One of Mute's more unlikely signings, Mando Diao mixes Swedish garage rock and soaring, Brit-pop-inspired melodies -- not exactly a perfect match with the rest of the label's darker, more experimental and largely electronic roster. Still, if Mute felt obliged to acknowledge the garage rock revival, they could've done worse; Mando Diao's debut album, Bring 'Em In, shows a little more flair than some of the cookie-cutter bands that have appeared in the wake of the White Stripes and the Hives. Speaking of the Hives, it may be lazy criticism to compare Mando Diao to its better-known countrymen, but the band's sharp, strutting riffs and Gustaf Norén's raspy sneer of a voice share some obvious similarities. Slightly less obvious, however, are the similarities to Oasis' swaggering but decidedly poppy hooks and conquer-the-world attitude, but traces of both these bands' sounds infiltrate and inform Bring 'Em In, particularly on harder-hitting tracks like the title track, "Sheepdog," and "Motown Blues," the title of which alludes to some of the band's deeper influences. Mando Diao's love of '60s soul and R&B -- or, at least, love of mod and British Invasion bands such as the Who and the Animals, who loved and were influenced by '60s soul and R&B -- adds a distinctive touch to the band's sound.
In some ways, Mando Diao's co-founder and other vocalist, Björn Dixgård, is the band's secret weapon: His rounded, throaty style of singing recalls everyone from Noel Gallagher to Eric Burdon to Tom Jones depending on its setting, providing the band with a duality that results in some of Bring 'Em In's best moments. Dixgård's close-to-the-breaking point vocals on "Mr. Moon" and the gospel-tinged breakdown on "Lady" flirt with cheese before transcending it through sheer earnestness. He really shines on the album's centerpieces, the irresistible garage-pop shimmy of "The Band" and "To China With Love," a simmering revenge fantasy that somehow finds its way to a demented chorus of la-la-las in the end. Along with Norén's triumphant "Paralyzed," which borrows some of the Velvets' chug and pairs it with brass and cheeky lyrics like "She ain't as beautiful as me/But she's as beautiful as she can be," the middle of Bring 'Em In finds the group at the peak of its powers. Not all of the album is quite as self-assured and thrilling, but fortunately, it's all more or less enjoyable. The mod rave-ups "P.U.S.A." and "Little Boy Jr." are so cute and stylized that they're almost cartoonish, while "Lauren's Cathedral" sounds like an homage to Oasis' "Champagne Supernova," but manages to improve on the original by being shorter and featuring no lyrics as stupid as "Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball." A promising but somewhat puzzling debut, Bring 'Em In finds Mando Diao going in several directions at once; if the bandmembers can follow their most creative impulses, their next album should be truly impressive.