ure Swedish pop isn’t generally very cool, and if it ever attains that status it usually does so years after its created. As much as Army of Lovers are now remembered fondly in a cult capacity, Alexander Bard’s new project BWO (nee Bodies Without Organs) are seemingly too current and too silly to trouble the cognoscenti and the hipsters. Yet pure pop is seldom more pleasurable and smart than on their second album Halcyon Days..
The group’s debut album, 2005’s Prototype, was an enjoyable record, but it had no variance, making it fatiguing to all but the most devoted Euro-fanatics. Halcyon Days solves this problem by adding more light and shade, subtle distinctions in style and melody and a generally stronger, more confident batch of songs. Vocalist Martin Rolinski has grown in stature too—his performances are warm and engaging where required, and accentuate some of the more childish, slap-dash songs to equal effect.
The opening salvo of “Chariots of Fire,” “Temple of Love,” and “Will My Arms Be Strong Enough” will probably not be topped by any pop album this year. The first two of these will be comforting to those who loved Prototype or early Army Of Lovers singles: they’re full of big, bold hooks and daft, immediate choruses. If the repeated uses of “oh” and “whoa” tire, the backing tracks more than compensate by being denser and brassier.
“Will My Arms Be Strong Enough,” on the other hand, is probably in the running to be the best song Alexander Bard has yet written—a swoonsome ballad lifted into the heavens by a sublime combination of strings and vocals—both Rolinski’s and synth player Marina Schiptjenko. The typical and now much-copied trick of repeating the chorus over a variation of itself (think Max Martin’s big Britney Spears hits) combined with a delightful vocal performance gives this a profundity far beyond its simple words.
The rest of the album maintains this high standard, “Angel of Night” is a more subtle ballad, but just as melodically rich, “Hanging on the Phone” would have been worthy of the Topham/Twigg partnership responsible for most of Steps’ catchiest singles, and “Juggernaut” impresses with its half-schlager half-synth-pop hybrid, dramatic flourishes into the chorus, and appropriately monomaniacal chorus. The closer, “Haunted,” doesn’t quite do what its name indicates, but it does compete with “Temple of Love” to be the album’s most instantly gratifying electro-pop morsel.
More complex is “Obsession,” a reworking of the Army of Lovers song. This version jettisons some of the original’s quieted discomfort for a more full-bodied arrangement. Rolinski sounds ever so slightly blank and deadened here, in keeping with the song’s theme. The album even contains a well-chosen set of four songs from Prototype, making it exceptionally good value for the BWO newcomer, but as good as they are (“Sunshine in the Rain” is still a delight), their simple, mostly one-pace charms are slightly diminished next to the more complex, full-bodied new songs on offer.
BWO have expanded their sound and their songwriting on Halcyon Days to excellent effect. A campaign of relentless promotion and singles releases has paid off, and those who have come on board recently should not be disappointed. Highly recommended if you have an appreciation of Europop beyond guilty fascination, but even those who listen in shame should investigate this one as well.