The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Throw It to the Universe
How this music avoids slavish imitation or arena-rock cliche puzzles me. All I can say is that it remains fresh even as every note nods to a predecessor.
I've always been impressed by this Swedish band's consistency. Each record sounds like the Who's anthems swirl and swell, circa 1970. While this sextet grew up as punks, since the mid-1990s they have delivered a series of solid albums hearkening back to classic AOR and FM staples forty-odd years ago. This sixth studio album sustains their approach. (I commend the past four releases for clever cover art.) Since I favor the Who over not only the Rolling Stones but the Beatles, my bias shows. Humbler than Pink Floyd, more concise than progressive rock, TSOOL sharpened early on a talent for catchy, stadium-friendly riffs. Ebbot Lundberg's vocals recall Roger Daltrey's shift between bellow and croon, with a touch of John Lennon's snarl or Mick Jagger's whine, and maybe a hint of Iggy Pop's drawl. Ian Person, Kalle Gustafsson, Fredrik Sandsten, Mattias Bärjed and Martin Hederos back up Lundberg with a nimble grasp of comparatively concise hard rock which, with cosmic analogies and timeworn phrasing of what admittedly are lots of stock phrases and basic rhymes, expresses the common touch which transmits the mystical longing within the music while remaining simple enough to transcend linguistic or cultural barriers as a lingua franca accounting no doubt for the band's broad appeal throughout Europe.
How this music avoids slavish imitation or arena-rock cliche puzzles me. All I can say is that it remains fresh even as every note nods to a predecessor. On Throw It to the Universe, no new terrain is charted, no innovation introduced. While this may disappoint those craving novelty, for other fans content with quality, more of the same satisfies. As finicky as I am about rock music and what I like in an era in which everything new reminds me of something old, somehow still, I like this.
The title track opens with a hint of spaceflight chatter, but that's it for found sounds. Otherwise, it's a signature build-up from a slow start to a soaring end. "Faster Than the Speed of Light” provides a mid-tempo chance to hear more interplay between the spacious keyboards of Hederos and the efficient percussion of Sandsten as they mix within the intertwined guitars of Person and Bärjed. "Freeride" stays closer to a spaghetti Western or the Doors in its somnolent, sparklingly hushed mood, before, as typical, "If Nothing Lasts Forever" returns to a guitar-based, slightly pedal distorted steady tune. "When We Fall" recalls Pink Floyd both in its quieter moments and as it stretches out towards the higher realms that surround these song titles and the album's apparent theme of flight.
The middle of the disc slows down with "Reality Show" in a woozier modulation; this continues the dominant spirit of their previous double-album Communion (2008) which attempted to give in twenty-four tracks the feel of all hours of day and night, although to me it felt more like a rainy day spent in bed. Well, the band is Scandinavian. "What’s Your Story?" in two minutes cannot make much of an impact, but it concludes with a nice touch on the slide guitar, as if Keith Richards in "Street Fighting Man" resurrects for a moment. Similarly, "Where’s The Rock?" picks up the pace with another guitar arrangement edging into a gently Latin-influenced beat with Gustafsson's bass, horns blended into the keyboards, as if Love returned for backing this late 1960s, jaunty if downbeat tune. "Shine On (There’s Another Day After Tomorrow)" features a guitar backing hinting of "Wild Horses" and that song's elegiac atmosphere combines with keyboards and a stolid rhythm to summon up regret and command endurance.
TSOOL often sprinkles Beatles and Stones motifs into its structures, and while these rarely imitate the originals for more than short passages, they do linger over any album created by this band. They enrich the texture rather than glom onto the songs as a cheap veneer. The love the band has for their influences manages to endear itself to the listener, as homage and not mimicry, yet how this occurs challenges articulation. "Solar Circus" certainly shows its Pink Floyd tinge, with a graceful, terraced filigree of keyboard and hushed vocal over an austere melody. "You Are the Beginning" remains another mid-tempo song full of longing and reflection, creating a wistful sense of suspension, again fitting the album's concept. "Busy Land" is delightful, as the band looks past earlier than Tommy, even as this song has the same lyrical "de-de-de" stuttering outbursts of joy featured on that rock opera by the Who. Lundberg and comrades seem energized. It reminds me of playful music-hall moments on The Who Sell Out; what is not so reminiscent is the song's lyrical allusions to dwarfs and digitalization. From a band hunkered down in the realm of Bluetooth, perhaps a parable awaits the careful explicator.
"Waiting for the Lawnmowers" looks back to the contemplative airs of much of this album, wrapping it up rapidly. The album does not reach the heights of its breakthrough Behind the Music (2001) or its most accessible and boisterous phase opening Origin, Vol. 1 (2004), but, as you can see, the time taken by the band to make its music indicates the craft they contribute. TSOOL may be growing more understated as they mature, but this dependable album demonstrates again that classic rock played by its attentive fans can remain dignified and confident.