Ah, to be in Sweden in the late '90s! The time and place of this region was the European equivalent of Seattle a decade before. With groups such as The Hives, International Noise Conspiracy, Sahara Hotnights, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Division of Laura Lee were all in their infancy or, to a greater extent, about to be the next wave of "buzz" bands. But prior to the celebrity most of them have now, to one degree or another, these groups were toiling away with various albums, EPs and other recording sessions. Division of Laura Lee (DOLL) has released this album showcasing how they started, evolved and honed its craft to what you enjoy today. It's an interesting look back, if three to five years ago is considering to be "looking back".
Unlike some anthologies, this album starts in 1999 and works its way back to 1997. And although all of these have been previously released on 7" splits, compilation albums and the group's 1999 At the Royal Club, good luck trying to find them for a cheaper price! Beginning with "Guess My Name", lead singer Per Stalberg takes a verse to warm his wailing vocals up. The rhythm section of drummer Hakan Johansson and bassist Jonas Gustafsson weave some pretty audible magic on the song also. With a lo-fi indie rock sound, DOLL comes off as a garage rock version of Oasis circa Be Here Now. "She fucked my mind," Stalberg says in a subtle broken English. The ferocity of the sound is comparable to The Hives, but here DOLL opts for a louder yet spacey sound. "Love Stethoscope" is a full-fledged rock tune with a thundering bass line from the early to mid-'60s rock bands. The chorus might leave a bit to be desired as the lyrics are screamed more than sung.
One aspect that strikes the listener is that although the energy and intensity is ever-present, these songs aren't nearly as rough or unpolished as earlier tunes by their fellow countrymen. "Stereotype" is a perfect example here as it's plowed through but not for the sake of either showboating or going over the top. "Take it easy / Make it look alright," the singer says before the group take things down only to build it back up rapidly and lovely. And it ends just as quickly, with little or no fade out. "44", released as a 7" split with Impel on Carcrash Records in 1998, sounds like a band finding its feet. Not to say it's terrible, but the band opt for a hard and prodding metal like riff instead of the instantly contagious riffs on previous numbers. The song is more theatrical at times, having deliberate changes in pacing with little payoff. "Time to Live" is probably the closest DOLL will come to imitating The Cure, an intricate amount of chords and riffs while Stalberg pours his soul into the lyrics. The lengthy percussion conclusion seems at odds with the band's current stage act.
"Royal Club" is a stellar track, mixing the past of Zeppelin with the present of The Hives. The guitar work here and Johansson's drumming pushes the sonic envelope into a new and exciting area. And even at two and a half minutes, it makes a very big statement. The next two songs, recorded in 1998, are somewhat messy with a bad mix. "The Soul of Laura" begins with guitars that don't quite sound up to snuff, but it seems like someone was asleep at the knobs. "Chart Music" bristles with a tension teeming guitar riff before venturing into a quasi-psychedelic solo. These two songs show the band's warts and its assets.
Division of Laura Lee hit paydirt with "Stop!Go!", a tune with Stalberg being possessed one minute and oddly mellow the next. Just as schizophrenic is the support cast, who heads from a nu metal sound into a melodic prog rock interlude and then into the modern garage punk mode. The dichotomy mirrors the song title for certain. "Coffeemaker" consists of a thundering wail mixed with a Jimmy Page-like guitar arrangement. The last of the dozen is "How Good Are You", a question leaving little question as to what the Division of Laura Lee are now and what they could become if the stars and guitars align themselves accordingly. They are good to say the least, and only getting better.