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There Was a Banquet of Believers When We Walked Into the Room
Gyllene Tider: Gyllene Tider
The last pile of discs left from my November London trip, after I shelved all the prog-rock stuff I couldn't think of anything to say about last week, is this admittedly potentially-daunting tower of Roxette-related material. The friends I was staying with in London were mildly aghast, already, at the sheer number of CDs I bought while I was there, but I believe the idea that I was willing to buy this many Roxette cross-references convinced them that I was totally insane. There is, to be fair, some sense to this deduction; if you think of Roxette as makers of fundamentally disposable pop, then obsessive collectors of their music fall into the same category as obsessive collectors of partially-chewed gummi bears, used delivery-pizza boxes and the Franklin Mint subscription cards that fall out of TV Guides. I empathize with the feeling, because I used to feel that way myself. "The Look", when it came out, seemed to me so much like the apotheosis of vapid, dehumanizing gibberish that when my girlfriend gave me, as an inspired joke, an album on which Barbie, the doll, covered it, the idea of a version of the song even more brainless and plastic than the original reduced me to a giggling, speechless wreck for several minutes. My conversion, when it occurred, was startling, involuntary and more than a little embarrassing, and even now I can't exactly reconstruct how it came about (but I think it somehow involved the killing of an Austrian archduke). Whether you think of this as progress or regress, though, I have come to believe that Roxette songs are not, after all, disposable. Quite to the contrary, they have magical powers, capacities for engendering joy for life that I'm sure I wouldn't credit, either, if I hadn't observed their effects on my own spirit. They are one of music's rarest treasures, songs that always make me happier than I was without them, no matter, as best I can tell, how ecstatic or agitated I am at the time. I feel, in telling you this, like I suspect I would feel if I'd discovered a city of faeries under my backyard ivy, or become personally convinced that there are spaceships hiding behind comets; maybe you'll think I'm crazy, too, but the revelation is too important for me to let that be an excuse. A hysterical, overbearing missionary zealot might, after all, be right.
Still, despite all that, I didn't go to London intending to buy these records. Pearls of Passion, the long-rumored reissue of Roxette's first album, was on my list, but I was pretty sure it hadn't been released yet, and otherwise my Roxette collection was more or less complete. The thing that changed my plans was chancing across a small black box labeled Kompakta Tider, which contained the complete works of Per Gessle's Swedish pre-Roxette band Gyllene Tider. Compete collections of anything exert an eerie magnetism on me, and this one had the additional virtue of being only £35 for five discs, which is cheap even by American standards. And the "Gessle" bin is near the "Gyllene" bin. And "Fredriksson" is just a little ways up the aisle... I never had a chance.
I bought them all, though, more in the interest of science than anything else, and mostly expected them to be terrible, however edifying. The Gyllene Tider catalog in particular, I figured, gloomily, was probably composed of equal parts helium-voiced polkas, high-school-cover-band Police impersonations, and some faux-metal liable to sound as pathetically unconvincing as Big Bird trying to act intimidating and squat. This turns out to be wrong. As of their self-titled 1979 debut, as a matter of fact, they are a thoroughly plausible skinny-tie power-pop band in the mold of, and, I think, on par with, American contemporaries the Knack, Shoes and 20/20. Drummer Micke Andersson's stiff, peppy rhythms set the tone, bassist Anders Herrlin occasionally slips into left-over disco mannerisms, Per and co-guitarist Mats Persson fill in chirpy, coltish guitar that sporadically careens off into brief bursts of out-of-character rock heroics, and keyboardist Göran Fritzson inserts flashes of twinkly piano and organ that vacillate, to me, between sounding like apropos rock touches and sounding like the endearingly earnest contributions of the geeky friend who didn't know how to play any rock instruments but got to be in the band because his parents were the ones that let them practice in their basement. Per's singing is wide-eyed and breathless, with, where it has any swagger to it, the Rick Springfield-esque self-assurance of somebody whose previous successes were in a different field altogether. The songs range from the jittery, punk-derived "Skicka Ett Vykort, Älskling" to Payola$-like quasi-reggae ("Flickorna På TV2"), springy "Working-Class Dog" surge ("(Dansar Inte Lika Bra Som) Sjömän"), storytelling boogie with traces of Randy Newman or Warren Zevon ("Sista Gången Jag Såg Annie"), one ("Billy") that sounds to me like Quarterflash, without the saxophone, doing "Hotel California", one ("Ska Vi Älska, Så Ska Vi Älska Till Buddy Holly") that reminds me of a slightly less leathery Saxon, and one "Himmel No. 7" that, at least across the language barrier, sounds a lot like "Der Kommissar". The muted "Revolver Upp", the bouncy "Fån Telefon", and especially the Shoes-ish "När Ni Faller Faller Ni Hårt", though, are pure, unapologetic power-pop, and the album even ends, like many well-meaning power-pop records, with a soppy piano ballad ("Guld"). The CD adds three bonus tracks, my favorite of which, "Marie I Växeln", feels like it might be a novelty epic in the vein of the Vapors' "Turning Japanese", if only I had any idea what they're singing.
