Unlike U2--currently flogging their tuneless pop as a vague multimedia concept, forced by megalomania to put it in quotation marks--the Cardigans stick to pop, pure and simple. The five young Swedes go for the sugar buzz of the three-minute song: melodies that cause toothaches, hooks that echo in your brain even in your sleep, and lyrics that remind you of seventh-grade crushes. Whereas Mr. Bono and company are too bloated to admit that by now the only difference between them and the Spice Girls is their target market, the Cardigans sound so refreshingly naive in the way they approach pop that they almost come out of left field.
Don't bother looking for the hidden irony underneath the candied surface; there isn't any. The Cardigans do not conceptualize, reconstruct, deconstruct, demythologize, or any of those post-modern things that send rock critics to far-out analytical platitudes and philosophical rigmarole. Don't look for camp, either. There is already enough tomb-plundering by bands disguising their lack of creativity with funny costumes and perverse acts performed upon songs from pop's rich legacy. The Cardigans are not here to put a moustache on the Mona Lisa and call it art--popular or otherwise. If nothing else, they aim for the superficial sweetness of great pop that made them (and you) dream and daydream during those innocent, formative years. They are the sweat you shed dancing to Human League's "Don't You Want Me," or the fond, hazy memory of "Whipped Cream" by Herb Alpert (your parents used to listen to it, but you were too little to remember who it was). By some alchemist's ability, they manage to capture that essence, bottling it up and spraying it out in a way that's ultra-contemporary. A sprinkle of exotica here, a dash of toy-like tinkering there, and their latest, First Band On The Moon, turns out to be a feast of stardust-dipped cherries and rainbow-colored strawberries.
In their game of musical chairs, they are not afraid to invite in both Abba and Bjsrk--they do have that distinctive Scandinavian je ne sais quoi--borrowing all their good bits: the uplifting optimism of the former and the dark quirkiness of the latter. Coming from a country with such a frightening lack of sunshine, they sound awfully sunny. Equally fascinated by melody and the studio tweaking that new technology allows, they bring to mind Juan Garcia Esquivel's scheme to create perfect, futuristic, space-age pop. Even the title of their new album is a reference to those fabulous, cosmopolitan ideas of the early '60s about space vacations before the year 2000 and a brighter future through technology.
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The Cardigans are almost there. Nina Persson's honey-soaked pipes and the band's ability to weave a memorable sonic finery ("Been It," "Lovefool"--playing on a radio near you) indicate that they are on their way from sublime to divine; before they climb on a space shuttle for their first gig on Moonbase Alpha, they will have written the perfect pop song.
Without quotation marks.
The Cardigans perform Wednesday, May 28, at Deep Ellum Live.