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Reappreciation: Super Extra Gravity

04/03/2012

The recent news of The Cardigans ending their hiatus, if only for just a tour celebrating 1998’s Gran Turismo album rather than any new material, have got me going through their back catalogue again. Often I forget about them for a quite a while and it takes rediscoveries and relistens like these to make me remember why they’ve gained shelf space in my collection in the first place. They’re an act that have only shown their true colours as they’ve progressed, with their later works showing a humongously evolved group of excellent songwriters with style completely unlike the rather cutesy, if a slightly novel, twee-pop group of the earlier days. And, of course, there’s Nina Persson and her ice-cool charisma and subtly aggressive delivery: even at her most vulnerable musical moments she’s sounded like she’s in control, and that strength, that dominant personality lends The Cardies their own highly distinctive touch.

My recent little tour around their back catalogue has found a little focus point in what is possibly their most undermentioned album, 2005’s Super Extra Gravity (which was also their last before the hiatus). Every other period of The Cardigans gets a fair amount of spotlight: the cutesy twee pop of the first two albums might not get specific mentions per se but they’re an acknowledged part of the timeline (and those Black Sabbath covers always seem to pop up here and there), the First Band on the Moon and Gran Turismo duo are the commercial peak that most of the audience know the band from, and Long Gone Before Daylight has risen to become the more canonised classic in most circles and the album most likely to be found at critics’ lists. Super Extra Gravity on the other hand rarely gets a mention: it had zero visibility outside the band’s native Scandinavia and even there the album’s engine never really ran with full speed, with good but fairly standard chart success, positive but not out of the ordinary reviews and the third planned single (in Sweden; the rest of the world never even got the second) never getting past a small-key radio promo stage. In essence, it came, it happened and then the world moved on to something else.

And yet, it’s this apparently uneventful chapter of the tale that I’ve really fallen in love with lately.

Both Gran Turismo and Long Gone Before Daylight had been largely calm, subdued efforts, so it’s no wonder the band felt like it was time to inject some energy into the music at some point. Super Extra Gravity is The Cardies’ most rock album, with focus shifted on the electric guitar and some suitably energetic accompaniment for it. It’s not a particularly fast album as one might assume from that: most of the material largely wallows in mid-tempo waters save for a few more furious bouncers. Rather, the liveliness is more displayed in the jolt of energy that runs through the entire band and shows in their performance. This includes Persson: on Super Extra Gravity she lets go of her calm and collected ice queen persona and sounds like a rock star with a brand new boost of confidence and command of space.

The most audible result of all this is how rejuvenated The Cardigans sound here: despite being a band on their sixth album, they sound like they’re still buzzing with youthful energy. That mystical sense of band chemistry is all over the sound, everyone playing together and sounding like they’re having the time of their lives even when the material gets moody. At times the songs even come across as triumphant no matter the actual tone of the music, with most songs finding a whole new gear to kick into power somewhere during their latter half that raises the tune another notch higher in an almost celebratory fashion: the sudden string explosion of “Don’t Blame Your Daughter” and the hair-raiser end of “Holy Love” as two particular examples. It’s a great thing to hear. There was a massive jump in tone, style and quality between First Band on the Moon and Gran Turismo, and Super Extra Gravity is the first time this “Cardigans 2.0” (urgh at the phrase, I know) is on an extrovert mood. It underlines and showcases a lot of the strengths that were always there and made occasional appearances in the past two albums, but which really come to fruition here.

The thing that most surprises me with this recent rediscovery is how filled with obvious gems Super Extra Gravity is; ones I’ve somehow managed to ignore while focusing on the already-familiar discography favourites. Even when considering how some of the moments here are ones that I’ve held as some of the band’s best for quite some time now, which should’ve been a wake-up call for me to spend more time with the album. “Godspell” and “Good Morning Joan” both belong in the top tiers of the band’s catalogue, the former an ass-kicking rock n roll blast where the band sounds almost furious and the latter a beautiful, enchanting and ever-so-subtly vulnerable piece of gorgeousness that slowly builds before exploding in a liberated, nearly anthem-like fashion. The two singles – “I Need Some Fine Wine…” and “Don’t Blame Your Daughter” – have also always been stand-out moments, both excellent examples of not only the band’s inherent skills at crafting great hooks and strong melodies but also as a showcase of the album’s more rockafied sound. “And Then You Kissed Me II” offers arguably the darkest moment the band has ever crawled into: a sequel to Long Gone Before Daylight’s deceptively pretty domestic abuse ditty, the second part drops all attempt to disguise the violence of the subject matter and closes the album with an anguished, desperate and raging goodbye. The rest of the album is similarly good quality: nothing climbs quite as high as the cuts mentioned, but the only reason why they would remain unmentioned is to stop a paragraph from turning into a horribly clunky and tl;dr song-by-song glurge. Many even offer some utterly gorgeous moments. The only thing that even comes to close somewhat weaker is “In the Round” that at first sounds like a particularly lazy and tired thing… but is in fact a rather delightfully passive aggressive groove that’s more cool and knowingly nonchalant than bored out of its mind (not to mention it contains the most deliciously unenthusiastic “clap your hands” crowdraiser that still sounds like something that would boost up a crowd).

It’s a shame that this feels so underrated. Of course, I have little way of knowing whether that’s genuinely the case or simply a distorted view due to lack of information (there doesn’t seem to be much appreciation towards Cardigans in general outside Scandinavia as most associate them with “Lovefool” only), but it feels like an album that no one ever speaks when talking about The Cardigans. And admittedly, it took me a fair while to really appreciate it as well. In the past few weeks though I’ve fallen in love with it, and with it I’ve started to feel a desire to have the band lock into a studio again for more material. It’s not their best album (I’m one of those who have fallen for Long Gone Before Daylight the hardest) but the rejuvenated, lively feel it carries throughout its eleven songs is something that should not act as a final chapter, but as an exciting promise of a new one. Here’s hoping the band haven’t ended their hiatus just for some live shows.

(p.s. a big middle finger raised towards WordPress that decided to completely delete the majority of this post moments before I first tried to post it, despite constant saving from yours truly. I had to rewrite the bastard from the scratch which is an INCREDIBLY tedious thing to do. But I suppose I beat that writer’s block, didn’t I?)


I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer

Also:

Godspell
Good Morning Joan

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