Last year, this Swedish quartet reminded the world of the timeless appeal of ABBA's music by recording The ABBA Generation, an entire album of the '70s group's songs, updated with modern sound and energy. Thanks to appearances on cable's Nickelodeon, and tours with N'Sync and Britney Spears, that disc quickly went platinum.
This year, the kids (they're all 16-17) prove the influence of ABBA again, with a good dose of Ace of Base to boot. While no more ABBA songs are tackled, Teen Spirit is hard to listen to without making comparisons to ABBA. Those light Scandinavian vocal harmonies are often dead-on, and the pure sweet songs are near-perfect. The two guys sing lead more on Teen Spirit than they did on The ABBA Generation, possibly thanks to the influence of their tour with N'Sync. And while A*Teens worked with a variety of writers and producers to track the 14 new songs for Teen Spirit, the album sounds like a seamless collection that could have been written and recorded by one person.
The disc opens with "Bouncing Off the Ceiling (Upside Down)," an infectious, chirpy pop song about high school young love:
"my grades are down from As to Ds
I'm way behind in history
I've lost myself in fantasies of you and me together…
got no clue what I should do
I go crazy if I can't get next to you."
Teen Spirit continues in upbeat party mode with "…To the Music," and the pounding dance-ready love anthem "Halfway Around the World." Things finally slow down a little with the mesmerizing "Firefly," built around a simple piano line with lots of "ooohs" and a skipping bass as the kids sing plaintively:
"Firefly come back to me
make the night as bright as day
I'll be looking out for you
tell me that you're lonely too."
Okay, the lyrics are hokey, but it's a catchy little song (I've been queuing it up and humming it all week!).
"Around The Corner of Your Eye" is the disc's softest, sweetest ballad, a guitar strummed bit of honey with the comforting lyric, "whereever you are/whatever you do/I'll be around… If you're lost without me, wondering where I might be/I'll be waiting just around the corner of your eye."
The album is filled with light ditties about falling in love — from the candy metaphors of "Sugar Rush" (as in, "you're my sugar rush"), to the Backstreet Boys' big production style of "Slammin' Kinda Love."
There's nothing too deep or profound here, but there isn't a miss in the batch. Every one of these songs is cotton candy — light, fluffy, non-filling… and completely addictive.
Angels & Cigarettes
On the other end of the spectrum from A*Teens is UK artist Eliza Carthy. While not that far from her teens herself (she's 24 – and began recording this disc at 21), her lyrics and music are lightyears ahead of the A*Teens in depth and maturity. With her blue hair, nose ring and lip piercing, she looks like a young punker. But the music on Angels & Cigarettes, her third album, is anything but punk. These are thoughtful, lush considerations of life, fickle love, and the fleeting passage of time.
Often, Carthy's use of ambient techno backgrounds is reminiscient of Sarah McLachlan, but her sound is uniquely her own — a mix of classic and modern — she employs traditional instruments, like pedal steel guitar, harp, viola, congas, Hammond organ and fiddle (not surprisingly, since the latter is her instrument), throughout the album, giving it a varied, timeless feel.
In "Perfect," she plays on a vaguely country rhythm and a rich layering of vocals to create a beautiful masterpiece with a message:
"If you don't speak no one will ever hear you
if you don't approach no one will ever be near you …
it's a question of give and take."
The disc's opener, "Whispers of Summer" also has a classic Americana feel to its rhythms as she croons a gorgeous melody of longing, "don't go away/please don't make me stay/this warm breeze is clogging my eyes."
While one of the 10 tracks is a slow lazy cover of a Paul Weller song ("Wildwood"), the other nine tracks here were penned by Carthy, and each sets its own peculiar mood and mystery.
In "Whole" she plays on a slinky club groove as she sings of late night thoughts ("I could be all the way around you and swallow you in myself…if only I could warm you all the time"). In "The Company of Men," she works with a 25-piece orchestra to create a stunningly original set piece that seems rescued from the crux point of a serious Broadway musical. And in "Train Song," she pits a tenuous bass against the melancholy saw of her fiddle and eventually, a click-clacking Latin rhythm to create a rich tapestry of sound that you can close your eyes and lose yourself in.
Angels & Cigarettes is a bold, beautiful album of honesty, depth and maturity. It's an album to swim in, again and again. Your soul will emerge refreshed.