[14 May 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
OK, let’s get this straight . . . four Swedish teenagers get together and form a punk/pop band. They hone their skills to the point where they release a full-length album in 1999. The recording is met with critical acclaim in their homeland, receiving two Swedish Grammy nominations. In 2002, the girls, no longer mere teenagers, issue their inaugural stateside release and slowly begin gaining momentum on foreign shores. Seeing the increasing success of the band, record company brain trust decides to reissue the 1999 debut so as to ride the mounting wave of popularity. Sounds simple enough.
Such is the case with Sahara Hotnights, as their 2002 album Jennie Bomb is currently being coat tailed with the recent release of their 1999 Swedish debut C’mon Let’s Pretend. But what is all the hype about?
Sahara Hotnights comes along at the perfect time to stamp their unique image on the fertile music scene. Edgy and exuding some fine examples of punk popiness, the band is a noticeable deviation from much of what MTV and MMUSA have filled their respective rotations with. Although C’mon Let’s Pretend is technically four years old, the album still resonates loudly as it enhances the group’s improving resume.
Consisting of 11 tracks, the recording introduces Maria Andersson’s lead vocal to the masses, a piercing wail falling somewhere between vintage Siouxsie Sioux and Bjork. Her shrillness is the highlight of the songs “Push on Some More” and “Drive Dead Slow”, and is complimented by the band’s surprising solid musicianship. Andersson’s talents are further showcased on “Quite a Feeling” and “Impressed by Me” as compatriots Jennie Asplund, Johanna Asplund, and Josephine Forsman back her with a rhythmic heaviness reminiscent of the Clash’s memorable “Pink Cadillac”.
The album changes direction with the inclusion of three tracks, “Wake Up”, “That’s What They Do”, and “I Know Exactly What to Do”. Resembling melodic balladry far more than aggressive punk anthems, the songs display the band’s early ability to shift gears with sonic precision and miss nary a beat in the process. As on the earlier songs, Andersson’s vocal is the centerpiece, adding a haunting feeling to every lyric.
The band returns to form with solidly brash renditions of “Oh Darling”, “Too Cold for You”, and “Our Very Own”, songs that provide enough punk pop edge to solidify Sahara Hotnights’ reputation as anything but lightweights. A final track, “Kicks”, adds some foreboding spice to the album, exhibiting a texturally dark maturity not readily seen since the early days of Alice in Chains.
As good as C’mon Let’s Pretend is as a debut album, (or follow up for that matter), Sahara Hotnights is not yet up to the lofty descriptors peppering their record company press release. Harkening the names of rock pioneers like the MC5 and the Clash in comparison is certainly a stretch, one that sets the bar unreachably high for a relatively new group. Nonetheless, the gang from Sweden has a tremendous amount to offer. Their sound bears an underlying meanness to it, and is a welcome change from the vacuous no talent rubbish offered up by current airwave darlings such as Sum 41. Additionally, the obvious musical and song writing skills the band possess demonstrate that Sahara Hotnights has the ability and sheer balls to stay on top when they get there.
At the very least, Sweden’s musical legacy is no longer limited to Abba.