The debut album by Swedish power poppers the Higher Elevations admittedly adds little new to the general store of knowledge about the style, but titling it Always the Same is just asking for trouble. Actually, there is just enough that's enjoyably different about this album to make it stand out from the cookie-cutter-like power pop bands that want nothing more than to sound like their own record collections. Foremost, the Higher Elevations don't neglect the "power" side of the equation: while no one will mistake Always the Same for Metallica, the beefy, distortion-prone guitar riffs and Henric Stromberg's muscular drumming place the band neatly in the more assertive end of power pop. Similarly, singer-songwriter Niklas Gustafsson's appealingly unmusical voice, a gruff bark akin to the Only Ones' Peter Perrett, is a refreshing corrective to generations of bands whose singers take their vocal cues from the likes of Chris Bell and Eric Carmen. Indeed, the new wavish "Repetition" features a bizarre spoken-word rant that Gustafsson delivers in a dead-on impersonation of the Fall's Mark E. Smith's ranting vocal style, complete uh with superfluous syllables uh at the ends of words uh. Actually, the band know their history all the way around: "In the Night" features an admirably skronky guest guitar solo by Television's Richard Lloyd. Unfortunately, as with many similar power pop acts, the variable factor is the songwriting, which has all the key elements of the style down cold but only rarely offers up a truly memorable chorus or catchy riff. As a result, potentially awesome songs like the driving "Perfect Day" and the moody, organ-powered ballad "Satellites" sound great at the time, but are frustratingly difficult to keep in mind later. There is great promise on Always the Same, only fitfully fulfilled.
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