Gyllene Tider: Moderna Tider
Actually, the mortifying truth is that I ought to have some idea what they're singing. As a student I took to learning foreign languages rather like children sometimes take to eating dirt: it always seemed like a brilliant idea for the first few bites, but after a while, even without the scolding, my system began to react adversely. We had some token Spanish in elementary school, and in high school I took two years of French and two years of German (in retrospect, part of the problem was probably my insistence on doing these simultaneously; my German teacher's perpetual hangover and expatriate Brooklyn accent didn't help, either), so by the time I got to college I could express myself quite effectively, as long as I was allowed to intermingle vocabulary and grammatical structures from all four languages, and an accent swiped from a failed Monty Python audition. Sadly, the tests for placing out of Harvard's one-year foreign-language requirement did not cater to this skill. Scanning through the student course-evaluation book, though, I discovered that the only course in the entire undergraduate curriculum that had received unanimous perfect marks, the previous term, was Introduction to Swedish. This class turned out to have not only a diligent instructor with an infectious passion for the language, but also the one essential quality that I came to look for in any course taken to satisfy a curriculum requirement at a tangent to my own interests, which is that it required me to divert no measurable effort or attention from the courses I really cared about. The class was so magnificently and unapologetically easy -- and this will sound like an exaggeration for comic effect, but it is literally true -- that on the day of the midterm I accidentally overslept, waking up twenty minutes after the hour-long test had begun, and yet was able to leap into clothing, sprint to the classroom (luckily, in the library directly adjacent to my dorm), and still finish the exam twenty minutes early. I got a B+, and passed on the perfect evaluation marks for the next generation. And in a bit of inevitable reap-what-you-sow justice, in the split second I passed through the door frame on the way out of the final I forgot every bit of Swedish I'd learned, save a lilting and amiable "mycket bra" ("very good") and the defensive disclaimer "Jag kan inte tala Svenska" ("I can not speak Swedish"). The only other insights into the language I've retained are that Swedish sensibly declines to use different verb forms with different pronouns ("I talk", "he talk", "she talk", "we talk"), and that the "a"s and "o"s with umlauts or little circles over them actually count as separate letters, and should be alphabetized after "z", not in with their markless counterparts. And, of course, taking the class entailed buying a Swedish-to-English dictionary, which I still have, so I could pick my way through the lyrics of these songs, or at least the titles, if I absolutely had to. "Gyllene Tider" is approximately "Golden Age", Moderna Tider is "Modern Times", and "När Alla Vännerna Gått Hem" is "Nearly All of the Van Owners Have Gone Home". It's more amusing, though, to pretend that the singing on these albums is merely the result of a bizarre vocal affectation of some sort, and Swedish, especially when sung, is close enough to English in syllabic inflection that these albums end up seeming not much more incoherent than Michael Stipe on Murmur.
