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Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

JANUARY 11, 1999: 

The Cardigans Gran Turismo (Mercury)

Advance word on the Cardigans' latest album said it was considerably darker than the Swedish popsters' previous work, but then, these blurbs also usually mistakenly referred to it as their second album. Gran Turismo is, in fact, the Cardigans' fourth release, after Emmerdale (1994), Life (1995) and First Band on the Moon (1996), which included the ultra-bouncy "Lovefool," a freak hit quickly written to order for the soundtrack of that goofy remake of Romeo and Juliet because the band's original contribution was rejected for being ... too dark.

Were it not for Nina Persson's adorable helium-filled voice, it might have dawned on more folks that the Cardigans have always had a huge dark streak. When the first song on your first album begins "Sick, tired and hopeless without a thing to live for," you can only be considered so cutesy. Persson's lyrics are not noticeably bleaker than the lost-love songs that permeated earlier records, and in fact there's a definite uplifting quality to songs like "Higher," "Junk of the Hearts" and the tender "Explode."

The arrangements this time around lack the bossa nova touches of Life or the '60s pop influences of First Band, instead draping the minor-key melodies in crystalline keyboards and washes of luxurious acoustic and fuzz-drenched electric guitars. This might mean that few of the songs are as immediately catchy as past singles like "Rise and Shine" or "Carnival," but after a listen or two, the songs' immense pleasures are revealed, and each subsequent listen uncovers new charms. Gran Turismo is guaranteed to pass over the head of the fickle mallrat audience that thought "Lovefool" was a cute single, and that's the best thing that could happen to the Cardigans. ¡¡¡¡ 1/2

Cinerama Va Va Voom (SpinArt)

Officially, Cinerama is a duo of Wedding Present singer/guitarist David Gedge and otherwise unaffiliated singer Sally Murrell. In reality, they're basically a Gedge solo project, as he sings every lead with Murrell at most adding a few background harmonies (even on the one duet, the lovely, Magnetic Fields-like "Ears," the female voice is that of the Delgados' Emma Pollock). Given that Gedge is the undisputed creative linchpin of the Wedding Present, it's unsurprising that Va Va Voom doesn't sound that different from any recent Wedding Present album.

On the other hand, this is no bad thing, as the Wedding Present is a great band, and Gedge is a remarkable songwriter. From the desperate pleas of the opening "Maniac" to the two French-language bonus tracks at album's end, Gedge is at the top of his form, marrying cutting lyrics to the prettiest melodies of his career. The production and arrangements are stellar, as in the vibes that punctuate "Hate" and the dizzying string section powering "Kerry Kerry," perhaps the best tune of Gedge's long career. If the Wedding Present have passed you by, pick up Cinerama's Va Va Voom. You have a lot of catching up to do. ¡¡¡¡

Lucinda Bright With All Your Charms (Face Down)

New Jersey's Lucinda Bright (almost but not quite named after a common typesetting font) seem to believe the best pop music is best heard in a friendly, unpretentious, somewhat seedy bar near a good 24-hour diner where everybody can retire for breakfast after the last set. They could have been the house band at the Fat Chance. Leigh Woolston's throaty purr recalls Marti Jones (or possibly a much less mannered Sheryl Crow), and the two-guitar-bass-drums band favors low-key but hook-filled melodies not at all unlike our own Ant Farmers. At 13 songs in 50 minutes, most tunes could use some pruning, but the charms of songs as catchy as "Wasting," "Hello Girl" and the stellar "10 a.m. Weds" are undeniable. ¡¡¡

Alibi Rating Scale:

¡¡¡¡¡= Record of the year, maybe
¡¡¡¡= Record of the month, maybe
¡¡¡= Record of the day, maybe
¡¡= Record of the hour, maybe
¡= Record of the minute, maybe

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