I first heard the Cardigans’s “You’re The Storm” on Christmas Eve 2002. The track had just been mixed and an engineer friend of mine played it as inspiration for a project we were working on together. I was instantly struck by what I thought was the song’s chorus: “If you want me I’m your country/If you win me I’m forever,” lead Cardigan Nina Persson sang both mournfully and matter-of-factly. The lyrics alone were enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. A small group of us sat and listened as that b-section burst into the song’s more authentic hook, Persson’s vocals stacked and sweetened to the nth degree and backed by a gale of storm-like keyboard swirls. The track would eventually be released as the second single from the Cardigans’ fifth album Long Gone Before Daylight, a record that, to my surprise, lives up to everything I heard in the studio that day.
For their first studio album in over five years, guitarist Peter Svensson furnished his band with some of its strongest—though sometimes understated—melodies, while Persson’s lyrics are simultaneously burdened and resilient. “Oh, I wish my arms were wider,” she says simply on “Feathers & Down,” attempting to rehabilitate a drowning lover. She’s an object to be excavated, punched, kissed, reaped and sown, not only on “You’re The Storm” but on tracks like “And Then You Kissed Me” and “Lead Me Into The Night,” which softly evoke Fleetwood Mac. Persson’s finely graveled voice, however, is more Sheryl Crow than Stevie Nicks. In fact, the album’s lead single, “For What It’s Worth,” may be one of the best songs Crow never wrote. Persson’s lyric is short and frank: “For what it’s worth, I like you/And what’s worse, I really do.”
Svensson, whose guitar solos seem to come out of nowhere (in a good way), and the rest of the Cardigans seem to exist solely for the benefit of Persson’s stories (again, in a good way), and it’s hard to imagine the music and lyrics existing independently of each other. Daylight requires a patient listener at times, with songs like “Couldn’t Care Less,” in which Persson faces ambivalence at the end of things, taking on an inspired, atypical pop structure. The album, which was allegedly re-recorded completely after the original songs were deemed “not good enough” by the band, sounds as if it was indeed created long before daylight, in the middle of the night with an abundance of mood candles. Such is the case with truly great records. Once in a while you stumble upon something that has that magic—an album that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.