By their second album, released in 1981, Gyllene Tider seem to me to be inching away from reedy vintage power-pop toward a variant with a little more rock density. Herrlin's bass figures more prominently into the mix, Per and Mats' guitar parts are less squeaky and more dominated by muted-string power-chord rumbles and sustained slashes, Andersson's drum patterns are a little slower and a little more forceful, and the melodies shy away from the most obvious instant-gratification pop flourishes in favor of a more rock-like suspension of resolution. Per even lets a bit of sneer creep into his voice in a couple places, but the effect is often oddly undermined by Göran Fritzson's keyboards, which are even goofier and more carnival-like here than on Gyllene Tider. This album's outliers are another classically funk-free reggae tune ("När Vi Två Blir En"), a couple rather elegant piano ballads ("Kom Intill Mej" and the aforemangled "När Alla Vännerna Gått Hem"), the silly "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"/"Crocodile Rock" pastiche "Min Tjej Och Jag", and the plaintive love song "Chrissie, Hur Mår Du?"; the rest play like exactly the music to go with the nerdy, short-haired anti-Scorpions the band looks like in the booklet photos.
Of the nine bonus tracks on this CD, which make up almost half of the disc, the highlights, for non-Swedish audiences, will probably be the four translated covers, a happy stomp through Mott the Hoople's "Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll", a jagged, ranting take on Tom Petty's "I Need to Know", a jangling, blocky version of the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" and a swirling, Spector-esque rendition of the Beach Boys' "Girl, Don't Tell Me". My favorite stretch of the disc, though, is the five-song EP reproduced at the end, which includes the irrepressible keyboard hooks of "Ljudet Av Ett Annat Hjärta", the boyish twinkle of "Teena" (which could nearly be a Shaun Cassidy song, if you can imagine Shaun doing anything six minutes long), the love-swamped "För Dina Bruna Ögons Skull" (which translates as something like "For Your Brown Eyes' Sake", and not, tragically, as a phrenologic tribute to a woman named Dina Bruna Ögon), the gentle, pulsing "Vem Tycker Om Dej?" and the spare, hushed epic "Leka Med Elden".
Gyllene Tider: Puls
The band's evolutionary trajectory continues on the third album, 1982's Puls. The differences this time are as much artifacts of production style, I think, as of songwriting or playing; producer Lasse Lindbom begins to isolate and treat each instrument, especially the bass and drums, in anticipation of mid-Eighties practice, and this thus sounds more like a crafted studio album to me than the first two. Some charm is sacrificed, unavoidably, in this transition, and purists of power-pop's artless kids-playing-their-hearts-out strain will probably balk at the processed drama, but since processed drama is precisely Roxette's strength, I'm in full support of the move. We're still a long way from Roxette's grandiose sweep, even when the string section kicks in, glossily, on "Honung Och Guld", but this is the first Gyllene Tider album that actually feels like a Roxette precursor to me. If I'm reading the liner notes correctly, in fact, that's Marie Fredriksson's voice alternately sighing and howling in the background of the final bonus track, "Ingenting Av Vad Du Behöver". Ironically, or perhaps not, I find I'm actually less patient with this album than the first two. As long as Gyllene Tider sound nothing like Roxette, apparently, I'm content to accept them as they are, but as soon as the morph begins I start getting impatient for it to be completed.
Gyllene Tider: The Heartland Café
By the final Gyllene Tider album, the metamorphosis into Roxette has begun in earnest. Per Gessle has almost completely taken over songwriting duties, Marie sings backup on nearly half of the album, and the lyrics are, thanks to some interest from Capitol Records in the US, entirely in English. The music hasn't entirely discarded its guitar-pop roots, but it seems bent on becoming archetypical 1983 New Wave, mixing in traces of ABC, Jon Astley, Depeche Mode, the Human League, the Red Rockers and Bonnie Tyler with catholic equanimity. Micke Andersson has switched to synth drums, and glittering DX7 filigrees adorn nearly every song. Mats Persson's Fender is beginning to sound like the silky blur Per and Clarence Öfwerman would later perfect for Roxette, and a few songs hint at the soaring grace to come, but these songs are still essentially grounded, and although there are moments of rapture, they don't yet seem effortlessness and instinctive.
