The Mainliners: Bring on the Sweetlife

Stephen Haag

Yet another deserving Swedish rock band is forced to beg for attention from indifferent American listeners.

The Mainliners

Bring on the Sweetlife

Label: Get Hip
US Release Date: 2005-05-10
UK Release Date: Available as import
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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.


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