Listening to The Cardigans’ catalog, one might get the impression the Swedish group has a horrible case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Over 10 years and five albums, their style has evolved rather dramatically. The band recorded two refreshingly saucy albums that sound like throwbacks to ’60s lounge-pop mixed with disco and a sense of humor (hence the Black Sabbath covers). Traces of this sound bled onto 1996’s First Band on the Moon, but The Cardigans also moved into darker territory on some of the album. After 1998’s even moodier, electronic-heavy Gran Turismo, it was unclear whether they would return, as the group’s members began concentrating on various solo and side projects.
Fortunately, The Cardigans pressed on, and now they’ve returned with an album on which they sound more comfortable than ever. Where vocalist Nina Persson’s lyrics have seemed a bit cryptic and restrained in the past (which fits nicely with Gran Turismo’s music), they are now more introspective. On “Live And Learn,” she sings, “I got blistered and burned / And lost what I’d earned / But I lived and I learned,” displaying both her weariness and wisdom in a way she probably couldn’t have a decade ago.
Long Gone sounds more sonically mature, too. Guitarist Peter Svensson’s songs sound less like they’re being performed and more like they’re being played—an important distinction. The bassoons and recorders that added a quirky charm to previous work have been replaced by a string section. Smooth, organic guitar and organ tones abound. Though a lo-fi recording style used to be part of The Cardigan’s magic, this latest album benefits from lush production that complements the new songs perfectly. And while I thought Persson’s soft, girly voice didn’t need improvement, her pipes are surprisingly stronger this time around, featuring a warm, newfound vibrato.
Not to say The Cardigans have gone soft (or returned to being soft, I suppose). Noisy guitars and killer drum fills are the norm on “Good Horse” (which features backing vocals by fellow Swede Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist of The Hives). The punchy, driving “For What it’s Worth” lifts a few stylistic elements from American folk and country—as do quite a few cuts on the album. Fans looking for another “Carnival” or “Lovefool” might be disappointed, but those desiring something more will like these Cardigans just fine.