The Cardigans

Long Gone Before Daylight

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If any clue were needed to confirm a new direction for the Cardigans -- that is, other than the music itself -- it's the change of hair color for vocalist Nina Persson. Previously an icy blonde that approached white (best flaunted on the cover of Life), Persson's hair is now jet black, a color that matches her confessional mood and conflicted feelings about love on the Swedish group's fifth studio album. Produced by Per Sunding (career-long collaborator Tore Johansson left after an initial session), Long Gone Before Daylight is understated and well-designed, a musicians' record, one that sounds more like an MTV Unplugged session than the high-energy chamber pop of their early recordings. Unfortunately, it's also over-produced to within an inch of its artistic life, and lacks the quality songs and exquisite productions that the group had made a hallmark. Persson composed all the lyrics, rewriting the Spector standard "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" into "And Then You Kissed Me" (sample lyric: "Baby you hit me/Yeah, you punched me right in the heart/And then you kissed me...and then you hit me"). Guitarist Peter Svensson took care of all the music, relying on familiar pop archetypes but forswearing the catchy hooks in favor of carefully constructed songs. Still, the Cardigans don't have enough musical personality on their own to carry these songs; they've always been a surprisingly workmanlike band -- their performances here are sympathetic and intricate -- but they simply can't rise above this subpar material. [The American release, which followed over a year after the Canadian and European issues, included a bonus DVD featuring three videos and three live tracks, plus interviews.]

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