It’s become almost trite to talk about the wealth of pop gold that has been discovered in Scandinavia in recent years; Annie, Robyn, Royksopp, The Knife (and Fever Ray), Lykke Li, The Concretes, the list could go on. It’s pointless making guesses as to why this might be – perhaps having ABBA as pop forebears has rubbed off, maybe it’s something in the water – but it’s undeniable that some of the most interesting and arresting pop music of the last decade has come from Northern Europe.
One of these impeccable pop gems came in the form of With Every Heartbeat, a UK Number 1 that gave new life to Robyn‘s music career and helped propel her eponymous album to gold status. Produced by Andreas Kleerup – a well-known producer, drummer and member of the Swedish band The Meat Boys – the song also appears on this, his debut solo album. For those that somehow managed to avoid it, it’s basically four minutes of string-drenched, electro sadness that builds and builds without any form of release, somehow managing to sound both euphoric and desolate. But its presence means that everything else sounds almost like a poor facsimile.
Not that there aren’t other obvious highlights. Kleerup digs out the old Rolodex again for Until We Bleed, which sees Sweden’s Lykke Li add her sweet, almost childlike vocals to a desolate, minimal backdrop. It may well be the best thing she’s done. Elsewhere, new single Longing For Lullabies features vocals from Titiyo (Neneh Cherry‘s younger sister, fact fans) and is another desperate love song, featuring lyrics about tears mixing with the rain, learning from past sadness and moving on. In case you hadn’t noticed, Kleerup finds sadness easier to replicate then its opposite, with most songs built around mournful, skeletal keyboard figures and the occasional swirling string arrangement.
Even when he tries ‘upbeat’, as he does midway through the album, he calls the track On My Own Again and filters his own vocals through a computer, sounding like a robot stranded alone in a run down factory. Thanks For Nothing features a similar trick, creating a joyously catchy keyboard riff, simple beat and Kleerup intoning “I want to thank you for nothing” ad infinium.
For the first half of the album the lack of light and shade isn’t a problem because the songs are so strong, but as it heads towards its conclusion it becomes almost airless – the studied, characterless songs replacing emotion with boredom. It’s worth noting that the UK version comes without Music For Girl featuring Lisa Milberg from The Concretes and Forever, with Neneh Cherry, is stripped of its vocals and renamed I Just Want To Make That Sad Boy Smile.
Kleerup, the album, is a strange beast. By name it’s a dance record, and yet the only dancing to be done would feature a bottle of wine, a lot of tears and perhaps a photo album of a lost love. It’s also evident that without the vocal collaborators the album sags, Kleerup’s own vocals lacking the character to take the songs from pleasant to something more engaging. But With Every Heartbeat is evidence enough that this man has talent. He just needs to use that Rolodex a bit more.