The Cardigans: Gran Turismo

The Cardigans
Gran Turismo

NEITHER THEIR NEWFOUND compulsion to make guitars sound like harpsichords nor their implementation of simulated drum programming should convince you that the Cardigans have "gone electronic." As arty pop dilettantes, they're simply acknowledging electro-texture's ascendance over frilly orchestration as the accepted decor of boutique pop in the late '90s. And those crawling tempos don't mean that Nina Persson takes her fascination with the masochistic clichés of girlie pop seriously. She's playing at doom-ridden romanticism the way she played at unflappable airheadedness back when she was frequenting garden parties and cooing, "Life is very fine."

But pop doesn't need any more whelp-divas or sluggish BPMs; bleak wasteland that it is, commercial radio remains open to settlement by any pioneers brave enough to place hooks before principles. In other words, there are the makings of a second New Wave here, if anyone wants it. "My Favorite Game" capitalizes grandly on that chance. Peter Svensson's guitar echoes "White Wedding," above classically hokey, tasty Police atmospherics and polyrhythms, while Persson trades on pseudo-profundities worthy of the band's beloved Black Sabbath ("You rip me up and spread me all around/In the dust of the deed of time").

But that single is also a commercial obligation from a band so obviously terrified that "Lovefool" has typecast them as The Disco Diva + Her Four Merry Gents that they prefer intricate doodles to the broader canvas of pop. So having once hummed a trivial tune with an undertow of doom, now they lace a doomy tune with an undertow of triviality. Forget reclaiming the effervescent delights of received kitsch; they've got their own kitsch to craft.

And admittedly, flattening your Sabbath-inspired guitar metal until it's thin enough to plate your wispy melodies can be intriguing. Same with the coy way Persson winks at you while pretending she's got something in her eye. But when they claim songwriting credit for hackneyed questions like "Do you really think/That love is gonna save the world?/Well, I don't think so," it's tough to take their decadence as lightly as you'd have to in order to take their music seriously. I never thought I'd say this about any band, but I really do miss the flutes.

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