Can someone please explain to me what's behind this big Swedish rock revolution? Is there something in the water? Is it all the lingonberries? All the daylight they get in the summer? It's crazy; this year we've been bombarded by fantastic albums from bands like the rock saviors of 2002 The Hives, the more psychedelic-oriented rock of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Koop's gorgeous blend of electronic and jazz, the cerebral metal band Meshuggah, and now, representing the women, Sahara Hotnights. And like those loveable Hives, Sahara Hotnights play the type of music we've all heard before, but, again, they do it so well, with such energy and ferocity, that this infectious CD winds up never leaving your stereo.
Lately, female punk bands (barring the great Sleater-Kinney), while sounding half-decent, seem to be missing a key ingredient: The Donnas have the chops, but their singer's voice is annoyingly flat (like The Runaways 25 years ago). Canadian punky girls LiveOnRelease have a good singer, but sound sloppy (hey, they're mere teenagers), and Toronto's Tuuli, like former "cuddlecore" queens Cub, sound much too weak. Sahara Hotnights, though, have everything working for them on their new album Jennie Bomb. With singer/guitarist Maria Anderson, drummer Josephine Forsman, and sisters Jennie and Johanna Asplund on guitar and bass respectively, this band plays with a ferocity that comes close to rivaling The Hives, their songs possessing some extremely catchy, but never syrupy, hooks, and best of all, they have a lead singer who has a terrific voice.
With The Hives declaring a Guerre Nucleaire at the beginning of their Veni Vidi Vicious album, Sahara Hotnights kick out the proverbial jams in a similar vein on "Alright Alright (Here's My Fist Where's the Fight)", with Anderson sneering, "Now I feel like breaking laws / Go on start a civil war,", before exploding into an all-out howl in the chorus: "I wanna make some noise / I wanna drop some bombs!" The band's sound, a contagious hybrid of the Runaways and Elastica, is relentless during the 33-minute album. "Keep Up the Speed", "No Big Deal", "Down and Out", "Fall Into Line", and "Out of the System" are great examples of the combination of the intense with the melodic, performed with incredible energy. Anderson's powerful voice easily hits the higher notes, while the rhythm section of Forsman and Johanna Asplund especially shines on these songs.
The more melodic, slightly slower-paced songs feature the band at their best. "Are You Happy Now?" bears a very strong resemblance to Wire (much like Elastica did), and "Only the Fakes Survive" is the closest thing to a mellow song on the album, with Anderson's vocals taking center stage. "Fire Alarm" is straightforward, melodic punk a la the Buzzcocks, with a killer chorus that kicks the song into another gear. The best of the lot are "On Top of Your World" and "With Or Without Control"; lyrically, the band is not strong, but they have their moments, such as the sassy, not-so-subtle double-entendre of "On Top of Your World" ("It's all making me sick / But looking good from above / Here comes the first attack / Five fingers to black it out"), combining the female empowerment of Elastica's "Stutter" with the superb guitar pop of Ash. "With Or Without Control" actually resembles the melodic metal of Eighties girl bands like Girlschool, with a slick guitar riff and vocals full of attitude, and a great chorus featuring some excellent vocal harmonies.
Again, we've heard it all before, and there's not much depth to the music (they lacks the wit of The Hives, for instance) but Sahara Hotnights do it extremely well, and with such conviction. It was a very smart move to make Jennie Bomb just over a half hour long; any longer would have been overkill. It also makes it much easier to get acquainted with the songs, and once you do, you can't stop yourself from loving this CD. Sure, it follows a formula that's been beaten to death, but it's a good formula when done right, something few bands recently have managed to do. And dare I say, these four 20-year-old ladies have made one whale of a rock 'n' roll record. Whatever it is that's driving these Swedish bands to making excellent, old-fashioned rock music, let's hope it doesn't end soon.