The English lyrics are something of a mixed success. "And we're walking home together; / Time, only time -- oh there isn't enough!" is idiomatic enough, but "The falling in love for a start / Can easily turn to the fall of a girl", "It's a strange beating / from this heart of mine" and "My breath inside of you / Hits an electric room" seem to have sustained some damage in translation, and "She's a Teaser Japanese / And boy you're gonna get burned" is simply appalling. I give Per a few points for rhyming "sweet tenderness" with "demon emptiness", but not enough to make up for the lamely faked informality of "She's singing that old song / 'Bout a lonely heart that's not alone no more". The senseless spray of clichés in the lurching, aimless bonus track "Rock On" would earn him another demerit, but as it turns out, it's a cover.
Gyllene Tider: Parkliv!
The bonus fifth disc in the box is an eleven-song 1981 concert recording, biased, unsurprisingly, toward songs from the then-new Moderna Tider. The band is in good form, but the album productions of these songs were so straightforward and unadorned, to begin with, that the live versions don't sound very different, which makes the album, for my purposes anyway, basically redundant. After the twenty-seven bonus tracks on the other four discs, though, complaining would be absurdly petty.
Per Gessle: Per Gessle
I'm not sure what trouble, if any, Gyllene Tider had getting people to embrace their comparatively ambitious third and fourth albums, after the less calculated first two, but Per's debut solo album, which actually came out in 1983, between Gyllene Tider's Puls and The Heartland Café, seems fiercely intent on being taken seriously. Not only does Per play acoustic guitar on most songs, and flirt with folk, Celtic and even country tropes at times, but there's a short classical composition for solo harp in the middle of the album, and pace and dynamics are kept under firm control throughout. I guess he achieves what he sets out to, as I leave this album fully convinced that Per is capable of writing and playing restrained mainstream soft-rock songs, a decade even before Adult Contemporary would find a use for them, but this is exactly the opposite of what I adore him for, and despite Marie's presence on several of these songs, this is by far the least Roxette-like album of this set.
Per Gessle: Scener
By his second solo album, though, 1985's Scener, Per seems to have jettisoned any illusions about being taken seriously, and begun gathering speed toward the inception of Roxette. None of the other members of Gyllene Tider played on Per Gessle, but all four of them, along with Lasse and Marie, turn up to help out with Scener. Although the lyrics are back in Swedish again, the meticulously calculated music picks up where The Heartland Café leaves off. The verses of "Galning" could be a lyrical rewrite of Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield", the cheery "Rickie Lee" ought to have been a hit for somebody, and "Lycklig En Stund" nails together sturdy two-chord guitar beams, concussive synth drums, impish synth flutters, some vaguely Knopfler-esque guitar and a few Ric Ocasek-style hiccups. "Viskar" swells, moodily, "Blå December" is graceful and melancholy, and strings and choirs transform the introspective piano songs "Den Tunna Linjen" and "Om Jag En Dag". Mechanical drums, purring guitar, glassy keyboards and jazzy saxophone and piano turn "Kapten" into a cross between "Biko" and Bruce Hornsby. "Speedo"'s choruses sound like the Alarm doing "All Along the Watchtower", but the verses are closer to Dire Straits. The violin-laced "Ute På Landet" is like Fisherman's Blues-era Waterboys, "Mandolindagar" tries a risky marriage of unvarying drum-machine thump, dexterous acoustic guitar and stately brass flares, and "Farväl Angelina" is a Dylan cover more like Judy Collins might do than like Dylan himself. Roxette's spirit threatens to break through this album's composure in several places, and the fact that it doesn't seems to me more like a product of a series of unlucky misses than a failure of intent. Per gets the guitar drive right on "Väntat Så Länge", but Marie is missing; she's on hand for "Inte Tillsammans, Inte Isär" but the choppy guitar on that song isn't quite correct. "Tänd Ett Ljus" has the structure of a Roxette ballad, but without Marie the chorus can't take flight the way it should. But it's not long, now.
