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Music Review

The Cardigans: 'Best Of'

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The Cardigans: 'Best Of'
Released on Monday, Mar 3 2008

The old adage concerning best of albums goes like this: "You'll know more songs than you think you do." However, the first career retrospective from The Cardigans – perhaps Sweden's most credible musical export of the past 20 years – offers precious few "Ah, that was them!" moments. Despite taking a brief stranglehold over the UK charts between 1997 and 1999, scoring five top 20 hits in that period, much of this LP showcases a band that were too often snubbed by radio playlisters and the trendy press. Ranging from the sunshine pop of their early 90's releases to the brooding beauty of 2005's Super Extra Gravity, it features a kaleidoscope of musical styles that's worth exploring if you previously considered them to be "that 'Lovefool' band".

Perhaps the biggest revelation is provided by selections from the group's first two albums, Emmerdale and Life. The shimmering simplicity of opener 'Rise and Shine' and nursery-rhyme pop sensibilities of 'Sick & Tired' seemed like quirky oddities amidst the pomp and bombast of Britpop in 1994, but they haven't lost any of their sheen with age, sounding just as luscious 14 years down the line. Meanwhile, 'After All' and 'Carnival' prove Nina Persson's ability to rescue ill-advised genre experiments - lounge-jazz and crass Ace of Base-style pop respectively - with her fragile, whispering vocals. Here, she transforms the mundane and uncomfortable into sherbet-smothered pop goodness.

Of course, there are some old-fashioned 'hits' on this record, but with the exception of the surging 'My Favourite Game' and still stunning 'Love Fool', they're probably the most disappointing moments on the album. A Tom Jones collaboration probably seemed like an amusing idea back in 1998, but ten years later 'Burning Down The House' sounds like a sing-song from a drunken wedding karaoke. Similarly, 'Erase/Rewind', a top ten hit from the same year's Gran Turismo LP, is a flaccid, radio-friendly plodder - no more, no less.

Ironically, just as the band's commercial fortunes began to fade, with 2003's Long Gone Before Daylight LP, they seemed to recapture their early sparkle – this time with more of a sinister edge. 'For What It's Worth', 'Communication' and 'You're The Storm' confirm Persson as one of the finest vocalists of her generation, a peerless purveyor of lovelorn despair. Meanwhile, 'I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer' finds her snarling with the sexually-charged venom of 12 Debbie Harrys, as she snaps the orders: "Huh! Sit! Good dog! Stay! Bad dog! Wooh! Down! Roll over!" Several other tracks - notably 'Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)' and 'Godspell' - are filled with aloof mystery and bleak lyrical undertones, disproving the theory that Scandinavian acts should stick to bubblegum pop.

At 79 minutes long, Best of The Cardigans was never going to be a perfect listen. The bulging, 21-song tracklisting suggests that the group (or perhaps the record label) were unwilling to declare themselves particularly proud of any one era of Cardigans history. However, this hedge-betting largely works in the listener's favour. Instead of sticking to the 'ones we know', this LP spotlights tracks we might all too easily have missed from one of the most underrated bands of the last 15 years.

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