By: Eric Greenwood
The first solo album from The Cardigans" frontwoman, Nina Persson, is a darkly melodic affair. With Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous adding his gothic American touch to the proceedings as producer and guitarist, Persson glides through this batch of hypnotic balladry almost effortlessly. Well, it only seems so effortless because she receives tons of help from her husband, Shudder To Think"s Nathan Larson, who, along with Mercury Rev"s Jonathan Donahue, lend their talents on a crazy assortment of vintage and obscure instruments, ranging from saws to sequential circuits.
Persson’s voice is spectacular here, enveloping each song like a silvery shawl. The styles fade in and out of light electronic pop, country-tinged twang, and noisy, futuristic rock. Persson’s versatility is astounding. She coos and crows depending on the mood but always remains in absolute command of each song. It differs from The Cardigans primarily because of its musical diversity, but also because of Linkous’ edgy, idiosyncratic, and dynamic production as well as the lack of overtly upbeat songs. However, Persson"s voice is unmistakable, which makes the Cardigans connection hard to break.
Surprisingly, Persson never sounds out of place- no matter what genre she tackles. Her sultry, angelic voice drags you willingly through a kaleidoscope of emotions, wherein she shows off her diverse underground tastes by faithfully covering songs by such random acts as The Replacements ("Rock And Roll Ghost"), Daniel Johnston ("Walking The Cow"), and Restless Heart ("Bluest Eyes In Texas").
The laid back orchestration of “Frequent Flyer” relies heavily on Persson’s charmingly girlish voice to seduce you. Electronic noises bubble up in the background along with piano and organ, but the unmistakable centerpiece is Persson, who sounds like she’s humming in your ear. “I Can Buy You” is a smash country hit if I’ve ever heard one. Of course, it won’t really be a hit, but it should be. This Swede sounds more authentically country than ninety-nine percent of Nashville today. Bonnie Raitt would chop off her hands to have written such a lovely song.
When Persson harmonizes with herself in the chorus of the gentle ballad, “Angel Of Sadness”, you"ll be ready to throw yourself at her feet. She tries to shake some of the cutesy, pixie image she has garnered as the leader of The Cardigans over the years by alluding to drugs, sex, and generally seedy behavior in the sultry and alluring “Such A Bad Comedown”, but her sweet voice gives her hand away immediately. Not even singing “fuck” can tarnish her squeaky-clean image.
Aping PJ Harvey is not Persson’s forte, but even the disingenuously rocking “Hard As A Stone” has its moments. The vocal distortions (a Mark Linkous production requirement) do not become her voice at all, but the song provides a much-needed change of pace midway through the album. Getting back in step, Persson wraps her sad vocals around the gorgeous acoustic melody in “Algebra”, while the melodica sways playfully in the background. Persson emphasizes all the right notes, forcing you to realize that such grace is rare indeed.
The highlight of A Camp"s debut is the achingly beautiful "Silent Night." Not to be confused with the ubiquitous Christmas carol, this song once again showcases Persson"s tender vocals. The echo on her voice meshes so well with the vintage mellotron and the country guitar-bends, especially when she hits the high notes of the chorus. It"s sure to melt you down to a nub.
With The Cardigans still on hiatus after its unexpected foray into trip-hop on 1998"s under-appreciated Gran Turismo, Persson has created a safety net for herself with A Camp. It"s actually more of a golden parachute because as long as she"s singing, people will undoubtedly be listening- Cardigans or not. This album is already flying way under the radar with little press in this country yet, but it will probably end up being one of the top albums of the year. At least one of mine.