MaMas Barn: Barn Som Barn
Before we get to Roxette, though, we need to backtrack and trace Marie's route there. It begins, as far as I've been able to discern, with this 1982 one-off, under the name MaMas Barn, which pairs her, for songwriting purposes, with guitarist Martin Sternhufvud, the quartet filled out by Gyllene Tider's rhythm section, Anders Herrlin and Micke Andersson. In many ways this album is closer to Roxette than anything of Per's, and I suspect tolerances for it and Roxette will tend to run in parallel. MaMas Barn belong to the tradition of big-production Eighties siren vehicles that also produced T'Pau (perhaps the closest match), Pat Benatar and Scandal (though Marie's voice has none of Pat and Patty's bluesiness), Parachute Club and 'til tuesday (but bolder), Fiona (but without her trashiness), Berlin (but less synthetic), Laura Branigan and Sheena Easton (but sturdier), Heart (but not quite as bombastic as their big-hair peak) and even, later, Tori Amos' Y Kant Tori Read phase. If not for the Swedish lyrics, I can't think of any reason why this album wouldn't have been an enormous commercial success at the time. The rhythm section is quick and deft, Sternhufvud's guitars buzz and churn appealingly, and Marie contributes enough synth hooks to keep the album from seeming out of touch with New Wave. Sternhufvud sings, too, but his Gabriel-ish waver is hopelessly overwhelmed by Marie's pyrotechnic wailing. If you don't care for this style, Barn Som Barn is bound to sound overproduced and histrionic to you, but there's enough power here for escape velocity, if you can let it lift you.
Marie Fredriksson: Het Vind
I don't know what happened to MaMas Barn, but by 1984 Marie is ready for her first official solo album, and Sternhufvud, Herrlin and Andersson are nowhere to be found. Gyllene Tider producer Lasse Lindbom is on hand, though, as are bassist Backa Hans Eriksson, keyboardist Hasse Olsson and guitarists Pelle Sirén and Nane Kvillsäter, all of whom played on at least one of Per's solo records, and drummer Pelle Andersson. Per himself gets a thank-you, but isn't listed as participating. My copy lacks writing credits, so I can't tell which of these Marie wrote herself, and which she had help with, and while the Patty Smyth-ish "Tusen Ögon" and the arena-scale "Vidare Igen" forge ahead as determinedly as anything on Barn Som Barn, overall the music is less over-driven here, leaning more towards power-ballads ("Ännu Doftar Kärlek", "Det Blåser En Vind", the atmospheric "Aldrig Mer Igen" and "Jag Ska Ge Allt") and quirky Cyndi Lauper-like mannerisms ("Jag Går Min Väg", "Tag Detta Hjärta"), the Cyndi Lauper comparisons further encouraged by "Natt Efter Natt", Marie's translated cover of Jules Shear's song "All Through the Night", which Cyndi did on She's So Unusual. Marie never tried anything as reserved as Per's first solo album, but this is, for her, a pretty restrained record.
Marie Fredriksson: Den Sjunde Vågen
Den Sjunde Vågen, conversely, recorded in 1985 with an entirely new cast save Lindbom and Pelle Andersson (and Nane Kvillsäter, if he's (?) changed his name to "Jan"), is as bouncy and ultra-commercial as anything you're likely to exhume from the middle of the Eighties. The jerky "Värdighet" bears more than a passing resemblance to Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" and Sheena Easton's "Telefone", "När Du Såg På Mej" seems like it's on the verge of bursting into the Parachute Club's "Rise Up", "Den Bästa Dagen" has some of the ethereal lilt of Pat Benatar's "Walking in the Underground" and "Helig Man" is plausible, if diffident, synth-funk. "För Dom Som Älskar" and "Skyll På Mej" are slow and sweet, "Mot Okända Hav" and "Den Sjunde Vågen" are foreshadowing for Roxette ballads like "It Must Have Been Love" and "Fading Like a Flower (Every Time You Leave)", "Silver I Din Hand" and "En Känsla Av Regn" would fit into Clannad's synthetic phase, "Tro På Mej" reminds me of Shona Laing's "(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy", and "Ett Hus Vid Havet" is a small, but impressive, multi-track vocal exercise. The booklet does list the writers, this time, and most of these are co-written by Lasse and Marie, in the time-honored producer/singer manner. Per, oddly, is mentioned nowhere.
