Say what you will about the Cardigans, but the band never makes the same album twice. From the sugary lounge-pop of 1995's Life to the darker electro-stylings of 1998's Gran Turismo, this Swedish pop group undergoes a stylistic makeover after each release. The band's previous album, 2004's Long Gone Before Daylight, was an intimate, largely acoustic affair, so fans could expect its follow-up to be completely different. When I first heard "I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer," the slyly hard-rocking first single from Super Extra Gravity, I wondered if this would be the rock album we've all been waiting for from the Cardigans.
The answer: Yes, it is.
Well, not exactly.
No doubt, this album rocks harder than anything the group has ever released -- though we shouldn't be too shocked by this transformation. Guitarist Peter Svensson and bassist Magnus Sveningsson played in metal bands before forming the Cardigans. Also, the band members included cheeky Black Sabbath covers on their early albums. On Super Extra Gravity, vocalist Nina Persson proves herself surprisingly capable of belting out choruses over jacked-up drums and guitar -- particularly on "Godspell," "Little Black Cloud" and "Fine Wine." Perhaps her voice isn't perfectly suited for such material, but that's part of the appeal. She often strains to be heard above the more raucous arrangements, creating a compelling dramatic tension. Most of these tunes come with one or two melodic hooks that are worth the price of admission. The musicians occasionally venture into a cartoon version of country-blues that they can't pull off, and although these stylistic excursions don't ruin "Drip Drop Teardrop" or "Little Black Cloud," those songs would have been more poignant if the members had toned down the twang.
Persson wrote all the lyrics here, with seven of the tracks co-written by her husband, Nathan Larson (ex-Shudder to Think). The themes focus on precarious romantic relationships as well as meditations on spirituality ("Holy Love," "Godspell"). I'd hoped Super Extra Gravity would be eleven tracks of non-stop rawk, but that isn't the case. "In the Round" and "Good Morning Joan" suggest that Persson hasn't exhausted her arsenal of quiet, confessional songs. The album even includes "And Then You Kissed Me II," an honest-to-God sequel to a song from Long Gone Before Daylight. It's not that the quieter tracks are bad -- the best track lyrically is the ballad "Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)," a moving anthem about family and forgiveness.
The Cardigans probably still won't shake the one-hit-wonder reputation -- that band that did "Lovefool" -- but Super Extra Gravity proves that the group deserves more respect than that. The band has been crafting smart, tuneful pop for well over a decade, and Super Extra Gravity is a highly entertaining addition to its discography.
Label: http://www.nettwerk.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/thecardigans