Yet another deserving Swedish rock band is forced to beg for attention from indifferent American listeners.
If you had been keeping score at home, you'd know that I've extolled the virtues of numerous Scandinavian bands over the years -- the Hives, the Backyard Babies, the Wannadies (check the archives). I didn't plan it that way; my only thought is "if a band releases a solid album, I want to tell folks about it." Well, now it's the Mainliners' turn to step into the spotlight. On Bring on the Sweetlife, their debut for garage-friendly indie label Get Hip, the Mainliners -- singer Robert Billing, guitarists Mathias Wennergren and Niklas Nordstrom, bassist Magnus Granstrom and drummer Erik Daghall -- may not boast the swagger of the Hives (but then, who does?) or the pure pop sensibility of the Wannadies, but they definitely make the (ever-lengthening) short list of Swedish bands that deserve greater stateside attention.
Even if (when?) that glory never comes to pass, Sweetlife is still a treat for those who get their hands on it. After a bit of misdirection with the opening title cut -- a heavy blooze number, with a nondescript bar band sound that never re-appears on the album -- the Mainliners kick it into high gear with the second track, "Sinking Feeling". It's a spry tune, and a perfect slice of '60s British Invasion-informed rock. Thank the stars these guys are on Get Hip, a label that understands what the Mainliners are all about. "She's an Overdoze" (sic) is more of the same, with Daghall's hi-hat splashes bleeding out of the speakers.
Having mastered straight-ahead '60s Brit-garage, the boys get ambitious on the album's middle, and still produce exciting results. "Daughter of Dimes" is only 2:46, but it's bursting with the energy and arrangement of a song 10 times as long, with what sounds like a full choir, an organ, a buzzsaw guitar solo and a supercatchy "sha na na na" backing vocal track. Even with all this busy-ness, the song isn't bloated or decadent. Hell, it might even be their best song.
On the blues lament "Dead Mans Hall" (again, sic -- didn't anybody run this album through spellcheck?), Billing channels the Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist (think that band's "Diabolic Scheme"), and the tune is anchored by a great anguished-sounding guitar. The tune's merely okay, but it's a perfect lead-in for the lean, mean, supercharged "Robber of Your Soul". After the ginormous "Daughter" and the downbeat "Dead Mans Hall", "Robber" is a 127-second palette cleanser and the closest the band comes to Stooges-style punk abandon. I hereby award a point to Sweetlife's track sequencer.
Side B is a little less adventurous, but solid nevertheless. The band gets all spooky on "Queen Sativa", with its "ahhhh" backing vocals -- expect to hear it this October on Little Steven's Underground Garage Halloween Special -- but the rest of the album plays it straight. "Lonely One" could be a lost Them track (damn, these guys have all the right influences, eh?) and the chiming "Ordinary Night" sums up the band's upbeat approach: "I won't be singing no sad songs tonight!" (again with the need for spell/grammar check). The cleverly titled "Crocodile Roll" is a friendly stomper, and album-closer "Try to Bring Us Down" (hint: you can't) experiments with a surf rock riff that fits the band well.
As fun and well-crafted as Bring on the Sweetlife is, I'm not naïve. For the Mainliners, the "sweetlife" won't be international fame and recognition, or even a life, as the cover suggests, where the band has the money to create an elaborate banquet on top of one of the band members. Instead, it'll be a life of niche appreciation and a modest, if rabid, fanbase of guys and gals who loves Eurogarage done right. Maybe, in its own way, that is the sweetlife.