If you haven’t noticed, spend the next 15 minutes surfing your usual music sites and you’ll find that the last few years have been driven by the retro. We’ve seen the revival of punk, post-punk, new wave, no wave, shoegazer, blues, ‘60s rock, southern rock, garage music (which has never been far away, at least not in my neighborhood), and probably several more styles that it seems unnecessary to name. Reporting on these trends is like reporting on the crime du jour—it’s news because somebody says it is. It makes both categorization and marketing easy.
The recording industry and critics (but not me) have always been quick to point to the hot scenes, making writing trendy and, again, marketing a breeze. Right now, the scenes are New York and Sweden (yes, the whole country). It’s hard to know what to do with Mando Diao, a Swedish band whose debut full-length Bring ‘Em In contains music so retro that it sounds as if they’ve time warped directly from the ‘60s.
I’d suggest getting the influences out of the way first, because they sound like everyone you’d think they would sound like. There’s obviously a Beatles-Stones-Who approach going on here, but this quintet sounds most like the Yardbirds and the Animals. There’s a strong blues, early-rock sound here and, according to their third track, Mando Diao has “Motown Blood” in their veins. It’s a Swedish-scene band playing like the British invasion bands that played like the R&B acts. So with enough revival going on right now to fill a Mississippi preacher’s fields, why should we bother to listen to this band, instead of just going to the sources?
Well, let’s ask the people who know their music best. Mando Diao say on their web site that they “definitely believe in world domination. We have the songs to do it…. Everyone thinks we’re great, and that’s because we are…. We honestly believe our record is better than anything by the Who”. I love these guys already, even—or especially—if they come off in interviews as a cross between Pinky and the Brain and Johnny Rotten.
They do have the tunes to warrant their confidence, even if it is a bit much. The first track on Bring ‘Em In, “Sheepdog”, opens with a few moments of feedback followed by an absolutely stunning guitar riff and a scream. There’s no doubt that Mando Diao mean for you to play this record loudly. “Sweet Ride” follows with quintessential throwback guitar work and commotion, but opens a little reminiscently with the line “Get your motor runnin’”. Musically and lyrically, “Motown Blood” matches its title. “Mr. Moon” slows down and hints at Jim Morrison, and not always for the best. The next five songs alternate between slow and fast tempos, but the group’s always at their best at a high speed, when they let themselves be propelled by a high energy. The title track shows this energy as they use a Berry-esque blues-rock rhythm to pummel us. Oddly, and unfortunately, the album ends on one of its slowest songs, “Lauren’s Cathedral”, a strange number that, despite its bitter lyrics, sounds like the type of music you’d hear while filing out of a theater. It could be a nice let-down out of the album, but it serves more to undercut the previous energy and emotion of Bring ‘Em In.
As great as their energy and songwriting are, I still have to acknowledge how derivative much (read: all) of their material is. I’m not sure if it’s arrogance, cluelessness, or respect that causes them in “She’s So” to open with and repeat the lyrics, “There’s something in the way she”. You’re asking me will their sound grow? I don’t know, but if they can change from a virtual tribute band into a high-energy expression of an original voice, they could become one of the most exciting bands on any scene. After all, if the Beatles started off with R&B covers and became bigger than Jesus, surely Mando Diao can achieve that world domination they so badly crave.