Album Reviews

Peter Bjorn And John – Living Thing

(Wichita) UK release date: 30 March 2009

Maybe it’s something in the Scandinavian air. Over the last few years, there’s been so many acts sprouting up from Sweden, Norway and Denmark that even Brooklyn has been made to look like a sleepy dormitory town by comparison.

Peter Björn & John were one of the original leaders of this North European creative vanguard when their breakout single Young Folks became one of 2006’s most memorable singles. Since then, it’s been nigh on ubiquitous and, you suspect, something of an albatross for the Swedish trio.

For anyone buying Living Thing expecting more wistful, twee songs featuring plenty of whistling are likely to be somewhat bemused. The trio’s fifth album is an experimental affair, featuring harsh beats and slabs of synths – it’s all about as different from that breakthrough single as could be expected.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course – there’s plenty to enjoy here, from the sinister children’s choir on Nothing To Worry About, the pretty, mournful ballad of I Want You! and, best of all, the thrilling Afro-rhythms of the title track. Yet it’s an uneven affair, making for a sometimes difficult listen.

Take the opening track, The Feeling, for example. It’s a minimalist affair, simply big, jarring slabs of synth riffs laid underneath Peter Morén’s vocals, with just handclaps acting as percussion. While it sounds dramatic enough, the melody is too repetitive, and soon proves mightily irritating.

Luckily, the trio’s pop sensibilities do win through occasionally. Nothing To Worry About has already been bigged up by none other than Kanye West, and the use of a children’s choir on the chorus buries its way into the brain. The edgy synth-rock of It Don’t Move Me is reminiscent of Depeche Mode, which makes sense given that the trio will be supporting Dave Gahan and company later this year.

Best of all is the title track, which cleverly reworks the old ELO classic of the same name, and mixes in Afrobeat guitars and urgent percussion. If it worked for Vampire Weekend, it could easily provide Peter Björn & John with their second big hit.

Then there’s Lay It Down, which sounds brilliantly joyful and uplifting until you realise that the chorus is a charming “boy, shut the fuck up, you are starting to piss me off”. It’s followed by the mournful Stay This Way, another example of how varied that Living Thing can be.

Sadly, there’s a fair degree of filler here though. Losing My Mind is just a dirge, while the likes of Just The Past and 4 Out Of 5 meander along with no discernable tune to speak of. Peter Morén’s voice too is an acquired taste, and over the course of an entire album his overly mellow vocals can become wearying.

It’s a frustrating listen, ultimately. There’s enough promise here to suggest a band full of potential, but you get the feeling that they won’t be breaking out of that cult status anytime soon.

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