(Written for website NOISE CANNON)
Note: I was a little too happy when the editor had no problem with me using the term ‘pew-p-p-pew-pews’ in the review.
Almost nine years since The Cardigans’ last album, Super Extra Gravity, and after a spattering of solo singles and collaborations, lead vocalist Nina Persson has finally returned with her debut solo album – Animal Heart.
Most tracks show off a new love affair with a celestial sounding glockenspiel – enough that it would come as no surprise were ‘Silver’ to have been an ode to her new favourite instrument. It is perhaps as close as a pop song may get to the sound of a clockwork ballerina music box, and its twinkles are even collided with garbled glitches during ‘Food For the Beast’.
However, this is a far lighter concoction than it sounds, and may also be a shortcoming, as quite often Animal Heart is neither-here-nor-there with its sound, as token electronic effects take the calmness from the ballads, or don’t appear enough in the more energetic tracks, leaving behind relatively limp piano pop rock. The upbeat ‘Jungle’ is one of few tracks to really put the synth to prominent enough use, without sounding like a sprinkling of sci-fi sound effects, and despite the robotic chaos, it is unusually calm.
Aside from this, Animal Heart is at its best when there are fewer ‘pew-p-p-pew-pews’ of laser pistols, buzzing forcefields and whooshes of mechanical doors (all comparisons that one would never expect when discussing such a sparse sound) – an atmosphere found most prominently in ‘Forgot to Tell You’. It feels complete, as the wobbling electronic jumble of bass eventually takes a back seat. Finally a chance for her to successfully breathe a more meaningful, silky-smooth serenade.
It takes until the isolated, ironically titled album-closer ‘This is Heavy Metal’, before Persson is left alone alongside a piano, and in a style perhaps surprising to those more familiar with The Cardigans’ rock past, sounds at her heartfelt best.
A track may be entitled ‘The Grand Destruction Game’, yet it, nor any of its fellow tracks are particularly grand, nor destructive, and are far more relaxing than they are much fun. Persson may sing about titular animal hearts “thudding like a kick drum”, and screaming about the “bump-bump of the bass in a passing car”, but rarely implements them herself. A mixture of wonderfully tranquil and celestial, coupled with several unfinished, mechanical sounding pop tracks, Animal Heart is still a pleasant listen.