Rip It Up And Start Again
Sometime we get the most irrational and unexpected obsessions. Sometimes they cut us to the core of our very being for no reason whatsoever except for a simple combination of musical notes, the way a few words string together into a moment of extreme clarity or the way an arm feels against yours in the dark. And of course those reasons are the smallest and biggest of all.
I don’t know why I fell in love with the idea of Swedish Pop. I don’t remember when it happened. Maybe it was the day I first heard ‘Black Cab’, or Fibi Frap. Whatever, it grew in my mind into some kind of insanely glamorous and unimpeachable glory. There were so many great records, so many great songs, so many great memories that went burrowing into my heart with a soundtrack recorded in Sweden.
Oh, it also helped that it wasn’t British. Which may sound stupid and small minded, but better surely to be small minded and stupid about one’s Pop obsessions than to be so about the Serious Things in life?
I’ve argued for a long time about the value of tension in Pop. The tension between the mass-market appeal and the need for isolation and the feeling of secrecy and scarcity. Like that old 14 Iced Bears number ‘Rare (Like You Are)’ perhaps. I often wonder if people really do feel comforted and safe when they are sitting in a stadium with a million other fans watching, say, Robbie Williams. I often wonder what it feels like to be a part of the mainstream. Maybe it’s wonderful. Maybe it’s like being a goldfish in a bowl.
But let’s get back to that tension. What happens when the balance between mass acceptance and secrecy becomes skewed too much in favour of the former? What happens when you feel like your private, beautifully lonely party gets crashed by the popular kids who you hate and love with almost equal intensity? Like when Elin and Jessica crash Agnes’ party in Show Me Love… maybe. Do you flip up your collar and turn, like Dean Moriarty, to it again, on a search for something newer and lonelier? Or do you go with the flow and let yourself drift into maybe love and acceptance?
Well, being a truculent old bastard, I’m personally always going to go with the former. Maybe it’s hard-wired into my genes, or maybe it’s just the end result of decades of seeing things go around in circles. But being at the ICA, watching the Swedish Indie NOW event, I feel like excising all things Swedish from my life. I feel like taking a metaphoric knife and scraping a big scratch across all the Swedish pop in my iTunes library. An extreme measure, perhaps, but sometimes the extreme measures are all that can keep us alive.
Now let me tell you, I hate being uncomfortably hot and sweaty. The only times I want to be sweaty are when I am riding my bicycle up a mountainside, or having hot sex with the girl I love. The ICA is hot and sweaty. London is hot and sweaty, oppressive and hateful. It’s not a good start. Still, I want it to be special. I want to be excited. I want those few notes of magic, those mumbled words of genius. It’s not to be.
I’ll admit that I’ve heard a lot of 1980’s influence in a lot of Swedish Pop. And though the ‘80s was an evil time when everyone took drugs and had sex all the time there was certainly some great underground Pop to cheer the souls of the disenchanted and the dispossessed. Thing is, neither of the groups I see tonight make me remember any of those.
Shout Out Louds just remind me of The Cure. And not in anything even remotely approaching a good way. They sound leaden and enervated, indie-schmindie by numbers. Soulless, directionless, vaguely pretty pop shorn of thrills and risks. No spark of electricity arcs through the night, just damp squibs of mediocrity. They throw a section of The Clash’s ‘Train in Vain’ into the midst of one song which cheers all the other old codgers at the back but really it is a pointless reference, a tired and too easy a nod in all the wrong directions.
Loney Dear are no better. For where Shout Out Louds are The Cure, Loney Dear are the Waterboys. And you know I always hated the Waterboys. Loney Dear think they have Big Songs (or that they have discovered The Big Music) which fills enormous spaces, but in reality they just leave a vacuous black hole that sucks all emotion into it and excretes banal nonsense. At one point they almost make me think of Hidden Cameras, but where Hidden Cameras are a joyous explosion of dynamic thrills on the edge of falling gloriously to pieces, Loney Dear are one-dimensional and dreadfully accomplished. And surely only ‘worthy’ is a less glamorous word than ‘accomplished’.
Watching these groups, I wonder, is it just me, or are so many people happy with setting the bar so low these days? Where are the groups who are reaching for the stars? Where are the risk takers, the myth makers?
Of course maybe in the end I am over-reacting. Maybe it’s just that this isn’t really the sound of Swedish Indie Now at all, but rather the sound of a safe, marketable pop that the mainstream can consume and feel comfortable with. Not even Swedish, but merely multi-national, like Starbucks and McDonalds and Arctic Monkeys. And maybe I shouldn’t be so glum about it. Maybe that is all fine in its way.
I just know that it is not enough for me. Not by a long chalk. So maybe I should keep my own Swedish loves secret and sacred. For really those loves are a million miles away from this mainstream appropriation of whatever ‘indie’ has grown to mean these days. I know deep inside that my own loves remain by turn fragile and tremulous, angry and arrogant, sexy and stylish. Long may they remain so.
© 2007 Alistair Fitchett