Category Archives: 4 stars

The Cardigans-Life (1995)

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. ThisĀ  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.



Filed under 4 stars, Immortal albums, Music Review, The Cardigans

Foo Fighters-There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)

4 stars out of 4. Immortal album and one of the finest of the 90’s.

This is the best album by the Foos bar-none. If there is ever a single reason for Dave Grohl’s continued work in music post-Nirvana this would be it. The reason why this record works? Brace yourself cause it’s pretty simple.

This record is simply three guys jamming together in a Virginia basement. The writing is top notch and there is no filler whatsoever unlike every other Foo record which is almost guaranteed to have one filler track somewhere. It just grooves along and has a vibe unlike any of their other records.

They threw out the heavy production and the new lineup of guitarist/singer-bassist-drummer put their heads to lock into a single groove. That’s all this record is. A declaration that they want this band to work and that they don’t give a damn how they do it. And they threw out all the company execs and made the thing themselves. The addition of Taylor Hawkins gives the sound a freshness not heard before and it locks into a vibe that never dies.

From the initial warning blare of “Stacked Actors” to the tired yet defiant close of “M.I.A.”, TINLTL never lets up it’s unbelievably strong lineup of tunes. Start to finish both musically and lyrically this record is something to rock out to and something to curl up with as the sun sets on yet another day. Their third effort has all the strengths of their two previous albums. All of the reckless energy and inspiration of the debut is here, along with the quality production and fleshing out of the sound that was on the follow-up. Sure, they might have added more members and changed the sound again after this record, but the Foo Fighters would never be as honest and direct as this.

TINLTL is melodic. In fact, Dave himself has later said that it is entirely based on melody. Maybe this is why it plays so well. It is one of those very admittedly few records that can be played at almost anytime in life. Once you crack it out again, it’s really hard to believe how good this thing is. In addition to the rockers and the massive singles (in ’99 you heard these almost daily.) there are some really great slower songs that seem to be nothing but melody. The referential “Ain’t it the Life” and the gorgeous “Aurora” reveal this softer side of the band and reiterate how much heart is behind this stripped down record.

It’s this stripped down quality that I like most about TINLTL. Not stripped down technically, but a stripping away of unnecessary elements and additions in order to just get back to the music itself. This stuff just flows out of that basement and through your speakers as if you were standing outside the windows in that summer when the band was recording. It’s effortless.

“It was all about just settling into the next phase of your life, that place where you can sit back and relax because there had been so much crazy shit in the past three years. At that point it was me,Taylor and Nate and we were best friends. It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chilli, drink beer and whiskey and record whenever we felt like it. When I listen to that record it totally brings me back to that basement. I remember how it smelled and how it was in the Spring so the windows were open and we’d do vocals until you could hear the birds through the microphone. And more than any other record I’ve ever done, that album does that to me.” -Dave Grohl in an interview with Kerrang magazine, 2006.

With all of the hoopla about the Foos making their last album (Wasting Light) all analog and in Dave’s garage, I was fingers crossed for another great record like this one. But even with Butch Vig manning the boards, it isn’t the same. TINLTL is like lightning in a bottle. For those who get it, it’s a tonic from all of the cynicism that goes with modern music and is totally deserving of it’s Grammy for Best rock album.

The cover and artwork backup the heart and meaning of this album. The cover is a grainy B&W photo of the back of Dave’s neck where his new band logo tattoo is displayed as a badge of honor. Tired but still breathing and alive. Oh, and full of barbeque too. (The band would barbeque outside every day after recording.)

EDITIONS: For years we’ve lived with the CD, which sounds okay for the time. There is some loudness compression but nothing near giant brickwalled limiting. then there’s the long out of print vinyl that’s been on my wishlist for years. But all the user reports are that the sound quality is absolute crap. So I turned to looking for an even rarer EU pressing which might have had better sound. Never found one and really didn’t feel like dropping around $100. So we now come to to the new vinyl reissue by Legacy cut by Chrirs Bellman. All of the catalog Foo albums have been reissued on vinyl by Legacy in inexpensive renditions all cut by Bellman. They kept the price down by not reproducing all artwork interiors, using inexpensive lighter oversized cardboard and keeping all the vinyl regular 120gram weight instead of opting for heavier 180 gram. The result? Everything a vinyl reissue should be and damn good. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim this to be the best non-audiophile label reissue I’ve ever come across. For me and many other vinylphiles the price of a reissue is always looming in our decisions on whether or now to purchase. All of these reissues are in the $20-30 price range (and around $15-20 for the single disc S/T) spread across two LPs and are pressed extremely well. I ordered this LP from Amazon for $20 and it arrived dead quiet right out of the box and even includes a voucher for an MP3 download. There is no downside to this reissue and I intend on picking up the rest of the series based on this LP alone. Details come out of the songs like never before, like on the opening of “Learn to Fly” there’s a tambourine!

It’s just so refreshing to be able to buy a cheap vinyl reissue that isn’t mastered from a limited CD master, pressed badly, damaged, warped, noisy, overprocessed and actually sounds like a vinyl record should.

And to top it all off, for once a modern record that has no real sibilance on my system. I use a standard Shure M97-xe at this time, and even though it does a decent job with sibilance, modern records have massive amounts of hissing s’sssss that come into my ears. (Notably the Foo’s own Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace ironically) But this has none of that. Unbelievable just how plain freaking awesome this is.

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Filed under 4 stars, Bands, Foo Fighters, Immortal albums, Music Review