Marie Fredriksson: Efter Stormen
More or less the same cast is responsible for 1987's Efter Stormen. If we lay out Marie's album progression beside Cyndi Lauper's, Barn Som Barn would go with She's So Unusual, Het Vind and Den Sjunde Vågen would get combined into Cyndi's True Colors, and Efter Stormen would be Marie's parallel to Cyndi's A Night to Remember, the album on which she retreats into herself a bit, and tries to outgrow her dependency on obvious idiosyncrasies. A Night to Remember wasn't particularly well received, either popularly or critically, but I've ended up liking it the best of Cyndi's first three albums, and Efter Stormen affects me similarly. The songs are slower and more methodical, poised rather than charged, as if Marie is anticipating Roxette, and thus shifting her solo emphasis towards styles she knows Roxette won't cover. Parts of this album would co-exist quite peacefully on a mood compilation with Enya, Milla and some of Beth Nielsen Chapman's lighter songs. Only "Efter Stormen" itself and "När Vindarna Vänt" ever really get out of second gear, and aside from some warm resonance on "Om Du Såg Mej Nu" and "Kärlekens Skuld" there's hardly any guitar distortion to be found. What might have been somber, though, with Marie's voice animating it becomes, at least for me, quietly transcendent.
Marie Fredriksson: Den Ständiga Resan
There's one more Marie solo album, but it doesn't come until five years later, during the break between Roxette's third studio album, Joyride, in 1991, and the fourth, Crash! Boom! Bang!, in 1994. In a strange recurrence, this one finds her back with Anders Herrlin (who co-produces, and co-writes three of the songs) and Micke Andersson. Rather than rekindle MaMas Barn's bluster, though, Marie and Anders fashion Den Ständiga Resan into Marie's most serenely mature album, a cool, clear and hauntingly beautiful record that is dignified and subtle in all the ways that Roxette is ebullient and explosive. A few of the songs experiment with dance-shuffle percussion tracks, but techno has driven dance beats so far past this intensity level that even the quasi-disco sputter of "Så Länge Det Lyser Mittemot" is closer, in spirit, to the jazz-pop grooves on early Everything but the Girl records. Roxette skeptics who didn't think Marie knew the difference between "The Ride of the Valkyries" and "Music for Airports" may not like this much, either, but they'll at least have to give her some credit for perspective. There's nothing particularly radical here, but tranquillity is not supposed to be radical. This is the only Roxette episode that listening to makes me calmer, and given what the others due to my heart rate, that's a useful distinction.
