Monday, May 26, 2008
The Radio Dept.--Pet Grief (2006)
Artist-The Radio Dept.
Release Date-May 30, 2006
Review-There's something about Swedish pop music that strikes me as clinical. Chalk it up to a relentless sense of perfectionism-- this is a country that not only produced "Dancing Queen" but also the exquisite engineering of Saab and the precision of Björn Borg's backhand. The dream pop of Malmo's Radio Dept. is cut from the same cloth. Their second album, Pet Grief, is stacked with syrupy pop songs, as Johan Duncanson's effortless vocals ride the crest of soft-focus synths and programmed drums. But too often, the songs come off like the sonic equivalent of IKEA furniture: highly functional, sleekly designed, and sterile.
That might sound harsh, but it doesn't mean that Pet Grief is lacking. Part of these songs' charm is their love affair with sounds from the 1980s and early 90s-- like a more ethereal, Quaalude-doped version of the Pet Shop Boys or New Order's energetic electro-pop. But the ingredients are there, from dancefloor beats and big piano chords to layers of majestic, string-aping synths. "Every Time", the album's catchiest song, even cops the flat, treble-drenched distortion of My Bloody Valentine's guitars, and Duncanson's half-whispered delivery decorates with a fragile and compulsive melody. Between the band's production choices and lovely (if understated) vocals, Pet Grief is built to be instantly pleasing and, as a result, sometimes smacks of déjá vu.
This lack of originality is echoed in Duncanson's musings on relationships, which are often trite to the point of unfeeling. On "Tell", for instance, he simply announces, "Betrayal is always sad". It would be an insufferable moment if his no-brainer observation wasn't packaged with easily loveable music. Elsewhere, his naïveté is more amusing. Concerning a girlfriend that has moved on, he takes comfort in knowing that her new boyfriend has "the worst taste in music," explaining, "If I didn't know this, I'd lose it." It's a line at once juvenile and touching, illustrating the little ways we negotiate pain.
The songs on Pet Grief are easy to fall in love with; the facile melodies and slick production eliminate any barriers to enjoyment. But the lack of challenge-- few surprises, scant diversity-- means you won't want to put the album on for repeat listens, even if you're never compelled to turn it off while it's playing. Radio Dept. could sacrifice a little polish for a few more rough edges.