1528 words on Music
I’ve been a big fan of the Swedish band Mando Diao (check out their UK Section as well; it has some extra graphics, although their PDF files seem to be broken), ever since I first saw them at the eurosonic festival in Groningen two years ago. It’s rare that I like bands a lot right away, but this was such an occasion. They played well and had wonderfully energetic songs like Little Boy Jr, Sheepdog or Paralyzed, which has even become generally known lately, on their first album Bring ‘Em In. Those were joined by more quiet pieces such as To China with Love or Mr Moon which I liked as well.
Right after that initial gig I saw, it was really hard to get hold of their album. They didn’t sell any after playing and it wasn’t published anywhere but in Sweden at that time. Richard was good enough to get a demo copy of the CD for me in Groningen, which was cool. It took about half a year for me to get hold of their record myself – a grey LP. And it took a few more months for the CD finally becoming available all over Europe.
The past year must have been great for Mando Diao then, as their music started being picked up by a few alternative TV shows and music magazines. You’d even start hearing them when going out occasionally and I think I heard one of their songs in a Sony TV commercial – which probably isn’t too rewarding musically but may be a nice treat financially (?). I also got to see them play another time at the Hurricane festival.
And now they are having their second album, Hurricane Bar. Naturally, I was curious to get hold of it and decided to order it from Sweden again, so I could have it for christmas, a month before it’s published in Germany, and so I could order one of the presumably limited coloured vinyl versions. Mine is ‘golden’ –
Hm, brown plastic, as my brother pointed out. In fact shipping the stuff over from Sweden isn’t too expensive anyway and with those new-ish international bank codes there wasn’t even any fee to transfer the money over there.
With their first album having been great, getting the second one went along with the worry that they may not live up to the expectations. So I tried not to expect too much. Luckily I think the new album is definitely good. Yet it can’t match its predecessor, which would’ve been hard to do anyway.
[Digression: We’ve seen the same effect for The Libertines recently and for The Strokes in 2003. Each band had a brilliant first album that would be difficult to keep up with for the second one. I’d say The Libertines did best with their follow up and Mando Diao do slightly better than the Strokes. — — I’d be interested to see how highly bands’ followup albums are regarded and whether you can tell anything about how the band is going to develop by this. Note that The White Stripes didn’t get such a rich start but could improve with their second and third albums, which perhaps gives a more steady development. And what about comparing to Led Zeppelin? How does the fact that I only learned about their music after it happened affect my opinions?]
The album opens with Cut the Rope, an energetic song of sympathetic 1:49 length. Songs can hardly be bad when they come at that length. One thing about Mando Diao is that they like to use many lines of lyrics. In fact, the printed lyrics for the album need a whole LP album size to be printed in small type. While this makes it harder to remember lyrics or even sing along it’s definitely a nice touch.
I ain’t that lucky blocke they’ve read about
I am a lone star, cut it again…
Bad boy-Jimmy says how do you do?
Down the hallway of kids playing poker with the fools
And they lose every dime they’ve got
But it’s good for us ‘cause we got paid today
And the brothers that couldn’t get away
Well they got beaten up and thrown in jail
And we never cut the hope
‘Cause we never cut the rope…
Cut the Rope
I do wonder, though, how Swedish guys start singing about
dimes and generally what people think when they make up lyrics. Next on is God Knows, which is very good as well, and despite its 3:50 duration may make a good single because it’s not boring in that time and quite catchy and even at the magical ‘track 2’ position of the record. The dual singing of Björn and Gustav is quite good in this one:
I turned right just like I thought you would / I got excited like you siad I would / I’m on a mission and I’m getting blown away who’d want to disagree there?
Clean Town, the following song, actually is a single, which I ordered right with the main record. It’s more subtle but a bit on the boring side. I could imagine it being really good when played live without the restraints of a studio, though. Down in the Past is more energetic and exciting again with even some controlled screaming in places. It’s just slightly too long.
Then comes You can’t steal my love, a song that starts with an addictive guitar line which will return later during the song’s eternal duration of five and a half minutes. And despite that length, it works quite well, which is wonderful. Perhaps singing
Honey I love you, like the summer falls / And the winder crawls you’re above and beyond me is a bit on the cheesy side, but it sounds really good and is more than made up by lines like
I met her in a crowded room where the bookshelves help you and knowledge takes your handthat appear earlier.
I watched her beauty from an armchair
I said “Hey girls have you seen that film with those kids in New York in the eighties
Oh, you have – Well, can I watch it with you anyway?”
The record’s A-side ends with the lengthy and rather slow Added Family which I find a bit on the boring side, but which has funny lyrics that range from supermarkets to bootlegs to the church of Sweden to she-male-bands.
The B-side then begins with the magic track 7, Annie’s Angle which perhaps could be a single again at just three minutes length and with an easy to remember encore of
You think you’re better than us / You think you’re better than who / You think you’re better than Annie’s Angle. It’s entertaining but I’m not too impressed.
More impressive is If I leave you, whose beginning sounds like a short Hives moment. It’s done quite interestingly, with bits of the text being sung ‘chorus-style’ from the background. That said, I find its sound a bit artificial and over-arranged (and reminding me too much of Queen). This is followed by Ringing Bells, which is more acoustic and more the type of music I could listen to with my parents for dinner, i.e. rather quiet.
Then there’s This Dream is Over which I find flatly dull. A fate that is shared by All My Senses and to a certain extent by Kingdom & Glory. The two remaining songs on the album are White Wall, which is a relaxed song with a catchy encore of
And I sang my: La la teacher, my la la teacher for you… and Next to be lowered which I enjoy listening to but don’t consider too original.
As you will have noticed, I definitely prefer the album’s A-side and could live very well without some songs on the B-Side. At a total length of 51 minutes, I am tempted to say that this is quite long for an album anyway and that (as for The Libertines) it might have been better to simply omit a few songs.
While I’m at it, let me mention the Clean Town single I got with the record here. It’s a green vinyl one and obviously contains Clean Town as the A-side. There are two songs, Your Lover’s Nerve and Hail the Sunny Days, on the B-side which needs to be played at 33rpm to fit them on (hooray for them, as I’m not a big fan of switching the speed on my record desk). Both songs are rather slow and nice and don’t excite me too much, but I like them better than the last songs on Hurricane Bar.
In short: I didn’t want to be disappointed and I am not. While it doesn’t live up to the standards of Bring ‘em in, Hurricane Bar is a good record – particularly its first half. It sounds a bit more moderate than Bring ‘em in. I am curious to see where future songs will take us. I hope it won’t be the poppy and soft route.
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The explanation you usually hear for
first album >> second and succededing albums
is that bands have their entire lives to come up with ideas for their first records, while the second and succeeding records are written and recorded while touring, while being bugged by record companies for more sellable product, etc.
I can think of a few bands who did better (or at least as well on their later recordings)… the Pixies, Nirvana, etc… but it does seem to largely hold true.
Good point about the time spending thing, I guess. And of course the influence of the record industry. But shouldn’t a good artist be able to keep the latter at a reasonable level?
Perhaps I should start little surveys about how people think some bands developed album by album. Or perhaps some of the music web sites can offer such information already.
There are some bands whose early work was of such uniformly high quality that I tend to think of their early records almost as singular units:
And then there are some bands whose material around the time of the 2nd/3rd and succeeding records actually got stronger:
Electronic artists also seem to buck the trend, but then they tend to work faster and in smaller units (singles/eps as opposed to albums)