Roxette: Pearls of Passion
How Roxette's flawless pop got constituted out of these ingredients, though, is only marginally clearer to me now than it was when my knowledge of their history began with "The Look". I had deliberately reduced expectations for this album, too, despite having waited to hear it for quite some time, because the little I'd read about it indicated that it was embryonic, at best, compared with Look Sharp! After hearing it, I can only assume that whatever it was I read was referring to sales figures, not music, because the duo's style springs into existence, in my opinion, pretty much fully formed. On paper, it looks like a simple permutation of Per and Marie's solo careers: he writes the songs, she sings them. But as with Simon and Garfunkel, and the Story, something happens in the synthesis between these two (or three, if you count producer Clarence Öfwerman) that is not explainable to me as an arithmetic of parts. It isn't just a matter of Marie singing Per's songs differently, he writes them differently when she's around. Or maybe he writes them the same, but they transform themselves during the Schrödinger's Interval between composition and performance. However it happens, they come out irrevocably changed, adrenalized and blindingly shiny, yet always somehow, it seems to me, human scale. For songs that do not seem to take themselves at all seriously, with lyrics that are serviceable, at best, when read, these have a profound power to affect me. Even the silly, sad ones make me happy. "Surrender -- tie the cover to the ground", they sigh, in "Surrender", and although I don't really know what they're getting at (I persist in hearing it as "tie the comet to the ground", which is easier to fathom, symbolically, whatever its logistical problems), I sense loss and defiance, vividly, still struggling under their apparent resignation. "The joy of a toy -- is that all that you came for?", asks "Joy of a Toy", and as frightening as the question's implications of cruelty and superficiality are, there is joy in toys, even when they're people, and Marie doesn't shrink from it. "Pearls of Passion" could be nothing more than oblivious nostalgia, but instead of returning to the time when pearls of passion came their way, it's alleys they're retreating to, so they know that recapturing old glories entails losing other things. "Secrets That She Keeps" is an imminent-breakup song with no depth of characterization or plot to speak of, but Per has only to sing "Somebody new is breaking us in two" once, after Marie's opening verse, and I choke up, completely enveloped in the inexorable tragedy of the situation, as if it is a force of nature separating them, not a conscious transgression. "I'm dancing from your arms", Marie sings in "Goodbye to You", another break-up song, and I'm transfixed by the idea that even parting can be done with joy. And "It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken Hearted)", a hit years later when it appeared on the Pretty Woman soundtrack, is perhaps the definitive example of a break-up song stretched on a love song's frame, and the depth of their realization, as they sing "...but it's over now", is as plaintive, to me, as the most unflinching Del Amitri post-mortem. There are all sorts of paradoxical reveries in life that can use soundtracks, and this album, for me, is the accompaniment to sad things that make me happy, and a reminder than even things I wish wouldn't transpire at all can redeem themselves with sufficient aplomb.
Per Gessle: The World According To Gessle
It's coming up on four years since the last Roxette studio album, Crash! Boom! Bang! A Japanese rarities collection and the remix and reissue of "The Look" helped me through 1995, the greatest-hits album Don't Bore Us -- Get to the Chorus! and its four new songs carried me through 1996, and the largely inane Baladas en Español helped with 1997. 1998 will have to lean, at least for now, on The World According to Gessle, Per's third solo album, released last year in England, but yet to find a domestic distributor.
My first reaction, caught up in the gallop of vintage Roxette pop like "Saturday", "Reporter" and "T-T-T-Take It!", was that this was a Roxette album in all aspects but name and Marie's absence, but after a little consideration I've realized that it differs in two significant ways, one each of inclusion and exclusion. The difference of inclusion is the presence, here, of several overt homages to Per's own heroes ("Do You Wanna Be My Baby?" and "Elvis in Germany (Let's Celebrate!)" are both like gender-flipped Nineties updates of Phil Spector girl-group anthems, "B-Any-1-U-Wanna-B" is subtitled "Homage to Brian W." in the unlikely event that you couldn't place its sunny Beach Boys-isms, and "Lay Down Your Arms" is brimming with reverent late-Beatles touches) that would be out of place on one of Roxette's resolutely self-contained albums. The difference of exclusion is the absence of anything resembling Roxette's trademark power-ballads. If forced to choose, I admit that I'd rather reverse both these details, as I like Roxette, personally, better than I like the Shangri-Las, the Beatles or the Beach Boys, and I've learned how to interpret their ballads as life-affirmation, rather than sentimentality, but these are cultivated preferences, and might be exactly the two things that stand between you and the joy of Roxette. If we're lucky, then, though perhaps you don't yet think of it as luck, maybe this variation on Roxette's themes is both similar enough to sustain me for a little while longer, and different enough to span the chasm between conversion to the cause and whatever it is that gives you the idea that you're immune.
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