In his native Sweden Jens Lekman is a chart regular and respected tunesmith. You can only stand up and applaud the Swedes for their good taste. We get James Blunt and his five Brit nominations and they get pop music as poised, polished and clever as this.
Oh You’re So Silent Jens is a collection of EPs, singles and b-sides that didn’t feature on his debut LP When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog. These are not cast-offs though – far from it. From the quality on show here it seems that Mr Lekman cannot write anything apart from dapper songs full of wit and wisdom.
Lekman’s grasp of melody is so audacious you can picture him sat on a stool in the Brill Building composing with Goffin and King. He has a perfect grasp of ‘lagom’, the Swedish term for ‘not too much and not too little’. These are expertly judged arrangements as beautifully framed as a beach sun set in winter.
The real glory of this record resides in the way in which Lekman blends his bottled sunshine melodies with droll and romantic word play. On the surface the songs can appear slightly frivolous, but they have a dark and vulnerable undertow. In a similar vein to Richard Hawley‘s wonderful Coles Corner, the gauche retro arrangements conceal the miniscule and repeated surprises that linger long in the memory. It’s heaven by a 100,000 blissful kisses.
The penitent piano playing on Pocketfuls of Money is beautiful poised, evoking a sense of tentative hope. The horns blasts and Beat Happenings sample add ripples of warmth and a grainy monochrome depth to the track.
Maples Leave is astonishing, Hollywood sound track strings are propelled along by a frantic break beat. Imagine if hip-hop had been birthed in uptown New York in 1957 and not 1977 and Eminen crooned instead of rapped. It’s curious and affecting, as Lekman addresses the misunderstandings that inform those first flourishes of love. When he sings “She said it was make believe, but I thought she said maple leaves” it’s impossible not to smile.
If Morrisseyhas haunted dreams then I am sure that Black Cab is the soundtrack. The guitar’s jangles like Johnny Marr in his pomp, the harpsichord chops out a plangent aching chord progression. The Belle and Sebastianand Left Banke samples swirl in the mix. Lekman sings a tale that is full of the kind of lonely pathos that made The Smiths immortal. It rolls There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and How Soon Is Now into one watertight lyric.
Lekman’s mastery of the home sampler is demonstrated on Rocky Dennis Farewell Song. A Stylistics sample it twisted to fit into the backing track. Its like The Avalanches backing a Swedish Dion.
I have one fear. For my first new LP of the year, this has set the bar exceptionally high. Let’s hope that it’s a great year and that the highest point hasn’t been reached by the end of January.