There’s a brief moment at the beginning of Erik Hassle’s Pieces, before the waves of piano ballads, half-asleep lyrics, and tightly cinched vocals come crashing in, where it seems like things might be okay. A pulsing synth chime gives way to some polished drums, studio sheen paired with electronic minimalism, blue-eyed soul with a revamped sonic palette. Yet from the moment Hassle opens his mouth, the Swedish singer’s major-label debut is plagued with dire structural issues, extending beyond any one fault to the cloying, fatal soullessness of the total product.
Press release padded by references to Wilson Pickett, image buoyed by a shock of wild red hair, the 21-year-old Hassle fulfills none of this promise, offering one of the dreariest albums in recent memory. His music runs counter to that of all the interesting and vital pop Sweden has exported in recent years, coming closer to ABBA in terms of quality and heft. But at least ABBA was fun. Hassle instead loses himself in a kind of semi-morose self-seriousness, with all the bland charm of a Disney Channel pop star, plying songs that read like tightly packed collections of clichés.
There’s life-affirming pap like the sticky “Bump in the Road,” which steadily rounds up greeting-card platitudes in preparation for a “Don’t give up/You will make it” chorus. “Hurtful” takes things a step further with the disastrous double couplet of “You don’t know what you got/Till you’re missing it a lot/I was wrong from the start/From the bottom of my heart.” “Don’t Bring Flowers,” the closest approach to a workable song, spoils its slinky guitar line with a lack of momentum and lazy repetition of sonic effects from “Bump in the Road.” “Isn’t it Obvious” skews romantic, promising, “If holding hands is too discreet/Let’s make out in the middle of the street.” Judging by the kind of prosaic depths these songs plumb, the promise of the press release, that “these are the torn out pages of a secret teen diary,” reads like an adequate enough warning of the dull horrors to be found on Pieces.