Initially bogged down with comparisons to 1970s pop giants Abba, the members of Roxette became international superstars with the release of their second album Look Sharp! in 1988. Like fellow Swedes Abba, Roxette did produce a number of world wide number one hits, but showed their own knack for composing infectiously catchy pop songs. Continuing with several albums that were almost as commercially successful, Roxette was warmly treated by most critics, who found guilty pleasure in the band’s well-crafted tunes. After the somewhat disappointing album Crash! Boom! Bang! in 1994, Roxette retreated from the studio with a number of compilations, remixes, and re-releases, but announced that an album of fresh material would be offered to the world by the end of 1998.
Although rounded out by a number of studio musicians, for all intents and purposes Roxette is the duo of guitarist/vocalist Per Gessle and platinum-haired lead vocalist Marie Fredriksson, who met in Halmstad, Sweden in the mid-1970s, both of them struggling musicians. Fredriksson’s primary influence came from jazz artists as diverse as the mournful chanteuse Billie Holiday and the improvisational outfit Henry Cow, while Gessle was thoroughly caught up in the style of American and British New Wave and power pop groups like Blondie and the Romantics. “With new wave, it was okay if you hit the wrong note,” Gessle told Musician’s Mark Rowland in 1991. “I think that was the attitude that made you start playing guitar, because you’re not really influenced by your school or parents.”
Gessle and Fredriksson both made names for themselves with two markedly different recording careers, with Gessle writing wry lyrics for a pop band, and Fredriksson creating three solo albums of somber female vocals. However, by the mid-1980s the two friends decided to take advantage of their seeming incompatibility and formed Roxette in hopes of creating catchy, flashy pop music. “I don’t think Roxette would ever have happened if Marie’s and my records had been sort of the same,” Gessle reflected to Rowland. “Marie had never had that type of song to sing before. And for me it was equally - opposite.” In 1986, Roxette cut their debut album for EMI Sweden, an outing of twelve tracks recorded in their native tongue, entitled Pearls of Passion. The record yielded a number of hits in Roxette’s homeland, including “Svarta glas” (“Black Glasses”) but was not released to the rest of the world.
After a successful domestic tour in 1987, Gessle and Fredriksson decided to broaden their appeal by switching over to English, the language spoken in the crucial American and British markets. The resulting album, Look Sharp! was released by EMI in 1988, but initially failed to catch on outside of Sweden until an American exchange student gave a copy to a radio station in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The song “The Look” almost instantly became a national radio favorite, paving the ground for the official release of the song to rocket to the top of the American pop charts.
Look Sharp! had finally found a place in the heart of American listeners, who embraced the energy of Fredriksson’s delivery of “Listen to Your Heart” and “Dangerous.” On the whole, even the most jaded music journalism welcomed Roxette’s crackerjack ability to produce catchy tunes during a relative drought of pop music. Critics like Musician’s Jon Young made no great claims for Roxette as innovators, however. “Not surprisingly, Roxette’s music tends to fall apart when examined closely,” Young wrote in June of 1989. “The playing (or programming) never transcends anonymity, and for all the sound and fury, the songs are eerily passionless. Which of course misses the point entirely. Rather than presuming to offer meaning or substance, Look Sharp! merely wants to join the modern media din. But it is kinda fun.” Such equivocated praise comprised the overall flavor of most of Roxette’s subsequent reviews.
After a popular European tour, Roxette began work on their follow-up to Look Sharp! and along the way decided to re-record one of the stronger cuts from Pearls of Passion, “It Must Have Been Love.” The duo was so
Band members include Pelle Alsing, (born June 6, 1960, in Stockholm, Sweden), drums; Vicki Benckert, (born October 17, 1960, in Stockholm, Sweden), guitar, accordion, backing vocals; Marie Fredriksson, (born May 30, 1958, in Ostra Ljungby, Sweden), vocals; married Micke Bolyos; children: Inez Josefin; Oscar Mikael; Per Gessle, (born January 12, 1959, in Halmstad, Sweden), guitar, vocals; married Asa Nordin, 1993; children: Gabriel Titus; Anders Herrlin, (born September 17, 1961, in Halmstad, Sweden), bass guitar; Jonas Isacsson, (born June 10, 1959, in Umea, Sweden), guitar; Clarence Ofwerman, (born November 22, 1957, in Stockholm, Sweden), keyboards; Staffan Ofwerman, (born September 8, 1962, in Stockholm, Sweden), keyboards, percussion.
Band formed in 1986, in Halmstad, Sweden, by Gessle and Fredriksson, signed to EMI Sweden; releaseddebut album Look Sharp!, 1988; contributed “It Must Have Been Love” to the Pretty Woman soundtrack, 1990; released Joyride, 1991; given their own postage stamp by the Swedish government, 1991; sold over a million copies of Crash! Boom! Bang! sampler through McDonald’s fast food chain, 1994; released greatest hits album Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus! worldwide, except in the U.S., 1995.
