is about some hot momma comparable to a masterpiece. Hopefully not like that Vitruvian Man drawing with four arms and four legs. It’s pretty cheesy swing-lite stuff, with some really excruitating lyrics in there. His tone during the bridges is unusual, but in a good way. Not a big fan of this song though, a good enough pop song but I’d be slightly ashamed of this coming up on shuffle. She likes meh-meh-meeehhh!!
09 My Mistake – What a lovely closing song. I only wish I could find a version without the hidden and decidedly sub-standard acoustic version of Cara Mia that somehow manages to drain everything good out of an ultimate pop song. But back to this song, it’s a pretty normal ballad but it’s got something really magical about it, very touching lyrics and sentimental melody. That chorus really is quite lovely isn’t it? We even get the really adorable middle-eight leading into a heart-melting key change to see us off. Really well done, and a nice change from some of the sleepy downtempos I’ve gone through on this album.
So that’s that. Måns’ debut album is – for the most part – a pretty enjoyable and undemanding listen, with a few laser-guided missiles of pop songs (Cara Mia, Maniac), which I’d call a pretty good success. Måns hasn’t got the most flexible voice, but it’s got this likeable roughness to its tone, and doesn’t waste too much energy on exhausting ad-libs like some of the divas do. He’s a good performer, perhaps not quite excelling in any particular field but a decent all-rounder, and I’d certainly be interested to hear the rumoured “Spring 2012” album on the horizon.
Keepers for the iPod: Stand By, Please me, Cara Mia, Brother oh Brother, Maniac, Dreaming, My Mistake