Sweden’s recent rise to some sort of cultural behemoth has been nothing short of phenomenal. Its art, film and music industries have all demonstrated that the country offers far more than merely ABBA best ofs and IKEA stores.
But listening to a lengthy interview with Swedish songwriter of some 20 years Pelle Carlberg, you’re struck by two facts regarding the intricacies of the Swedish music scene. Firstly, very few domestic acts get invited to play festivals and other large domestic music events – nothing breeds interest in Sweden like success abroad. Those Dancing Days are a prime example. Secondly, in order to be a genuine household name or for a release to trouble the charts it has to be written in Swedish. No debate. It just has to.
Unless, it would seem, your name is Jens Lekman, whose first collection of songs When I Wanted To Be Your Dog (recorded exclusively in English) catapulted into the national top 10 in 2004, and he’s never looked back since. It’s always been hard to dislike Lekman, his Jonathan Richman-esque naivety and innocence coupled with genuine songwriting craftsmanship and sampling have resulted in two full length albums and an EP compilation of near faultless pop music. The question is though, can this latest EP (his first release since 2007), continue the trend?
What becomes apparent from the outset is that Lekman’s ability as a raconteur extraordinaire remains undimmed. The EP’s title track’s description of a late night wander (taking in details such as street names and landmarks) at times borders – thanks to Lekman’s way with words – on a magical near quasi-psychogeographic adventure. Elsewhere, Waiting For Kirsten’s tale of trying to woo a celebrity can arguably stake a claim to being his finest bit of storytelling since Postcard To Nina.
Musically, though, parts of the EP leave a lot to be desired, especially to those who loved the rich, sweeping sounds on Night Falls Over Kortedala. The percussive title track and similar New Direction are standouts, as is the chorus of Waiting For Kirsten. But the song’s verses are bland and ineffectual, a criticism that could also be levelled at A Promise. That’s before we get to the ill-advised cod reggae stylings of So This Guy At My Office, which comes perilously close to allowing the unthinkable to happen in making UB40 sound like U-Roy.
As a whole, this EP is not a disaster by any means, and as such it’s perhaps an exaggeration to call it a disappointment. But for those familiar with a body of work that’s to date shown an impressively high quality control there’s cause for concern. When the EP is on form, it’s up there with his earlier work, which makes it all the more frustrating that it can’t carry it through its duration. The hope can only be that Lekman is saving his finer works for the next full length release.