Before you even listen to A Love Moderne, you have to either laugh at or marvel at it, or maybe both. The second album from Unai, aka Swedish producer Erik Möller, is an unabashedly soppy affair. From the cover art, a red-on-silver profile line drawing of a couple kissing that recalls those “romance” posters you see at framed art shops in the mall, to un-ironic song titles like “Steps to Heaven Are Steps to Me”, this is Möller’s attempt to establish himself as Sweden’s very own modern Love Unlimited. Wonder how much competition he has on that front?
This stuff might have flown in the US two decades ago (remember that band called When in Rome?), but these days only a Scandinavian could get away with it — almost. But if you can get past the concept, what does it sound like, anyhow?
Well, A Love Moderne is neither nearly as bad nor as laughable as you might think. Möller trolls around in an appropriately sleek, stylish, and mechanized type of electro-dance that is a bit too minimal to qualify as straight pop and at times too overtly melodic to be labeled as electronica. So, Möller is doing his own thing — which in itself makes the album difficult to dismiss out of hand. There are strong hints of Kraftwerk and more subtle hints of Depeche Mode and Scandinavian neighbors Röyksopp. Everything is synthesizer-produced, and most of the synthesizers sound analog. Probably by design, Möller uses more or less the same set of sounds and textures on each song. This can be a problem with synthesizer music, and it may be here, because if you don’t like the particular sounds that Möller has chosen, you’re out of luck. On the other hand, A Love Moderne does function as a song suite. At times it recalls similarly one-note albums by early Euro-technophiles like D.A.F., although the latter made little attempt to smother their horniness in romance.
If you can make it through the first couple tracks –chilly, eccentric Euro-disco with little to hold them together save Möller’s soft, reverb-drenched voice– you’ll be rewarded with a handful of songs that you’ll have to eventually concede are really good. “I Like Your Style” has the same icy Euro pulse, but adds a melancholy melodic framework. Here, Möller’s soulful crooning puts him across as a Swedish Curtis Mayfield — another analogy you thought you’d never hear. “Lucky Bastard” twists and turns its way out of machine-generated gibberish to establish a surprisingly mean, Prince-like electro-funk groove. “Youngkiss” begins sounding like somebody set off a Linndrum in the middle of a lightsaber fight, but adds tension, atmosphere, and more synths to establish real emotion. “Blissful Burden” brings it all together — whip-smart programming; a lost, yearning chorus; old-school lead synth — for a genuinely affecting, not to mention highly-danceable, moment. You imagine that if Bryan Ferry still had an inkling of a finger on the cutting edge of music, this is the kind of stuff he’d be making.
Then, just as soon as it swoops in to quell your laughter, A Love Moderne falls back into nondescript techno and half-baked Giorgio Moroder impressions. But give credit to Möller for going after such a corny concept without the slightest hint of camp, which might have made his album more fun but also as disposable as a pack of Trojans. That he succeeds at least part of the time is a more-than-nice surprise.