It’s hard not to like a band of Swedes that sings a tribute to its influences in “Motown Blood” then moves on to croon on “Post United States of America,” not to mention has the balls to compare itself favorably to the Beatles and Stones. Mando Diao has definite potential, as evidenced by its debut Bring ‘Em In (purportedly recorded on old equipment in a real live garage), and although the band has been together in some incarnation or another since ’95, it’s not fully formed yet. Still, Mando Diao shows its talent on Bring ‘Em In; the songs are melodically enticing and vocally engaging but also lyrically confusing and vacuous (“she’s got garage doors, you’ve got lies”).
The five members come from Borlange, which translates into “living far away” and is reported to have the “highest drug and murder rate of anyplace in Sweden.” While the rest of Borlange was listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses, these guys say they were listening to soul music. They came to realize that if they wanted to listen to something other than manufactured punk and sticky pop, they’d have to do it themselves, apparently in a garage or a basement. The resulting recordings became the band’s demo.
Like the demo, the album shows a lack in production polish. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they could’ve at least scraped off some of the rust. The vocals could in fact be stellar, if they had a bit of direction and shine. Gustaf Noren and Bjorn Dixgard trade off singing and are both competent and strong singers, but at times sound as if they swallowed a cheesy lounge R&B act.
There is spark in the infectious melodies that carry the project — specifically, the up-beat tracks and the first three songs. Some of the tunes are refreshing. Opener “Sheepdog” could have been a Clash-meets-Herman’s Hermits B-side, and “Sweet Ride” and “Motown Blood” get everything off to a good start. But from the fourth song on they try desperately to mine the late ’60s, with some odd results. The soul/R&B/Manchester-pop/punk is an appealing but disorienting mix. The bits that work do so very well, but while wearing their influences on their sleeves may be commendable, fumbling attempts at imitation just end up sounding unoriginal. I can only hope the chorus of “Lady” (“I won’t leave, no, no, no, I’d never leave, leave, leave my old lady, hey, hey, no I won’t leave, no ,no, leave my old lady”) is some bizarre Swedish joke.
It would be easy to recommend giving a chance to the next outing, assuming they get a little guidance and stick with the more up-beat material. While there are at times flashes of Soundtrack of our Lives (with whom the band toured), but the spirit is much more Hives. One thing comes across loud and clear — you can bet these guys put on a riotous good live show.