Pop albums: The Cardigans First Band on the Moon Stockholm 533 117-2

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The Independent Culture
Worldly-wise but lovelorn still, this Swedish combo deal in bittersweet songs of romantic confusion, their tart reflections served up in crisp, candy-pop coatings. The results on this third album are part-brilliant, part-formulaic, suggesting at times a too-calculating approach: a Scandinavian St Etienne, perhaps.

At the heart of their appeal is the contradiction between Nina Persson's cute, waif-like vocals and the sometimes brutally knowing slant of lyrics such as "I've been your sister, I've been your mistress, maybe I was your whore / Who can ask me for more?". She deals charmingly with the full range of erotic emotions: desire, delight and disenchantment slip by sweetly, borne on deceptively simple phrases. Lines such as "You wish that you were special / I'm just like you" carry overlapping layers of irony that most native English-speaking songsmiths would struggle to capture.

There's a lurking danger to irony, of course, and The Cardigans court disaster occasionally by appropriating the smooth textures of easy-listening music a little too accurately or, worse yet, using flute to raise the ghost of Jethro Tull: it may be deeply ironic, but it's ultimately just as lifeless. But when the musical equation balances perfectly, as on the new single "Lovefool" and a yearning, nursery version of Black Sabbath's golemic "Iron Man", there's a winsome grace to The Cardigans that's utterly disarming.