[8 March 2010]
There was a short period where Geoff Emerick, best known for engineering the Beatles from Revolver on, took on the role of producer. He had his own “sound”, which did not catch on, but which was indelible nevertheless. Central to it was a bright, highly-compressed sound, with Steve Nieve (of the Attractions) playing highly-figured piano fills. It showed up on Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, but is best displayed on Nick Heyward’s first solo endeavour North of a Miracle.
Sambassadeur, whether the band knows it or not, has managed to nail the “Geoff Emerick sound”. On European, this third outing by the Swedish pop group, that sound has been firmly established. The evocation of Emerick’s bright and reverberant production and arrangements complements the group’s simple, if somewhat slight compositions. The songs are not quite Eurovision Song Contest. However, neither are they replete with innovation or daring.
They are not meant to be. Like Nick Heyward in particular, slightly inconsequential lyrical observation and lack of melodic challenge marry well with the recording and arrangements. In an environment of “darker than thou” brooding, perhaps this is refreshing. If anything, the songs on the album knit neatly together with a fiercely optimistic outlook, reflected in the album cover’s leisurely vista from the promenade deck of a great ship.
The first single “Days” is a type for the rest of the album. It is the attempt to embrace a whistle-able chorus with sophisticated arrangement, heraldic fanfare opening, and hortatory tone of the second person:
When you’re all alone and on your own
Looking for a way to take you home
When you close your eyes and drift away
Nothing we can do to make you stay
Bookended with authoritative horn and string arrangements, the effect is to reprimand the listener with the wink and impish finger-wag of a Pippi Longstocking film.
The simplicity of the songs take its toll to a certain degree, because the melody of the verses and choruses are not sufficiently strong to dominate the arrangements or leave one with a memorable tune. The strongest track, “Forward Is All”, works the common ballad with a gentle sensibility, and stays in the head better than the rest of the set.
One curious feature of Sambassadeur is the drumming, which with its energy at times sounds like Keith Moon joining the Association. It does a great deal to move the tracks in a way which may have made them even more monotonous.
Gothenburg is the home of Volvo, the safest of vehicles. Sambassadeur is the safest of bands. As young people in particular sweep the dust off their parents’ albums of the early ‘80s, they undoubtedly will see the influence. A safer, conservative sound is not necessarily wrong or backward. It is pop with the symphonic sensibilities of the “Geoff Emerick sound”; self-affirming, earnest, and gentle. .