4 stars out of 4. Immortal album. The musical definition of “cute”. I melted.
Note: This review is of the original Swedish edition which is 11 tracks. The international editions are a hodgepodge of this material and songs from Emmerdale.
Let’s start by saying this: this may be the most perky and positive album ever made. Intended as a concept album of sorts, (and it isn’t really, even the band has admitted so) Life displays The Cardigans much as they were on the debut Emmerdale, but with a massive increase in confidence. This is evident in every single track, in every single sugary melody and every little knowing wink at the listener. Life has all this plus just the right amount of quirk to make it pulsate with energy.
Emmerdale had an incredible darkness amidst the sunny melodies that really made the material work. Life has none of this. Instead this element has been completely dropped in favor of songs that attempt to be the dreamiest, happiest, most melodic things you’ve ever heard in your life. And they come damn close. From the opener “Carnival” (which may be about the catchiest pop confection ever created) to the unexpectedly majestic “Daddy’s Car” (who thought going for a joy ride in your dad’s car could be so wistful and romantic?) and the cheeky “silent bit” in “Closing Time”, (Listen closely) Life wraps around your brain like a giant vat of hot chocolate.
The video for “Carnival” encapsulates all of this in one charming little bit of fluff.
I told you. It won’t leave your consciousness for quite some time. The things I got stuck in my poor roommate’s head.
This attempt to do an album which essentially was a bit of sheer whimsy is one of the finest pure pop confections ever. I am not using the term confection loosely. This is candy for the ears. Once again, Nina Persson sounds like an angel. The catchy melodies and hooks never let up with the performances being even tighter than the debut. The production is absolutely first rate and actually achieves a timeless quality that also belies the fact that most of the Cardies albums were recorded on pure analog tape goodness.
The artwork and cover really set up the album you’re about to jump into. Each of the band members is featured in a photo that portrays a 60’s magazine-styled portrait (See? The album title was pretty clever.) and how can you possibly not get sucked in by a gorgeous little ice skater? The insert also features the most spunky CD art and info page I’ve ever seen.
Ironically, for a record meant primarily as a joke, this album made an impression on listeners in Sweden, Europe and here in the States (though in truncated form, see below) but became a massive chart topping hit in Japan. And I do mean massive, as in Beatlemania-style hordes of screaming young girls and the whole nine yards. This attraction is easy to discover, tearing yourself away is the hard part. Now I’m healthily obsessed. There is a word that consistently comes to my mind when listening to these records. That word is a wondrous exclamation of “damn!” in a moment of complete disbelief at just how good this is.
Bleebeedeeboom. (Yes, I still have no idea how to say/pronounce or at all spell the bit in “Pikebubbles”;)
EDITIONS: Here’s where it all gets a bit complicated. The album is an 11 track little perfect confection. This was released in Sweden and Japan. When it came time for the UK and European release, some idiot thought it would be a good idea to insert tracks from their debut record and create a new hybrid for markets that hadn’t likely heard of the band before. Thus the UK edition drops three songs in favor of five from Emmerdale. These have several differences, with “Rise & Shine” being the later re-recording, “Celia Inside” being a different edit, and “Hey! Get Out of My Way” is a different edit and mix. The vinyl LP version of the album is this UK tracklisting. Sad, but I still lust after it to get all that analog goodness.
The US edition drops the same songs plus a fourth and inserts six songs from Emmerdale and a bonus track “Happy Meal”, which is a different mix and vocal take of “Happy Meal II” found on their next album First Band on the Moon. Weirdly the inserted songs are otherwise untouched. If the US and UK markets had followed the Japanese edition, none of this would be an issue. (The Japanese versions eventually added all the inserted Emmerdale tracks at the end as a bonus.) Fortunately for those like myself who couldn’t afford or find one of these imports (and believe you me the original Swedish CD is impossible to find), Minty Fresh records included the cuts songs from the US version on a bonus CD with their release of Emmerdale. Unfortunately, this was only in the initial pressing runs, and if you buy an expensive copy now ($17 for a CD? From 1994? WTH?) it does not feature the bonus disc. So I waited to find one with the bonus disc or to find an 11 track copy, all the while looking sadly at the US one sitting on my shelf that I refused to play until I listened to the original album proper.
During this time, Universal Japan released a new copy pressed on Super High Material. SHM is a new plastic derived from the type used to make LCD TVs and reputedly allows for the data to be better read by a laser, and thus improves sound fidelity of a CD. This technology is only available and use din Japan, and is in turn quite expensive. This quickly went out of print, but I’m happy to say that after some tests of my own, the SHM process is merely nothing more than a marketing push. The data remains the same and there is no difference between an expensive SHM CD and a standard Redbook edition of the same title.
Finally I came across a copy of Emmerdale in a used bin a few weeks ago that did feature the Life songs disc. This prompted my massive Cardies revisit and I made a custom disc just for the original 11 song album. I’m glad I did. This is an incredible joy.