I'm sorry, but I still can't think of Sweden and pop music without breaking out into a cold sweat. ABBA; the name alone makes the hair on the back of my neck start to rise and my fingers tremble. They and bands like Bonny M are aberrations that will sometimes make me wonder about people who live in the North of Europe.
The real curse of ABBA is that they seem to have more than just the one life. First they were the band, and now they are the musical. Some horrible Sadist created a Broadway musical out of their music and it will now tour as a road show through North America for eternity. Nothing freezes the blood quite like the idea of a semi-professional production featuring the music of ABBA being staged by anyone evil enough to pay for the rights to produce it.
Yes, I know they were insanely popular, selling millions of records worldwide and probably continuing to do so until this day. I've never even had the nerve or energy to try and figure out how they were and are so popular. I'm sure if I were to discover the reason I might be driven to some desperate act like suicide. There are questions in this world that are better left unanswered and that is most definitely one of them.
Thankfully a new generation of Swedish musicians are working to make reparations to the world through the creation of music that will drive a stake through the heart of the un-dead, saccharine monster. One such stalwart individual is Pelle Carlberg who has just released the album In A Nutshell on Twenty Seven Records. In a daring move he attacks them on their own territory by writing seemingly innocuous pop songs and then subverting the form with lyrics of wit and intelligence.
Wit and intelligence of course work against ABBA like wooden stakes and garlic do against other legions of the un-dead. While one can be used to hold them at bay, the other puts them out of our misery. That Pelle has been able to cleverly disguise his subterfuge, only makes his hopes for success that much greater.
Catchy tunes, a lilting voice, and choruses so hook laden you could start a fishing fleet, can't quite disguise a slight sardonic quality in the vocals. The opening track "Pamplona" with its strings, sounds for all the world like it could have come from the same factory that manufactured ABBA, until you hear the lyrics. Pelle very carefully reels you in with some fluff only to drop a rock on your head with the last line.
All along you were under the impression it was your typical, boy trying to impress girl song, and he pulls the rug out from under you with barely a hint of what's coming. The only indication that something might be up is a sardonic quality to his voice that makes you notice just how pointless and silly the words really are.
Maybe after you've heard the first song you might start to read the song titles a little closer, because if you do you might start getting some clues as to where this is disc is going. "I Love You, You Imbecile" is not your typical title for a love song, nor is "Crying All The Way To The Pawnshop" what you'd expect for the name of a pop song.
As you get deeper into the disc you start to get the idea of what Pelle is all about and how subversive In A Nutshell really is. "Middle Class Kid" is a wonderful send up of all the bands that look for art and suffering in their lives. The reality of course is that when compared to the plight of the rest of the world their problems are inconsequential and trivial.
But he's more then just a one note voice and keeps you guessing about what his songs are going to be about. "Even A Broken Clock (is Right Twice a Day)" doesn't sound like the most promising title for a love song, and in fact the lyrics might make you think its not. But again Pelle saves the key line for the end, and the closing couplet quickly makes you realize how everything until that point was meaningless. Material matters are nowhere near as important as being able to understand each other emotionally in a relationship. We need to examine the way in which we judge people is the message that comes through loud and clear from two simple lines: "But she can still look straight in my eyes/And tell when I'm sad."
Pelle Carlberg is a gifted and talented songwriter and musician. He has written all the songs and plays nearly all the instruments on this album. The music is deliberately catchy pop but beneath the fluff aren't just the hooks of a popular song but the barbs of satire and social commentary. In A Nutshell might not be able to banish the ghost of ABBA completely, but it goes a long way towards clearing the air. If for no other reason than that we owe Pelle a vote of thanks.