Album: Icona Pop – “This is… Icona Pop” (2013)

I updated my iPod with a clutch of new albums last weekend to start off 2014 with plenty to write about, and yet I haven’t quite made the most of that at work this week. So the unusual (for me) source of an album review now is a disc I’ve been playing a lot in the car.

Not exactly a revolutionary way to listen to music, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it to ‘break in’ a new album. But at a slim 33 minutes, Icona Pop’s debut album has seen several rotations during my daily commute this week. Making waves in 2013 with their debut worldwide hit “I love it”, this pair of Swedish punky-pop girls have yet to capitalise with a second hit. How will a whole album fare then?

09 I love it – Not much more to really say about this one, it’s been pretty widespread over the last 6 months. I haven’t worked out who or what Charli XCX is supposed to do, but it seems to be working. Joyous and anarchic pop music with an instant chorus and easy marketability.

08 All night – Perhaps I was a bit harsh on the follow-up single when I reviewed it last year, but the vocals do give a worrying glimpse at their lack of vocal prowess and seeming inability to make any other kind of music. This is a bit more subtle and loved-up though, and there’s plenty of like about it.

08 We got the world – More shouty attempts at harmonies, this time with a Guetta-esque dance sound keeping the pulse up. A good energy to it, even if the cliches come in thick and fast. I think I like the bridges between the choruses and their next verses the best.

07 Ready for the weekend – Weird filtered choir intro before a heavily warped and grating vocal line that forms the backbone of the song. Unfortunately it makes you wonder what Icona Pop really have to say, anything other than partying? It’s serviceable dance-pop but still…

08 Girlfriend – Now if there ever was an obvious followup single, it was this. I mean they aren’t going to win any Ivor Novellos, and their big breakthrough came from the ease of use on soundtracks and adverts etc. “Girlfriend” has a similarly simple sentiment, and I could see this being a hit if it was well placed. Warm and genuine.

07 In the stars – The production has been rather samey to this point, but this at least marks a change of tempo and a more powerful rhythm driving the action instead of thick synth-lines. Their vocals really are nothing to write home about are they, can they do anything other than shout?

05 On a roll – A catchy doo-dah hook, but this is the strongest feeling of deja-vu I’ve felt so far. A chugging electopop beat about being irresponsible because… because rock ‘n’ roooollll!! I’m showing my age surely but come off it, is this all people have to aspire to these days? Too late, I’ve overthought this one.

07 Just another night – Hang on, is she… singing!? I’d forgotten they could do that. A subtle (!) intro with a quiet buzzing bassline. I rather like this, it makes a world of difference that they aren’t simul-shouting as they have been for the last 7 tracks instead of singing. Sure they don’t have amazing voices, nor are the lyrics particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a start.

06 Hold on – More attempt to sing properly in the intro, though some rather iffy moments highlight their inexperience on this front. It’s a decent song, reminds me almost of those big mainstream US college rock songs in places, not sure why really as guitars are far from their minds.

06 Light me up – More shouty pop vocals, but the relaxed tempo does it a favour, just for the sake of variety. It feels a bit laboured but it’s still decent. Not a highlight by any stretch but at least they can make (slightly) different sounds finally.

07 Then we kiss – A more indie-disco sort of track to finish, still shouty but it’s quite cute on this one, quite giddy and loved-up. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster for the first minute and a half, but the closing minute has a short moment of reflection that gives (finally) a bit of depth to it. Quite sweet really.

A decent CD for the car, but it collapses under too much inspection. As I feared they are – for now – one-trick ponies. The vocals are the big sticking point for me, they just can’t do a lot with them. Those shouty duets make it hard to express much emotion in the vocals, or even the fact that there is a duo singing at all since they sound all but identical.

There are flashes of versatility here and there, and the music itself is decent dance pop, but it feels rather disposable and anonymous. For those reasons I wonder if there is much of a future for them, saving another fluke hit like “I love it” that feels increasingly like a simple case of “right place, right time”. I wish them the best, but they need time.

Keepers for the iPod: I love it, All night, We got the world, Girlfriend

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