I’m From Barcelona have always been more interesting on paper than in actuality. (They’ve got 30 members in the band! They’re actually from Sweden!) Curiosity over the band outpaces any actual excitement over the band’s music, and their debut, Let Me Introduce My Friends, was a by-the-books wistful pop album that could have been made by a hundred other similar Swedish groups.
The band’s sophomore album, Who Killed Harry Houdini?, relies on many of the same tricks that Let Me Introduce My Friends leaned on (toy horns, boisterous group vocals), but it lacks a single as catchy as the band’s best, “Collection of Stamps.”
When I’m From Barcelona are in full twee mode, like on “Paper Planes,” “Music Killed Me” and “Ophelia,” the album moves on at an amicable pace with amenable sounds. But lyrically, red herrings like the random Cosby Show reference in “Paper Planes” sink any hope of a performer-listener connection.
As the cover of Harry Houdini indicates, however, this is a serious record, and downcast plodders dominate the album. “Andy” buries its saccharine chorus in atypical cavernous production meant to convey weightiness, “Rufus” bastardizes Clifford the Big Red Dog (“Rufus the giant silver Labrador”) as a plot device, and “Gunhild” is driven by samples to create wistfulness. These songs are the least intriguing part of the album: I’m From Barcelona have great difficulty portraying themselves as anything other than happy-go-lucky Swedes.
Granted, the main problem with Let Me Introduce My Friends was that it set its phasers to cute and never changed emotionally. But Who Killed Harry Houdini? is beset by lukewarm, heart-on-sleeve ballads that spoil the album and sub-form slices of pop that never take off.