The Tough Alliance’s glowing sophomore full-length, A New Chance, opens with a brief call to prayer, which frames the rest of the album in the proper context: Band members Eric Berglund (who handles the singing) and Henning Fürst (who does the music) view pop music as totemic as religion. But that doesn’t mean they’re not above screwing with the formula. A New Chance is as much about deconstructing and reassembling great pop music as it is worshipping it.
As on the band’s scattershot 2005 debut, The New School, the band’s name is almost diametrically opposed to the optimism that drips off every song. The spacious and radiant “Something Special” nonchalantly skips by; for a song called “First Class Riot,” there’s nothing too violent present — Beglund yells “Don’t you die yet” over Pointer Sisters drums. It almost goes without saying that “Neo Violence” isn’t a brutish thrasher but a tender multidrum head-bouncer.
A New Chance isn’t all about unchecked optimism. Songs like “Miami,” which melds early house drums, a portion of the vocal hook from EQ’s “Total Ecstasy” and boy-band guitars; “Looking for Gold,” a reggae exploration; “The Last Dance,” a slice of simple synth-pop; and the Peter Gabriel-circa “Solsbury Hill”-feel of album highlight and closer “1981” offer bits of the best pop music has had to offer since the early ’80s. “Pop” isn’t a derogatory term when aimed at the Tough Alliance: The band’s modus operandi is to recontextualize old pop music and make it more vital than before.
However, the funniest bit is that the Tough Alliance are certainly not “pop” in the current Disney and Katy Perry-dominated form. But as evidenced by their sparse MySpace account — which has a lengthy anti-MySpace message permanently pasted to it — these guys don’t care about pop stardom. All that matters to them is making great music that changes the expectations of what “pop” means.