Håkan Hellström

2 Steg Från Paradise

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It feels like Hellström is running out of steam by his sixth record, though thankfully, it happens halfway into the album, not from the get-go. The better songs, concentrated on the first half of 2 Steg Från Paradise, offer everything that's good about Euro-rock: straightforward, dynamic rhythms, acoustic chord patterns that somehow sound emotional and not generic, despite their evident simplicity, and weak singing that conveys more emotion than many a roaring vocalist on louder albums. This sounds a bit like Coldplay in Swedish, and sometimes a little like the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love," especially since Hellström can also do a weepy voice like Robert Smith's, though not as dramatically (there's no beating Smith at his own game). Hellström doesn't try to one up Smith; his record is sunnier and happier. But the positive attitude is not necessarily a strong suit, because it's used as a substitute for clever songwriting or arrangements that move beyond folksy guitar strumming and skeletal percussion on 2 Steg Från Paradise. The title track, tellingly, is a typical offender in this regard, even despite attempts to enliven it with some flute blowing. The thin red line between simple and plodding is crossed all too often on 2 Steg Från Paradise, with much of the output being subpar, midtempo singer/songwriter drone with neither mood nor hooks big enough to sell the songs, the kind of music you hear in the credits of a mainstream movie. There's actually plenty of good stuff to be found on 2 Steg Från Paradise, but the rest is filler, and contributes to its feeling as unobtrusive background music with occasional flashes of genuine quality pop.

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