It really is time that Sweden ditched its Abba obsession. 40 years on from their victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo and 33 years since the release of their last album, Abba were recently the most high profile inductees into the new Swedish Music Hall of Fame, an honour which was thoroughly merited – they really did change pop music.
But the fact that a news story this week about their outlandish stage outfits made the front pages is emblematic of how they still dominate the national discourse about pop music. Absolutely any little snippet of Abba news automatically sends the Swedish media into overdrive.
This would all be understandable if Sweden were a Latvia or a Belgium – a very minor player on the global pop stage. But, after the US and UK, Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music in the world; the country doesn't need to cling on to Abba like some cultural comfort blanket. That Sweden continues to do so is a clear signifier a misplaced lack of confidence that is now becoming rather embarrassing.
This over-reliance on Abba as a pop music touchstone became really apparent to me recently whilst on a tour of the Bothnian Bay area of northern Sweden and Finland organised by the Boundless Bothnian Bay project (visitbothnianbay.com). When in Luleå, we saw the IceMusic musicians perform in a wondrous wee ice auditorium. The seats were all carved out of ice, the stage too.
But the real beauty was the instruments – the violin, double bass, guitar et al, were all fashioned from ice. It could have been a glorious event but what did they play? A selection of songs all connected to snow and ice? Foreigner's Cold As Ice? The White Stripes' A Cold Cold Night? Simon & Garfunkel's Hazy Shade Of Winter?
Nope, as you've already almost certainly guessed, it was an Abba tribute. So we endured the lousiest version of The Winner Takes It All ever sung by a sober person (even the chorus was mis-sung once as 'the loser takes it all'), and a mindnumbingly predictable finale of Thank You For The Music.
What should have been a magical evening ended up like karaoke in a fridge.
Even if the IceMusic project was determined to play only Swedish music (and why not?), it could have been so much more progressive. Why not celebrate a man who's had more hit singles than Michael Jackson and Madonna combined? Max Martin's hits include Britney Spears's Baby One More Time, Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl, Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way and Taylor Swift's I Knew You Were Trouble. Throw in the likes of Bloodshy & Avant (the writers of Britney's brilliant Toxic and Piece Of Me) and Shellback (Maroon 5's Move Like Jagger) and you have a thoroughly contemporary show celebrating Swedish songwriting.
And, if you wanted to only include Swedish bands, rather than songwriters, there's still much to celebrate. Sweden is probably the world leader in electronic pop. The Knife's Shaking The Habitual was many critics' choice for best album of 2013, while Little Dragon's Nabuma Rubberband and Robyn's ninth album are two of the most eagerly awaited releases of 2014. Also, let's not forget Icona Pop's globe-straddling hit, I Love It.
Surely everybody everywhere is thoroughly bored of Abba now. Yes, they were brilliant, real groundbreakers. Yes, Sweden should be proud of them. But there is so much more to Swedish pop, so much more of which the country should be proud. Let's leave Abba in the past where they belong. Let's move on.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Anyone familiar with Nina Persson's work with the ludicrously underrated Cardigans will know that she has long eschewed fireworks for intimacy. After all, 1996's Lovefool is getting on for 20 years old now. The Cardigans' latter albums had many critics, including this one, reaching for comparisons with the best work of Fleetwood Mac – Long Gone Before Daylight and Super Extra Gravity were short on fizz and sparkle but long on emotional heft and luscious melody.
Persson's first truly solo album (her two albums as A Camp were as much collaborations with the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse as they were solo efforts) adheres to this 'mature' template. There is little in the way of an instant fix here, although the title track and lead single is a flighty, synth-frosted piece of slinky pop.
More representative of the subdued pleasures on offer is the languid Dreaming of Houses, its midtempo amble eased along by gentle keyboard figures and a deceptively propulsive chorus.
Other highlights include the pleading Grand Destruction Game on which Persson's gorgeously ragged phrasing almost overshadows the influence of The Smiths' How Soon Is Now?, and the comically-mis-titled This Is Heavy Metal, a slight, melancholic piano ballad.
Be warned, however. Patience is required here – Animal Heart will not instantly blow you away. Rather, this an album that will slowly grow with you as the year passes.
Dreaming of Houses
(Roxy Recordings) ****
The former talent show contestant with a surprisingly successful blend of Joy Division, Siouxsie Sioux, Toyah and pure pop.
Name The Pet
The second album from Gävle's Hanna Brandén is another sumptuous collection of warm electronica.
GIG OF THE MONTH
118 72 Stockholm
Gothenburg's finest hit Stockholm.