It’s a mystery how, but all of a sudden one of the most uncool genres of music has suddenly become one of the coolest. That genre is bubblegum pop, more specifically, the type of mild, Phil Spector-ish ‘60s variety that was about as threatening as a sleeping miniature poodle. It wasn’t cool in the ‘60s, even less cool in the ‘70s, and after several decades of punk, funk, metal, grunge and hip-hop, it’s suddenly acceptable.
And while the Ramones may have referred to their style as being “sick bubblegum music”, taking leaves from the books of the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, they mutated the style into such a hard and fast variation that it was near unrecognisable. Needless to say, such a transition made the Ramones cool.
But now bubblegum pop shares a level of indie cred alongside genres like baroque rock and alt.country. If Mandy Moore attempted such saccharine music, she would be treated with revulsion and contempt. But somehow there are plenty of groups doing the same style, yet getting away with it.
So how do these bands pull it off? Well, it helps to be in a boy/girl duo. It helps to be non-threateningly good looking, and it helps to be Swedish. The Moonbabies are all three of these things. In fact, they are all three of these things to such an extent that they can blatantly steal the riff from the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” without crediting the original writers. There’s a blurry line between referencing a song and copyright infringement, and the Moonbabies have probably crossed it. The rather cute and quiet track is named, oddly enough, “Shout It Out”. Shouting is something that the band doesn’t do for the entire album.
It isn’t the only ambiguous track name. The epic title “War on Sound” would better suit some sort of snarling prog-metal song, rather than the pedestrian Belle and Sebastian-esque pop that it is. The track featured in a scene in Grey’s Anatomy, something that the group’s website doesn’t neglect to mention. The kudos gained from the soundtrack appearance seems enough to justify putting it on the album, even though it was originally released back in 2005.
Moonbabies at the Ballroon is paced with all the caution and vulnerability of a debut record, which is very unusual, considering that the band has been together for a decade, and has already released two other albums and a handful of EPs. But for all its safe indie-pop and quietness, it does bear some glimmers of charm. The vocal interplay between Ola Frick and Carina Johanssen allows for enough variety to keep the album fresh, and the songs are well-constructed, if rather uninspiring. “Don’t Ya Know?” has enough quirky lead guitar and energetic drumming to make it a worthwhile listen. And despite its familiarity, “Cocobelle” has pleasant enough orchestration to carry it along.
But when it comes down to it, the album has all the trademarks of overprocessed bubblegum music. There aren’t enough rough edges on the album to give it any emotion at all, and each track is as forgettable as the one that preceded it. The album makes for a peaceful listen, but has no lasting qualities whatsoever.