[13 April 2005]
When we last heard from Sweden’s vaunted pop-rock powerhouse the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the dynamic band was busy trying to conquer the world one touring stop at a time. After their 2001 album, Behind the Music, received a Grammy nomination and was picked up by the majors in the form of a contract with Universal, it seemed that TSOOL had even cracked the US market. More incredibly, they truly deserved the success, being without a doubt the best band to come out of Sweden (yes, better than the Hives) and among the best bands currently recording.
And so the follow up.
Beyond the individual songs, ultimately the most compelling thing about Behind the Music was its sheer scope. Audaciously thick and textured, that disc was a grandiose journey of 16 tracks that spanned the history of rock and roll—especially on the Britsish side of things—touching on everything from rock’s pop origins to psychedelica to prog rock to late ‘80s Madchester to Oasis-sized stadium anthems. Really, when you’ve played out all the classic guitar riffs in the canon and summarized a fair portion of rock history in one album, how do you shoot for something bigger?
Origin Vol. 1 wins by not even trying. Instead, TSOOL went back to the studio pumped up by years on the road and recorded a leaner, faster, and all-round more muscular set of songs. Whereas Behind the Music was a grab-bag of references, Origin Vol. 1 is undeniably focused, with sights set on the Who and those that followed from them. In fact, after coming out of the gate strong and assertive on “Believe I’ve Found”—containing the same low-grade cockiness that made “Mind the Gap” so fun—TSOOL doesn’t even bother hiding the Who-isms when the second song, “Transcendental Suicide”, opens up with Ian Person jangling his guitar in a direct nod to Pete Townshend. And from that point on, Origin Vol. is simply a rock and roll record.
This isn’t the rocking out of your average indie rocker, however, and it’s certainly not the power chords and headbanging fury of modern metal and its ilk. No, the Soundtrack of Our Lives are unabashedly looking back towards the classic rock era for their influences, and the same impetus that drove Behind the Music is found on Origin Vol. 1. But where Behind the Music seemed to skip along a path of stones across rock’s main river, this disc stops midstream, planting itself on one rock that’s a few leaps behind the present’s shore.
And while this album is certainly meatier in tone and texture, TSOOL still cherishes its moments of pop breeziness. “Midnight Children” finds vocalist Ebbot Lundberg teaming up with infamous actress/singer Jane Birkin. But even here, as Birkin whispers through her parts breathily and Lundberg hits the low end in a Lou Reed pose, the carnivalesque organ and “ooooh”-ing vocal layers cover a straightforward rock beat and a muted bit of psychedelic guitar. “Lone Summer Dream” picks things up a bit more, even as it wafts on a ‘60s vibe, accented by some guest trumpet work and giving it that slight AM edge. But the fuzzy guitar riffs and throaty vocals kick “Royal Explosion (Part II)” back into overdrive and the softer diversions become a memory.
The only real misstep comes from the addition of two bonus tracks tacked onto the end of the album. Ironically, Lundberg was vocal about how happy he was that Origin Vol. 1 is a shorter disc than Behind the Music, citing the greater impact of brevity. Yet the US edition features two bonus tracks, so it seems that Lundberg’s vision hasn’t been strictly adhered to. While the Animals-like “To Somewhere Else” and the trippy “World Bank” are nice additions to the psych rock playbook, they’re a bit distracting from the overall feel of the rest of the disc and prevent it from ending on the punchy note that “Age of No Reply”‘s dying strains intend.
Origin Vol. 1 lives up to its title in the sense that it shows TSOOL fully immersing its music in its classic rock influences. On the other hand, the disc doesn’t have the same epic scope of Behind the Music, and as a result it’s still something of a letdown. TSOOL is still a collection of amazing musicians who manage to make rock’s traditions seem as vital today as they ever were, but in this narrowed field there’s less a sense of transcendence. It’s a solid album by a great band, but it’s hard not to wish it were the other way around.
Word has it there’s already an Origin Vol. 2 in the works, and it will be interesting to see if that future collection finds TSOOL taking a solid step forward and delivering an album focused on the British rock of the late ‘80s through early ‘90s, which they proved they could do so well on songs like “Independent Luxury”. Regardless, TSOOL continues to be a force of pure rock and roll in a plastic scene, and Origin Vol. 1 is an enjoyable listen. If it’s not quite a masterpiece, well, when you’ve already got a few under your belt, some simple good times can be forgiven.