Per Gessle

En Händig Man

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AllMusic Review by

Roxette were always sort of a guilty pleasure, even among those enlightened souls who understand that a well-deployed pop hook is its own reward. This was largely due to Per Gessle and Marie Fredricksson's lyrics. It's not that they were in any way "wrong" or anything: one of the most enduring urban myths about Swedish bands from ABBA to Roxette to the Cardigans is that their English lyrics were performed phonetically. In fact, English is a compulsory subject in the Swedish school system starting at about the age of seven, and frankly, many Swedes speak better English than some Americans do. It's just that as lightweight and fluffy as the hooks of songs like "Dressed for Success" or "It Must Have Been Love" were, the lyrics were even more insubstantial and meaningless. (In interviews, Gessle has admitted that the first couplet of their breakout hit "The Look," "Walking like a man/hitting like a hammer," had been merely a nonsense placeholder that he never bothered to improve.) It could well be that Gessle's lyrics in his native Swedish are just as dopey, repetitive, and hackneyed as his English lyrics, but many, many fewer English-speaking people are fluent in Swedish than vice versa, and the very real benefit of En Handig Man for that audience is that we can't understand the words! This allows the monolingual listener to appreciate Gessle's very real melodic gifts and knack for bright pop songcraft without distraction. Richly textured and almost entirely lacking in the sterile studio gloss that was Roxette's other major downfall, the 15 songs on En Handig Man are pure power pop in a style that seems likely to capture the fancy of fans of the Raspberries, Paul McCartney, George Michael, and other unapologetic seekers of The Lost Hook. Every track features expertly managed arrangements filled with just-so percussion, wordless falsetto harmonies, crunchy lead guitar riffs, and perfect touches like the female answer vocals on the sunny '60s pop wonder "Samma Gamla Vanliga Visa" and the jaunty clarinet fills on "Dixy," an apparent homage to McCartney's and Ray Davies' shared obsession with the British music hall. Nearly two decades since his international breakthrough, Per Gessle is still an underrated tunesmith, and En Handig Man shows him to his best advantage.

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