The Sounds: Something to Die For

[30 March 2011]

By Justin Cober-Lake

Something to Die For comes from a band a decade into its career, and there’s little doubt that the Sounds know what their thing is by this point. The Swedish group has a firmer grip on its process than in the past and has self-produced their new album. Consistently upbeat and mildly aggressive, the new wave influences are still there and the Sounds are pounding ahead. Unfortunately, this new album lacks the necessary character to make it memorable.

The band are fine songwriters and musicians, and Jesper Anderberg’s keys provide both the bounce and the texture here. Coupled with the driving guitar lines, there’s plenty here to make a competent pop album, but it continually feels like the band should be able to transcend that sort of result.

Vocalist Maja Ivarsson has the attitude and the chops to carry an album, and she remains the focal point. While traditional comparisons to Blondie miss the mark a little musically, that the Sounds are another new wave group with an extremely charismatic woman in front make them understandable. At times Ivarsson and the band sound more like Pat Benatar, as on “Won’t Let Them Tear Us Apart”.

With all the pieces in place, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the Sounds will at some point make a great record, but Something to Die For just isn’t it. The album manages to be radio-friendly and even anthemic, yet not catchy enough. Tracks have plenty of rock heft while remaining danceable, but never quite click, despite the band’s energy.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why too much of this album doesn’t quite work when it comes down to near-miss hooks. Part of the problem stems from the lyrics, and while it misses the point to spend too much time on the lyrical content on an album designed just to get you sweaty, the content does hinder the disc. The lyrics rarely live up to Ivarsson’s delivery, suffering from being negative without being cathartic or precise enough, or, alternately, being upbeat without being energizing.

First single “Better off Dead”, for example, comes from the point of view of someone who’s found her lover growing distanced after speaking forgiveness without feeling it. It’s a demanding situation, but the song never gets anywhere. There’s no release in the experience of this frustration, and it’s hard to sympathize with the singer. The song’s actually well-written, but it doesn’t quite work without a strong enough musical hook or an effective lyrical entry point.

Even so, the Sounds continue to offer hope that a better album’s yet to come. “The No No Song” rides on catchy dance-rock and spits enough vitriol to really grab. With the narrator as the aggrieved but stronger party, the lyrics provide an easier invitation into the song and the connection between “You don’t have to say you’re sorry” and “You never mean it when you say you’re sorry” helps the song develop quickly and effectively. The singer’s rejection of a “happy ending” for her listener gives her (and, by association, us) a sense of control and a pride that’s both important and deserving of its anthemic rendition.

With tracks like that one, the Sounds should connect more than they do on Something to Die For. The album’s largely a series of almost good songs and will likely get a fair amount of play both on college radio and in clubs. It should garner some attention, but it will be even better if it turns out to be the record right before their big one.

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