No matter how hard The Cardigans try to escape the sugar-coated pop of their 1996 breakthrough, First Band on the Moon, they can't get away from it. If Super Extra Gravity proves anything, it proves that The Cardigans are a very good pop band, even when they try not to be.
The songs on Super Extra Gravity are cloaked in disappointed words, melancholy melodies, and downtrodden chord progressions. They reek of loss and disappointment, not just physically and romantically, but also spiritually. Despite all this darkness, though, each song is a splendid example of The Cardigans' super extra poppiness.
Interestingly, when the band embraces their skills as pop musicians, they churn out their weakest tracks. "Godspell" is catchy, but the lyrics are predictable and the guitar solo serves no purpose. The undeveloped "Holy Love" launches directly into an awkward hook that never settles in with the rest of the song. "I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer" is the standout single on the album, but the lyrics fall just a bit short of successful.
But these three are the exceptions. "Little Black Cloud" is the best Pretenders song that never was. "Overload" possesses a yearning sweetness that is both sad and lovely. The upbeat "Good Morning Joan" is a fairly standard rock song that the band pulls off incredibly well. They saved the best for last, though: "And Then You Kissed Me II" is the musical antithesis of the band's breakthrough 1996 hit, "Lovefool," but its quiet pain is one of the Cardigans' greatest recorded moments.
The lyrics are decent, the arrangements are captivating, and the performances are excellent. Nina Persson's voice is as inviting as it has ever been, and it maintains the thin reediness that makes her singing so compelling. (Imagine the confident power of Chrissie Hynde combined with the girlishness of Cyndi Lauper.) While these songs don't coherently fit together the way 1998's Gran Turismo did, the ones that work contain a warmth and a quality that is unprecedented for The Cardigans.
The photos are contrived, and the subtle use of color doesn't convey anything special. The occasional black and white photo or plain white panel seem like an afterthought. The font makes the lyrics difficult to read. The cover photo expresses the tone of the music reasonably well, but the corresponding typeface is out of place. The photo on the back of the jacket is probably the best one in the package; it's still contrived, but there's a story in the woman's expression.
Listen if you like: Rilo Kiley / Jenny Lewis, The Pretenders, The Cardigans' Gran Turismo
If it were food, it'd be: The glass of cheap red wine that ended in divorce.