Though the cherished Scandinavian exports The Cardigans haven’t made an album since 2005’s Super Extra Gravity, they recently upped tools on the live performance front. Gigs in Russia last December showcased the breadth of the group’s songwriting gift, with the shows taking in both the playful disco-pop of their 1996 hit Lovefool and songs from their emotive masterpiece Long Gone Before Daylight – a work that some critics cited as the finest rock album ever to come out of Sweden upon its 2003 release.
Nina Persson wrote that LP with the band’s guitarist Peter Svensson and she has also made two albums with A Camp, a much-lauded side project with her film-composer husband Nathan Larson and the former Atomic Swing frontman, Niclas Frisk.
With Animal Heart, Persson succumbs to the somewhat inevitable: releasing a solo album.
Viewed through the prism of her songwriting, the encroachment of a milestone birthday (she’ll be 40 in September) doesn’t seem to have altered Persson’s world view much. “I still write about feeling like you are an outsider in the world; feeling like you live inside your brain”, she recently told the Canadian website Anchor Shop. But there are also more Persson songs here concerning the testing aspects of romantic relationships.
“My animal heart’s telling me to flee,” she sings on the album’s propulsive synth-pop title track. While on Burning Bridges for Fuel, all unexpected modulations, twinkling glockenspiel and stoical piano, the protagonist seems determined to move on whatever the cost.
The album was written and produced by Persson, her husband, and Eric D Johnson (The Shins, Fruit Bats).
Broadly, it’s a slickly produced and contemporary-sounding pop-rock record with big choruses and consistently superb lead-vocal performances. Indeed, Persson really ratchets up the drama on the pop-song ultimatum Clip Your Wings, sounding husky as a chain-smoker as she roars: “You can go if you want to go.”
Elsewhere, the piano-led closer This Is Heavy Metal avers that it’s time, not gold, that’s truly precious and sees Persson consider the existence of her 3-year-old son, Nils, after she’s gone.
With its abundance of hookey melodies and quirky lyrical diversions – “I made eyes with a sailor with a burned-up hand” begins The Grand Destruction Game – Animal Heart is an absorbing and impressive solo debut. Though it sounds like a break-up album in places, I have it on good authority that Persson and Larson are still living happily in Harlem, New York.