September 16, 1998
THE CARDIGANS Gran Turismo
6 / 10
It was a phenomenon best forgotten. Last summer, 'Romeo' Di Caprio's melted munchkin face wallpapered every little girl's bedroom while The Cardigans' 'Lovefool' blared out of the world's amplifiers on an endless loop. Shakespeare had given the Swedes a HIT.
But once they reached the tippytop of the commercial beanstalk and peered into the giant's eye, where could they go next? Suspiciously, the only bleatings from The Cardigans in the last year have been more soundtrack songs. Coupled with the fact that the title of their fourth album is taken from a computer game, this suggests imminent Republica-style corporate whoredom. Danger!
Yet, just as we think we've got them sussed, The Cardigans appear on TFI Friday with a surprisingly muscular new single, 'My Favourite Game', and an image overhaul. Gone! The demure '60s frocks. Banished! The coy mohair jumpers. Instead, Nina Persson prowls around in black PVC trousers, bedhead hair and steel-studded biker chick wristbands. Could this be the moment The Cardigans exercise the latent metal tendencies heretofore indicated by their Black Sabbath covers and properly rock out? Negative. The Cardigans displaying any real angst would be like Hello Kitty trying to slay an antelope in the Sahara. They bare their tiny teeth to enact a vicious, jagged-jaw sneer, but reveal only perfect dentistry.
'Gran Turismo' endeavours to plumb the depths, to take us into seriously doleful and sonically experimental territory, yet remains inextricably moored in shallow waters. There are glimmers of true loveliness - the gentle wash of 'Explode', where a minimalist beat and synth drone evoke untold sadness; the stealthy sub-industrial clangings and aching lyrics of 'Paralyzed'.
Angular guitars edge their way in cunningly, too, providing some of the album's finest moments - notably 'My Favourite Game' and 'Do You Believe', which is possibly a cynical response to 'Lovefool': "Do you really think that love is going to save the world?/Well I don't think so". Still, it's all too rare when real emotion, rather than canned sentiment, is allowed a look-in. Hence the tinny drums and saccharine vocals of 'Marvel Hill' and the faux-gospel Celine Dion schmaltz of 'Higher'.
The Cardigans will never crumble with genuine fragility or explode with absolute wrath. Pretty songs, sure. But throw a rock to see them shatter like glass and you'll only hear the hollow thump of Perspex.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday