Pop Quiz: What do you do after releasing a critically acclaimed album (9/10 from the NME), have a successful underground indie hit single and become a household name on the pop circuit? You make a downbeat and kooky semi-instrumental album without any obvious singles. And this is exactly what Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn And John have done with 'Seaside Rock'.
The album opens with two decent songs. The furious mix of 'Inland Empire' from the Spanish feel and delicious piano to whale sounds, harsh percussion and car horns, it is a compelling fusion of ideas. The big guitars and brass outro set things up for 'Say Something (Mukiya)', a steel drum and bass driven ditty with wordless warbling and a jolly melody. But from here, things go downhill fast. The worst of the compositions are centred round three 'songs' involving strange monologues: 'Next Stop Bjursele', 'Erik's Fishing Trip' and 'Norrlands Riviera' fail on many levels. Only the latter is lifted by a nice harp arrangement, seagull samples and simple ambience. The previous two get annoying very quickly.
After the lull, 'Needles And Pills' provides a much needed lift. The first half is great - guitars and a recorder make way for layers of percussion before whistling arrives and heavier guitars lead to a tuneless orchestra. Likewise, 'Barcelona' is not as great as it could be - it takes too long to get moving and when it does, the delicate ambience holds it back. Only the piano stands out among the beach samples.
After the compelling 'Writer's Block' (how ironic is that title now?), this album feels like a very noticeable step backwards. On the surface it is comparable to Radiohead's 'fall from grace' - after 'OK Computer' comes 'Kid A' - even hardened fans will be perplexed. The success of 'Young Folks' was justified (also thanks to Victoria Bergsman, formerly of The Concretes), even if the song is annoyingly catchy in the way only Scandinavian pop can be. But Peter, Bjorn And John have failed to capitalise. In spite of a few moments of true class, 'Seaside Rock' feels lazy, self-indulgent and uninspired.
Released on 23rd September 2008 on Wichita.
-- CS (for Last Broadcast)