First Band On The Moon (1996)
Thoughts Before Listening
Sweden has brought a lot to the pop world over the years – ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, and the subject of today’s review – The Cardigans. While their previous album made them big in Japan, they didn’t break big in North America until their ‘96 release, First Band On The Moon. “Lovefool” was everywhere – it was in multiple movies and it also achieved pop-culture critical mass when they starred as themselves on 90210, playing at Kelly’s grad party. It didn’t get much bigger than that.
As for what I know about the music itself – not a lot aside from the hit. It was a fun, poppy song but not really on my music radar back in 1996. I’m looking forward to diving in. Here goes!
I have some pretty specific memories of “Lovefool”, as it was featured on the soundtrack for the movie Romeo + Juliet. I was midway through my degree in Theatre Studies when this song came out and, yeah, this song got some play. When I would tell people I was in Theatre, I would usually get a “oh, how interesting”. I still got that, but now there was actual interest behind it instead of intrigue as to why someone would throw their lives away studying how to pretend to be a tree.
I have never listened to the entire album (The Cardigans I mean, not the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack which I’ve heard many, many times) but I am STOKED that it is only 39 minutes long. This is officially the shortest album we’ve done yet and I can’t wait to hear it.
Side note: I get this band mixed up with The Cranberries. This should not come as a surprise to anybody by this point.
Other Songs of Note
The icing on the cake
“Your New Cuckoo” – 8 points
Scott (5 points)
This is a strong album-opener and I enjoyed it right out of the gate. The disco influence is clear, but guitar and bass play a prominent role. The sound is evocative of a certain time – it brings to mind The Love Boat, elevator music, and wait a second, is that a jazz flute?!? I recognize that this may come across as a negative, but it’s not – not really.
Weh-Ming (3 points)
Well this is an unexpected start – I loved the quiet and slow build up. It makes me feel happy and like I’ve made a good decision to listen to this album! Love her voice. I started this with 1 point since it’s the first song, but went back and moved it up to 3 points – it is the benchmark for the good songs here.
“Iron Man” – 8 points
Weh-Ming (5 points)
I have a soft place in my heart for covers that play against the original. My sister once covered a punk version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” in her high school band (The Saliva Sisters “Mystery Meat”) and it was awesome. If Johnny Cash didn’t have so many top 10 hits to his name, I’d be pushing for “Hurt”. Also, as stated many times before, huge Weird Al fan.
Interestingly, I can understand the words much better from her than from Black Sabbath. I can understand if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Is it going to get you pumped up like Black Sabbath? Nope. Is it weird to find her scatting relaxing? Also nope. Do I hope more albums have covers on them? Yes. Did I immediately play this song again when it finished? Yes, and I don’t regret it at all.
Scott (3 points)
This is a crazy cover. I love it. Black Sabbath never sounded so mellow. This is a fun cover to play for friends who know Sabbath and just watch as their brains try to process what they’re hearing.
“Great Divide” – 2 points
Scott (1 point)
This is something of an odd song. The arrangement almost feels like a lullaby with some lovely string arrangements. I vote this song as “most likely to fit into a Twin Peaks episode” and I mean that in the best possible way.
Weh-Ming (1 point)
If I’d had this album when it was released, this song probably would have been in my rotation when I was arguing with my girlfriend. I had trouble deciding between this and “Step on Me” for saddest song, but there was something about the oddness of this song that won me over. The chorus is a bit haunting.
What we would put on our personal mixtapes
Scott (4 points)
This is a very interesting track. It’s almost like a dreamland fairytale. It’s intentionally weird and dare I say… dark? Is that a theremin!?! It’s so different and so not straight-ahead-happy, as I was expecting. There’s more than a nod to Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” here – from the chord progression to the last line of lyrics.
This is a strange song, kind of an experimental jazz thing maybe? I wasn’t sure about it at the start, but I was more interested in it by the end. I didn’t not like it, but I didn’t hate it. It’s not going on my list.