Addresses: Record company —EMI, 810 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019. Fan club —Wysiwyg://10/http://www.roxette.nl/
pleased with the strength of the ballad that it was the intended centerpiece of their next album, but instead it was integrated into the soundtrack for the 1990 film Pretty Woman as well as becoming a number one single. Soon after Gessle found a forgotten note left on a table reading “Hello, you fool! I love you,” which became the lyrical hookline for another song equally worthy as a title track. The scrap of whimsical dialogue was transformed into the song “Joyride,” the first single of the 1991 album of the same name.
Since the release of Look Sharp!, Roxette had been unduly compared to the Swedish group Abba. Aside from their Scandinavian heritage and penchant for crafting international hits, Roxette had little resemblance to those earlier legends of icy-cool pop, and some critics began to point out the discrepancy upon the release of their new album. “Overall, what ultimately defines Joyride are the performances, and that marks the most important difference between Roxette and Abba,” J.D. Considine wrote in Rolling Stone. “By emphasizing its sense of personality, Roxette delivers more than just well-constructed hooks; this music has heart, something that makes even the catchiest melody more appealing.”
While Roxette did not seriously depart from their established style with Joyride, the album did reveal an influx of new idea sources such as hip-hop and classic rock. Gessle himself made it clear that a credo of easygoing pop still ruled his songwriting efforts. “[T]he trick is not to think too much about it,” he told Musician. “Try the first thing that pops into your mind, if it makes sense. If it’s work, skip it. But if you have lots of instrumentalists and soloists, it makes the whole album much more interesting.” In the final instance, the public’s acceptance of Joyride’s selection of pop songs and ballads exceeded that of Look Sharp!, with the title cut and the single “Fading Like A Flower” scoring heavily on sales charts.
Hot on the heels of Joyride, Roxette launched a 108 date world tour that spanned four continents, piecing together a collection of live cuts and outtakes entitled Tourism: Songs from the Studios, Stages, Hotel rooms, and Other Strange Places along the way. While the album’s success in the U.S. was limited, it eventually sold over four million copies worldwide. This was perhaps the first indication of Roxette’s falling out with American audiences, but throughout the globe their popularity was still immense. Having become the biggest Swedish stars since Abba, the members of Roxette were commemorated by their country’s government when Gessle and Fredriksson’s faces were cast upon a series of postage stamps.
Roxette enjoyed a several year hiatus after their world tour, inciting talk of the band’s breakup. Roxette dispelled such rumors with the release of Crash! Boom! Bang! in 1994, an album recorded in a number of locations that included London, England and the Isle of Capri. For many critics, however, the record was not worth the wait, and largely faulted the higher number of tunes sung by Gessle. “As with the duo’s previous work, Crash! Boom! Bang! hits its best notes when Fredriksson is at the mike,” judged People magazine. “Her vocals on the ballads ‘Run To You, ’ ‘What’s She Like, ’ and the title song are more subtle and graceful than her partner’s grating, affected rasp.” Entertainment Weekly’s Devon Jackson was in agreement, writing that “[i]f only Per Gessle had let the charged up Marie Fredriksson sing vocals on all 15 songs, Crash might’ve qualified as an unqualified guilty pleasure.”
Although sales of Crash! Boom! Bang! were not disastrous, it was Roxette’s weakest performance to date, especially in the American market. Despite having initially courted U.S. listeners, Roxette began in turn to shy away from America, skipping over the country during their 1994 tour. For the rest of the world, Roxette were still hot property, as illustrated by the demand for their 1995 compilation release Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus! With its title aptly summing up Roxette’s pure-pop-or-nothing philosophy, Don’t Bore Us was a greatest hits cum remix package that sold over four million copies, even though EMI decided not to release it in the U.S.
Over the next few years, Roxette kept a lower profile than ever, surfacing only for an occasional repackaging of previously released material, including a collection of hard to find B-sides and remixes, Roxette Rarities, and the 1997 reissue of Pearls of Passion, the original having become an expensive collector’s item. Roxette took one step further away from the English speaking world with the 1996 release Baladas En Espanol, a collection of twelve of Roxette’s choice ballads re-recorded in Spanish. Still superstars across Europe and South America, Gessle and Fredriksson announced that a new Roxette album would be completed by the end of 1998.
Pearls of Passion, EMI Sweden, 1986; re-released 1997.
Look Sharp!, EMI, 1988.
Joyride, EM, 1991.
Tourism: Songs from the Studios, Stages, Hotel Rooms, and Other Strange Places, EMI, 1992.
Crash! Boom! Bang!, EMI, 1994.
Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus!, EMI, 1995.
Baladas En Español, EMI, 1996.
Billboard, January 13, 1990; May 4, 1991; June 27, 1992; October 31, 1992
Entertainment Weekly, October 7, 1994.
Musician, June 1989; July 1991.
People, October 10, 1994.
Rolling Stone, June 27, 1991.
The Daily Roxette, http://www.visakopu.net/dailyroxette (July 20, 1998).
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