After the inexplicably lukewarm reception to The Cardigans' 1998 detour into dark, atmospheric trip-hop the band all but disappeared. Vocalist Nina Persson released the country-tinged collaboration with her husband, ex-Shudder To Think guitarist, Nathan Larson, and Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, entitled, A Camp, while the rest of the band splintered off into various side projects. Six years later, The Cardigans return determined to redefine themselves once again- this time opting to follow Persson's solo tastes very closely. On its fifth album, the band inexplicably sounds like a veteran alt-country act.
The band made its name with sugary, infectious pop led by Persson's crystalline voice and girlish innocence on three albums- each one more successful than the last. It was all very slick and stylish- so much so that you knew there had to be more to The Cardigans than what met your ears. Gran Turismo came as a shock to critics and fans because of its radical departure from the expected formula, exploring the band's latent musical depth and willingness to experiment, but fans rejected the decidedly dark direction in droves. This frustrated the band enough to take a five-year hiatus. With the decision to regroup as The Cardigans came an arduous songwriting process that produced another collection of pop but this time in another unrecognizable context.
Persson's voice is still at the forefront of The Cardigan's sound, but, as opposed to being a candy-coated showpiece, it's become a multidimensional instrument. Her lyrical sketchbook covers the familiar themes of love and heartbreak from a bone-crushingly honest perspective, and her voice matches each mood perfectly. Guitarist Peter Svensson’s songwriting lingers in the traditional pop framework, but he messes with conventions slightly, subtly infusing unexpected twists and turns. The dour mood is less detached and calculated than Gran Turismo's futuristic ennui, but it fails to engage on the same mysterious level.
Fans holding out for another Life or First Band On The Moon or even a Gran Tursimo will be sorely disappointed, but The Cardigans obviously have little interest in repeating themselves. They've played the pop game, apparently thinking they won, and now only seem concerned with being taken seriously. Long Gone Before Daylight trudges along at a limp pace, as each song melds into the next interchangeably. Only after multiple listens do the songs start to form individual characteristics. The plodding tempo put me off at first, but I've started to come around for a few bits here and there. Persson's open-faced expressiveness on the lyrical front can cause a few facial twitches, but her voice is lovely enough to compensate for most of the gaffes.
With Gran Turismo The Cardigans straddled the line of caricature, coming dangerously close to the point of no return. The leather skirts, plastic boots, and heavy black eyeliner didn't really add much credibility to the music. Gimmicky self-indulgence has been replaced with dramatic balladeering. Long Gone Before Daylight could easily blend into the background without stirring anyone in earshot. It's as safe as white bread but manages to dig its nails in, if you let it. When Persson wails, "cuz you're the storm that I believe in" (You're The Storm"), it's difficult to believe that she could be even remotely serious. Do what exactly? Things improve exponentially on "A Good Horse", despite what the title might lead you to believe. It's one of the few rocking moments on the whole record, replete with Kim Wilde-esque "whoa-oh-oh-oh's."
The Cardigans won't secure its pop dominion with Long Gone Before Daylight, but that's obviously not the point. Only open-minded, die-hard fans will suspend enough disbelief to buy The Cardigans as a Swedish band with a country soul, as the general public has already pretty much forgotten about the makers of "Lovefool" (six years between albums will do that to you). I doubt landing a spot on the "Chicks with Attitude" tour, opening for Liz Phair's commercial suicide did much to help the cause, either. The band's trajectory has been erratic to say the least, but Long Gone Before Daylight proves that The Cardigans care more about the music than anything else.