The Cardigans’ foray into sugary retro-pop, which came to a frothy head with 1996’s “Lovefool,” was always intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Whether Americans just didn’t “get it” or Nina Presson and her band got lazy with their tongues (hell, they even made an irony-free appearance on Beverly Hills, 90210), the formula didn’t quite translate and the group became a one-hit wonder in the U.S., turning their backs on pop and subsequently delving into deeper, darker rock territory. The shift yielded mixed results on 1998’s edgy Gran Turismo, displaying a band in obvious flux, and a near-masterpiece with 2004’s more mature, stripped-down Long Gone Before Daylight.
The band’s sixth album, Super Extra Gravity, opens with “You’re Losing A Friend,” a stinging slow song that deceptively sets the stage for what, at first, sounds like a possible Long Gone Before Sundown. The track, however, is grittier (dirtier, if you will), a swirl of static, reverb, and pedal effects standing in for the sparse, empty-hearted spaces of the last album’s ballads. (Ditto for the beautiful yet scathing “Don’t Blame Your Daughter” and “Overload,” a classic, ‘50s-style ballad that’s turned on its head and given a modern-rock twist.) Relationships, as always, are Presson’s topic of choice, and though the inclusion of a sequel to one of Long Gone‘s most wrenching songs makes Super Extra Gravity seem like even less of a departure (the band prides itself on never having made the same record twice), “And Then You Kissed Me II” is unmistakably bleaker than the original. Metaphor or not, it’s a cynical, punishing track—one that wouldn’t have fit on the last album: “It’s a mystery how people behave/How we long for a life as a slave…Nerve-wrecking, acrobatic, backwards bend/All for a happy ending.”
The creation process was clearly different from the last time around: Peter Svensson’s guitar solos are more urgent and spontaneous, and Bengt Lagerberg’s drumming takes the spotlight on several tracks (including “Holy Love” and the Smashing Pumpkins-esque “Little Black Cloud”), second only to Presson’s harmonies. Make no mistake: this is a band‘s album. Whereas Long Gone Before Daylight sounded like an accidentally gorgeous and masterful swan song (the album took over five years to materialize), Super Extra Gravity, which reunites the Cardigans with long-time producer Tore Johansson, sounds like the product of a young, fresh quintet that’s got a whole lot of rock left in ‘em.