Record Review by Alex Pudlin
The Cardigans always struck me as a pretty adorable band. Maybe I just never listened to the lyrics all that closely. But seeing them open for Beck, juxtaposed against the harsh tones of fellow-openers Atari Teenage Riot, Nina Persson and company came off as a rather lighthearted bunch. But as the disembodied head on the cover of Persson’s new solo album Colonia (under the nom de plume A Camp) may indicate, there are more layers to this woman than you may initially detect. Opener “The Crowning” may sound cutesy at first, with lyrics like “we’re gonna party like it’s 1699” but as the song evolves into a savage indictment of a lecherous, egotistical king, it becomes clear that Persson is about as huggable as a rabid Bichon Frisé.
“The Crowning” succeeds as an opening track not only due to its shrewd lyrics, but also the manner in which acoustic guitars, organs, piano and orchestral flourishes combine with Persson’s strong central melody to create what sounds like an ideal opening number to a hot new Broadway show. So it’s a bit of a letdown when “Stronger Than Jesus” doesn’t continue the progression, but rather feels merely like the album’s second track. That said, taken on its own terms, “Stronger Than Jesus” has a catchy melody that sounds a bit like Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” and some more macabre lyrics (“Love can do you like a shotgun"). Yet for all its charms as a song, “Stronger Than Jesus” reveals a problem that becomes a liability as Colonia continues.
While the music on Colonia is mostly well arranged, Nathan Larson (Persson’s husband and ex-Shudder to Think guitarist) and Niclas Frisk’s production leaves many of the instruments drowned out, indistinguishable and dull. Buried horn lines (“Stronger Than Jesus”), flat handclaps (“Here are Many Wild Animals”) and barely audible glockenspiels (“I Signed the Line) make you wish that Persson had a producer/mixer who could add some dynamics to the arrangements. For instance, tracks like “Love Has Left the Room” call to mind the pastoral electro-folk of Goldfrapp’s last album, Seventh Tree, but whereas Will Gregory and Allison Goldfrapp balanced their instruments deftly, A Camp’s mix has been so heavily compressed that you can barely separate the sounds.
Luckily, there are enough well written songs, with fascinating lyrics to balance the soul-less production. “Gold Teeth and Silver Medals” features Nicolai Dunger in a moody duet that self-consciously asks “would you like to meet me in this song?” Meanwhile, Persson revels in her darker side on a pair of spacey tracks that deal with the blur between animal and man (apocalyptic Noah’s Arc tale “Here Are Many Wild Animals” and “It’s Not Easy to Be Human”). Colonia’s many strong hooks also help to keep the album afloat. Although America-centric tracks “This is Chinatown” and “My America” suffer from overly precious views of their respective locations, the pop-craftsmanship will have you humming them in no time. Indeed, Colonia has just as many contradictions as Persson’s adorable yet menacing persona: lyrics that vary from clever to trite, great arrangements marred by clunky production, and so on. Thus, Colonia ends up a sometimes thrilling, often frustrating stalemate of a listen.