The Cardigans - Best Of ...
I struggle to remain even vaguely objective when it comes to The Cardigans. When it comes to, to be absolutely specific, my deep and abiding love for Sweden's second finest. (First place is, of course, irretrievably taken but they grab silver with ease.) This collection strikes not one false note. It is surely as close to pop perfection as is possible. In terms of intelligent, crafted, impassioned, spectrum-shredding modern pop music, it offers a timely reminder there are few sweeter musical concoctions than a pretty lady with a fine voice fronting a band whose genre-dismissing ambition and creativity take the breath away. Take a look around. No-one measures up. Don't even pretend.
So, this cannily curated collection does the sensible thing and starts at the beginning with 'Rise and Shine' and ends with four killer tracks from 2006's 'Super Extra Gravity', including the fabulously-titled 'I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer'. All six studio albums figure. For the record, the jazzy folk-pop of the early days has morphed into a taut, shiny take on angular guitar rock. While fans, correctly, tend to favour 2002's 'Long Gone Before Daylight', a more soulful, bluesier outing than mega-selling predecessor 'Gran Turismo', their most recent album confirms the The Cardigans are still as exceptional as we need them to be. Yes, spot-on, selection-wise. Not one album high spot has been overlooked. Highlights ? Where to start ? The perfect folky jaunt of 'Sick and Tired', lithe and lovely and the song that first brought them to our attention back in 1994. 'Rise and Shine', the second thing they wrote together and the cheeriest song ever written. The early material still simply hums with youth and vigour. On their last tour a couple of years back they took the typically obtuse decision to only play songs from their most recent three albums, ignoring totally 'Emmerdale', 'Life' and 'First Band on the Moon'. That's an artistic decison of some magnitude. That they can drop, for the moment, such a treasury is as illuminating as it is brave. Painful as it is that they regroup so intermittently, there's comfort in the fact that they come back on fire every time. By way of explanation, you'd perhaps have to take note of their documented refusal to hang out as a gang when not on band duties. Nina, Peter, Marcus, Bengt and Lars go their own way, do their own stuff, get back together, make a record, tour and away they go again. You only have to see film of Nina knitting while the band jam or hear her moaning about having to substitute Peter's 'placeholder' lyrics with her own (true) to start to build a picture of The Cardigans' own peculiar dynamics. Maybe more bands should try it this way.
Back to the songs : 'My Favourite Game' and 'Lovefool' are here, both, like, say, REM's 'The One I Love', more skewed and twisted than their commercial standing suggests. The hyper ballad 'Communication', and its half-sister, 'Don't Blame Your Daughters', shimmers. 'Carnival', Erase/Rewind', 'For What it's Worth'. Solid gold, no less. On 'Godspell' Nina rhymes "Hallelujah" with "What's it to ya ?" - gotta smile and applaud such irreverent poetics. Nina, of course, once blonde be-bobbed pixie, now haughty, vampish brunette, is the face and the voice. On the beautifully done liner notes, fellow band members gently mock her lyrical and vocal abilities; what this actually means, of course, is writ large.
Look, these songs have coloured my life. This collection is nothing other than essential. As a field guide to the complexities of the development of a band whose charm and skill we too often take for granted, it hits the mark and more. If you only buy one album this year, you're a fool. Buy two. Give one to a friend who needs the guidance. First band on the moon ? If they were the last band on earth we would still be truly blessed.