Music Reviews

A Camp Colonia

(Reveal Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 3/10

It’s fair to say that 2008 was a pretty good year for side-projects. As well as Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett taking their opera, Monkey: Journey to the West, to the O2 arena for a critically-acclaimed run, Robert Plant, Gruff Rhys and Alex Turner all received Mercury nominations for their extra-curricular activities. So, onwards to 2009, and already there’s a new album from the offshoot of an established band.

A Camp were born of a Cardigans hiatus in 2001 following the release of their 3-million selling Gran Turismo album, when frontwoman Nina Persson teamed up with Mark Linkous of Sparklehouse to pen their eponymous début. Fast-forward to now, and after collaboration success with Manic Street Preachers, Persson this time teams up with husband and ex-Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson for Colonia. Factor in contributions from Guided by Voices drummer Kevin March, Joan As Policewoman and ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha and you’ve got something you’ll be intrigued to give a spin before you can say “supergroup.”

It all starts promisingly enough with energetic waltz The Crowning preceding lead single and stand-out track, Stronger than Jesus. Both are fantastic, old-fashioned pop songs, with strong melodies complimented by well thought-out instrumentation. A smattering of brass on Stronger than Jesus weaves and bobs between Persson’s vocals, giving the song a strong anthemic feel.

Unfortunately, it’s consistently downhill for the next quarter of an hour and, were it not for the saving grace of Chinatown, for the rest of the album in general. The whole recording has a very 21st Century sound, meaning that not one space has been left empty and allowed to breathe. The era of ProTools has led to music being able to be seen visually as a diagram and often for producers the temptation to ‘fill in’ the empty gaps is too irresistable, leading to a thick, sludgy sounding record, where the finished product is much less than the sum of its parts. This ‘kitchen sink’ approach to mixing is fully in evidence throughout Colonia, which makes it a chore to listen to. Actually, that’s not true, it’s perfect for listening to on the London Underground, where the noise of the train will blend in seamlessly with the 101 instruments already on show.

That’s a real shame as The Cardigans are a much-underrated band and Persson has the capacity to be a fantastic frontwoman. The sheer weight of production, however, means that Persson has to really strain to make herself heard above the fug of noise and her vocals are unable to display the alluring insouciance that made Lovefool such a success.

Lyrically, Colonia flits between the wryly observed sublime (“Young drunken girls in a hideous dance/Sing a heartfelt lament to the death of romance”) to the embarrassingly gauche and ridiculous (“Raindrops in a reservoir and minutes in a jar/That is what we’ve got”). We expect better from the woman who penned a title as memorable as I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer.

The nadir of this sorry exercise comes with the unbearably schmaltz-laden and saccharin duet with fellow Swede Nicolai Dunger titled Golden Teeth and Silver Medals. It’s difficult to describe but no understatement to say that it would be preferable to listen to Elton John and Kiki Dee’s wretched Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.

Ultimately, Colonia has an awful lot of ideas, but doesn’t really know what to do with them and the majority of tracks end up sounding messy and - like the rest of us following Christmas - carrying a little too much extra weight. When Persson repeatedly sings “I will slip your mind” on Love Has Left the Room, it’s oddly self-prophesising; you’ll struggle to remember much of this record after hearing it. It’s too early to be proclaiming the death of the side-project just yet but as far as A Camp are concerned, don’t give up the day job.