A lot has changed since Mando Diao came bursting on the scene in 2003 with Bring ‘Em In. Their contemporaries and competitors have either faded away (the Vines), gone into hibernation (the Strokes), or are hard at work on their next album (the Hives). Even the industry has changed, with the plethora of sneering garage bands replaced with exuberantly theatrical emo (My Chemical Romance) or the next generation of pop punk (Fall Out Boy). Certainly, whatever market that Mando Diao could’ve approached at a mainstream level four years ago has been narrowed into a distinct niche. Realizing this, the band, who appeared in a faux papparazi-styled photo on the cover of Bring ‘Em In, and then in the boozy twilight of a pub on the front of Hurricane Bar, are nowhere to be found on the cover art for Ode to Ochrasy. Instead, we get an abstract painting that perhaps best describes the creative energy used to write the album.
If you’re having trouble placing the word “ochrasy”, don’t worry — it’s made up. The band invented the word to describe the odd characters hanging around after their concerts during their support tour for Hurricane Bar. As anyone who has played in a band knows (and to shamelessly borrow a Simpsons reference), “ochrasy” is a perfectly cromulent word. The people still sitting at the bar or shooting pool while you’re loading out gear aren’t fans. They are the curious people who seem to exist only between night and morning, that odd time when you should be sleeping but find yourself awake. Junkies (“Josephine”), killers (“Killer Kaczynski”), and even hockey legends (“Welcome Home, Luc Robitaille”) all populate the album. Yet despite the upbeat attitude, the band notes in their press material that “you won’t find any happy lyrics on the album.”
And the album does have an odd duality. The production, helmed by former Soundtrack of Our Lives member Bjorn Olsson, is distinctly less constrained to the period contexts of earlier Mando Diao albums, and the band seems looser and more carefree here. There is a collective excitement of playing together that can be felt throughout, and it seems early concerns about sticking to a stylized sonic aesthetic have been dismissed. However, lyrically, the band seem to want to be anywhere else but on the road. “Amsterdam”, a city built for the excesses of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, seems to have made the group paranoid: “When I came to in Amsterdam / The hotel showed a movie / With Marlon Brando and his friend Pacino / Well I thought that this is nice / And I’m sure I can relax now / But suddenly the room was full of demons / I escaped through the window / Almost ran a mile away / I had nowhere to go”.
But don’t be fooled — most of the songs are ultimately about girls and their troubled relationships with them, however, as they note in “Tony Zoulias (Lustful Life)” (named after a Swedish hip-hop DJ), you cant’ blame them for who they are: “And if you ever see me without home / You know that’s cause I want it so / I just like to live a little lustful life / And if it’s lightning on a sunny day / You know that’s ’cause I want my way / I just like to live a little lustful life”. Yet in the end, despite the girl troubles being on the road causes for the band and the weirdos they encounter, the title track has the band dreaming about getting back out on stages around the world: “And I’m dreaming ’bout times / Times that are gone / Times when I lived alone / In my own land called ochrasy / That place was everything to me”.
That said, despite the interesting lyrical concept and the freer production values, Ode to Ochrasy is decidedly dull. Though the album runs at a brief forty one minutes, the fourteen tracks crammed into the running time make the disc feel too long. The tracks blend into one another, and even though the band has Bjorn Dixgard and Gustaf Noren splitting lead vocal duties, they are both faceless singers. They don’t have the dynamic difference of a Noel and Liam Gallagher to make it worth paying attention to who is singing what. For all of the album’s ambitions of breaking the mold, Mando Diao are still ultimately confined to it. The Kinks/Zombies vibe is still distinctly felt. Unlike their Swedish brethern the Hives, who with the unbelievably overlooked Tyrannosaurus Hives elevated themselves into another strata somewhere between James Brown and Booker T and the MGs, Mando Diao have yet to offer enough to separate themselves from the pack. Hopefully, this next year on the road will have them return home with something more unique to say.