Sweden’s Erik Hassle isn’t like other pop stars. His record label have decided to make this crushingly obvious with an album cover that shows the raven-haired (think La Roux with a perm), six foot something singer standing in a crowd, but facing in the opposite direction to the flow of sundry work-bound clones.
They need not have spelt it out so heavy-handedly. Pieces, though not a staggering work of pop originality, is a hook-laden, well-crafted collection of heartfelt pop that traces that fine line between laying emotions bare and plying cloying MOR with deft ease.
In fact, much of Pieces could have wound up on the last Snow Patrol album and no one would have noticed (although it would have sold more than their last effort), such is Hassle’s way with a crowd-pleasing chorus. Current single Hurtful is a great example, building slowly with a marching drum backing and Hassle’s swollen croon, before an almighty chorus erupts and explodes like fireworks.
Hassle is clearly a fan of Scandinavian pop’s first rule; don’t bore us, get to the chorus. Each of the 12 tracks get to their pay off in the first 30 seconds or so and, luckily, nearly everything here is as catchy as that first single. Opener Bump In The Road marries a lovely synth riff to an uplifting tale of making it despite what life throws at you, whilst Isn’t It Obvious and Standing Where You Left Me are urgent, slightly dark synth pop, the latter channelling a hint of Depeche Mode but with a more immediate, radio-friendly sheen.
The majority of the album finds Hassle mourning the end of a relationship. He’s constantly left alone or bitterly castigating some lost love, as on the strangely caustic Don’t Bring Flowers, which imagines an odd kind of emotional revenge post-death. It can sometimes be too much, but on the lovely The Thanks I Get, which builds from a delicate piano intro to take in warm organ sounds and pounding drums, the balance between ‘you were proper nasty’ and ‘I was a bit of a dick’ is just right. The acoustic, sweetly lilting Amelia is a breath of fresh air to close the album.
As with any work centred on break-ups, it all gets a bit samey after a while; the latter half of Pieces is less interesting than the first. But it’s still a fine debut from a fresh new talent who has that Scandinavian pop gene in full working order. His record company seem to want to paint him as this outsider, but his radio-friendly pop songs aren’t that different from what’s already about. That he does such material so much better than a lot of his peers is his true calling card.