Mando Diao: Bring ‘Em In

[29 January 2004]

By Adrien Begrand

PopMatters Contributing Editor

Okay, so Mando Diao are yet another Swedish rock band. But before you dismiss them as just another Hives/Hellacopters clone, give their new album a listen first. Yes, Bring ‘Em In is more of the same raw, energetic, retro garage rock that we’ve been hearing from countless bands over the past three years, and while it’s not quite as great as albums by the Strokes, the White Stripes, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s still much more potent than the mediocre fare that flaccid acts like the Datsuns and the Vines have inundated us with. Mando Diao happily occupy that safe middle ground; the music isn’t innovative, but it’s good enough to make you forget just how unoriginal it is.

The last band you’d expect a record label like the artsy Mute Records to sign, Mando Diao deliver no-frills rock ‘n’ roll, but unlike many similar young bands today, they play with so much verve, the songs possess plenty of memorable hooks, and best of all, there’s a sense of ambition in the music. Mando Diao aren’t just going through the motions, recycling classic rock riffs, making lame attempts at good pop rock melodies. The band are retro rockers, make no mistake about it, but similar to other promising new bands like the Redwalls and the Coral, they use those old sounds as a foundation on which to construct a signature style of their own. They’re not there yet, as you can hear Mando Diao feeling themselves out on this debut album, but the music they do make possesses some great promise.

Never a bad thing, Mando Diao boast two terrific singer/guitarists in Gustaf Noren and Bjorn Dixgard, and hearing these two belt out the vocals, it’s impossible to not detect just a hint of an Oasis influence. Noren has limited range, but has a terrific sneer, something you hear instantly on the organ-driven rocker “Sheepdog”, which he kicks off with a great, “Yeah yeah yeeeaaahhh!” “Motown Blood” is a brilliant tribute to both ‘60s American soul and British Invasion rock, as Noren howls, “We’ve got Motown blood in our veins”, as the rest of the band pounds out a relentless, R&B groove that sounds inspired by Them’s “Baby Please Don’t Go”. “Paralyzed” combines that pummeling Velvet Underground rhythm that we’ve heard recycled countless times before, along with some Motown-style horns, a swaggering Stooges-style attitude in Noren’s singing, and a dose of sly humor that echoes the Strokes: “She ain’t as beautiful as me, but she’s as beautiful as she can be”.

It’s Dixgard, though, who proves to be the band’s best asset, as several of his songs stand out, elevating the album above the usual tuneless garage rock copycats out there. His voice has more range, sounding like a combination of the Yardbirds’ Keith Relf and Noel Gallagher, as he takes an otherwise ordinary song like “Sweet Ride”, and propels it to soaring, Britpop heights. “Mr. Moon” is gorgeous, as is starts off with a bluesy, plaintive verse, much like the Animals, but Dixgard’s lilting pop chorus takes it over the top, as he sings, “I wanna love you but I’m growing old / Ten little soldiers screaming in my soul”. The upbeat, optimistic “The Band” is a cute Jam tribute, with its memorable organ lick, while the darker “To China with Love” is more ambitious, with its initial murky tones alternating with a slick, yes, Oasis-like chorus that threatens to go over the top (note the taunting “la la la”‘s), but thankfully never does. Album closer “Lauren’s Cathedral” is an unabashed power ballad, but avoids the usual bombast we get in such songs, opting instead for the icy, cool organ playing of Daniel Haglund, which keeps the song grounded.

Typically, Bring ‘Em In is all over the place, but that’s a good thing here, because of the amount of passion you hear the band playing with. It’s an admirable debut, and while most other young garage bands will fade from memory quickly, Mando Diao is one band you won’t forget anytime soon, especially when you consider just how good their next album could be.

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