The Cardigans’s sound—which Rolling Stone’s Nilou Panahpour called “loopy’60s lounge pop sweetened with wistful female vocals”—helped them to breakthrough to mass international success in the mid-1990s. “We make happy music, but it’s not silly,” insisted Nina Persson, lead singer of the Swedish band the Cardigans, in Option. “It does have some real emotion in it. We’re always happy-sad—that’s the Cardigans state of mind. “Yet the band resisted the “retro” pigeonhole as much as possible, and indeed, their songs often explored dark lyrical themes; the Cardigans even managed to salute their metal roots on disc, covering songs by hard-rock titans Black Sabbath. “Easy listening is just one part of our music,” Persson proclaimed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. People always want to labelize you. It’s a hard job to describe music, and I guess that’s the only way some critics can do it.” The critics, however, mostly fell for the band, just like audiences from Japan to Britain to the U.S.
The band coalesced in late 1992 in the town of Jônkôping. Guitar Peter Svensson, bassist Magnus Svenigsson, guitarist-keyboardist Lars-Olof Johansson and drummer Bengt Lagerburg formed the instrumental lineup. “I knew Magnus from high school, and the band needed a girl,” Persson told People with typical modesty. “They didn’t have anyone else so I agreed, even though I was basically a novice as a singer. I never expected for us to achieve any success at all.” Svensson and Svenigsson had been in heavy metal bands together, but Persson speculated in Option that even in their headbanging days they were better suited for pop. “Even when they were playing angry music, I don’t think they were very angry,” she mused. “We were all instantly comfortable making Cardigans music.”
The fivesome cohabited in a house big enough for their eclectic interests, and were soon collaborating on the material that would wind up on their Swedish debut, Emmerdale. The album was recorded by producer Doc-Tore Johansson (no relation to the band’s keyboardist), who helped mold the Cardigans’ sound in his studio in the town of Malmô. “We didn’t consider ourselves very ’60s until we started recording at Tambourine Studios with Tore,” Svenigsson told Rolling Stone. “He brought this view of music to us because he felt we had good songs, but we had to add something to be complete. So he started to teach us about ’60s music, and we adopted his theories.” The bassist—who writes a portion of the band’s compositions—elaborated on the Tambourine experience in TV Guide. “The studio is equipped from the ’60s and 70s, so basically if you record there you can’t sound modern.”
The album fared well not only on the band’s home turf but in England—where all manner of nostalgic pop was storming the charts—and Japan, where fans no doubt appreciated the Cardigans’ frothy melodies and unaffected cuteness in equal measure. Similar enthusiasm greeted their sophomore album, Life, which was a platinum seller in Japan.
The band’s penetration in the U.S. was largely underground, but they sound found themselves with numerous yank fans thanks to college radio airplay of the American version of Life, which combined material from the first two Swedish releases and appeared on the respected independent label Minty Fresh in 1996. The band’s playful pop recalled everything from the newly resurrected “lounge” and “exotica” recordings of the 60s to the sophisticated pop of Burt Bacharach. Svenigsson, however, insisted he was the only Bacharach fan in the group. The Cardigans also put their delicate spin on a Black Sabbath song, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” Declared BAM magazine, “The band’s generous borrowings from the palette of 1960s pop are the perfect vehicles for fluffy romanticism.” Reviewer Michael Ansaldo concluded by calling the album “a grand slam for
For the Record…
Members include Bengt Lagerburg , drums; Lars-Olof Johansson , guitar and keyboards; Nina Persson , vocals; Magnus Svenigsson , bass and Peter Svensson , guitar.
Band formed 1992, Jonkoping, Sweden; signed with Stockholm Records and released debut album Emmer-dale, 1994; American debut, Life (comprised of tracks from first two Swedish releases), released on Minty Fresh label, 1996; signed with Mercury Records and released First Band on the Moon, 1996; song “Love-fool” featured on soundtrack of film Romeo and Juliet, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Fan mail—. The Cardigans, c/o Trampolene Records, Box 20504, S-161 02 Bromma, Sweden. Website — http://lindstedt.mech.kth.se/~moch/cardigans/cardi.html.
a band batting cleanup behind that unholy trinity of Scandinavian bands: ABBA, Roxette, and Ace of Base.”
This sort of comparison—even when it accompanied such praise—rankled the Cardigans greatly. While they admitted to an admiration for 70s Swede pop superstars ABBA, whom Svenigsson called “great, great songwriters” and “a brilliant pop band” in TV Guide, being lumped in with their younger hitmaking compatriots was clearly irksome. “Ace of Base,” he sneered in the same interview, “have done nothing.”
The promise shown by Life led to a deal with the American label Mercury, which released the Cardigans’ next effort, First Band on the Moon, in 1996. This time the band toughened up its sound a bit, and explored some darker lyrical territory. “Life’s lyrics were very shallow— stories about nothing, really,” Svenigsson insisted in Rolling Stone. “I think at least 10 out of 11 songs on the new album are about really deep, serious shit.” Addicted to Noise reviewer Gil Kaufman proclaimed that with First Band, the Cardigans “provide a blast of fresh, spear-minted air to the moribund alternative nation.”
In addition to melodic rockers like “Been It” and “Losers” and another Black Sabbath cover, “Iron Man,” ’FirstBand features “Lovefool,” a song of romantic masochism placed in a sunny, upbeat musical setting. The song ended up on the soundtrack for director Baz Luhrmann’s hit film version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Julie. Luhrmann “asked us if he could use a Cardigans song,” recollected Persson in People. “We gave him a slow ballad, but Baz asked for something ’jollier.’ I like almost all of our other songs better than ’Lovefool.’” Even so, the song became a huge hit in the U.S., moving from alternative rock radio stations to Top 40. The Cardigans were rock stars in America. As a result, they found themselves confronting a lot of myths—not only about Swedish pop, but about them personally. “A lot of people thought we were very glamorous, fashionable people, but we aren’t,” Svenigsson explained in Rolling Stone. Perhaps most important for Persson was dispelling the idea that the Cardigans were purveyors of joke-pop or camp. “We’re not being ironical,” she asserted in Addicted to Noise. “We’re taking this thing seriously and some people want to call it kitsch, but I think it’s rude to our music. I feel very strongly about it. Tell [Americans] to go out and buy the album” she advised the publication. “And… tell them not to laugh!”
Emmerdale, Stockholm Records, 1994.
Life, Stockholm Records, 1995.
Life (U.S.version; includes “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”), Minty Fresh, 1996.
First Band on the Moon (includes “Been It,” “Losers,” “Iron Man” and “Lovefool”), Mercury, 1996.
Addicted to Noise, June 18, 1996; August 24, 1996.
BAM, June 14, 1996.
Musician, May 1996.
Option, September 1996.
People, February 3, 1997.
Rolling Stone, September 19, 1996.
San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 12, 1996.
TV Guide, January 31, 1997.
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