Weh-Ming (4 points)
I like this song. Catchy beat, enjoy her vocalization, and like the lyrics. The moments where there’s a bit of a discord in the music really work. I liked this more than the first song. Love how they play her voice against the music, and the aggression and chaos at the end of the song, then leading straight into “Heartbreaker”. I have decided I like it when songs do this seamless transition.
Intentionally jangly, discordant and disjointed. I’m not loving it, but it’s not terrible. Instrumental breakdown at the end is nice.
Scott (2 points)
The pace goes way up on this one and the content is a little less dark. I enjoy the musicianship – especially the very tight drumming.
This has a very retro feel to it, which I liked, but overall it didn’t come together as a favorite.
Weh-Ming (2 points)
Like the other tracks, it is odd. I like the lyrics, and the music works as a good counter to her voice. I don’t think I would listen to it a lot, but it’s earned a place in my playlist.
This one just missed the cut for me. It came down to this versus “Great Divide”, and that song narrowly edged it out. I don’t begrudge it being on the list at all.
Whew! This was a very surprising listen. I went in expecting happy pop music. What I got instead was a lot of almost happy pop music with heaps of minor chords, discordant notes and, frankly, dark lyrics. Even the happier songs don’t land as happy because the other songs around them feel off. This creates a very tangible mood on the record.
The narrator in most of the songs is dysfunctional and often self-destructive. It was enough that I went back to listen to “Lovefool” again, which was always a happy pop song in my mind. Listening to it with my new appreciation of the album made me hear it in a brand new way – a less than happy way. “Lovefool” is a song about someone desperately wanting their lover to not leave them. They’re fully aware of how desperate they are and they don’t care whether anything they get from the other is genuine or real, so long as they don’t leave. HOW DID I THINK THIS WAS A HAPPY SONG?
The chorus of this song is in a major chord, to trick your brain into thinking it is happy. The verses are less deceptive and embrace their minor chord. The second verse exemplifies this unhealthy bent:
Lately I have desperately pondered Spent my nights awake and I wonder What I could have done in another way To make you stay Reason will not lead to solution I will end up lost in confusion I don't care if you really care As long as you don't go
I think I really liked this album, but I’m still processing through an impressive amount of cognitive dissonance. I plan on adding the album to the rotation though – it merits exploration.
Overall an enjoyable album. I thought I’d get tired of her voice by the end of it, she has that kind of raspy ingenue voice, but it was fine. I recommend it, if you’ve never listened to it before it’s got a little bit of everything in it.
I would like to listen to more, and discovered that I have listened to more – their next album is Gran Turismo, and I for sure listened to “My Favorite Game”.
There are some very enjoyable stand out tracks that can be listened to a few times without making you crazy.
I suffer from lyrical deafness, so I’ve been doing these reviews while reading the lyrics online. This time, I stopped reading and was just enjoying the music. I didn’t notice how incredibly sad “Lovefool” was until Scott told me to read the lyrics. Dang.
Yeah But What Else
Down the Rabbit Hole (Additional Listening brought to you by searches inspired by listening to this album.)
Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” – “Heartbreaker” calls on it heavily for inspiration.
Black Sabbath – “Iron Man” – They covered it in a fascinating reimagining. Here’s the still incredible original.
The Cardigans – “My Favourite Game” – In a parallel universe, this very cool song no doubt would have taken The Cardigans out of One Hit Wonder territory. Heck, this one’s now on my playlists.
ABBA – “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” – God damn did ABBA write some catchy songs. This one has so many hooks it is crazy.
Weird Al has never done a parody of The Cardigans, nor have they been part of a polka. Which is a shame because it could fit into “Alternative Polka”, but it wasn’t released until 6 months after Bad Hair Day.
As it stands, the fact that they covered one of the most popular metal songs ever in a very light and airy fashion is just bananas awesome for me, and I thank them for it. Marvel should have played this in Avengers: End Game after, well, you-know-what happens.
Finally, I would like to point out that after four years of studying Theatre, I did actually get to play Tree #3 in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a role for which I received sufficient acclaim to satisfy any desire to do another theatre production for the next two decades.
Follow your passion, just maybe not off a cliff.