Loved by critics, ignored by the masses.
Chris Jones 2009
Two years on from their last album, 2006's Writer's Block (if you don't count last year's download only oddity, Seasisde Rock), Stockholm's premier existential indie pop trio return with more songs about life, love, the universe and early 20th century art. While they still have a distinctly Scandinavian slant on matters of the heart their wistful, 'classic' pop sound has now been transformed into something more strange. Living Thing is sure enough clever, but it may not be as lovable as you'd expect and it's certainly a long way from the ubiquitous Young Folks.
Much like a lot of 'modern' popular music, much on offer here is in thrall to the 80s. There are the New Wave clanking, gated drums and humming OMD-style synths on tracks like the aptly-named Just The Past or Stay This Way, but there's more... You still get slightly petulant John Lennon-esque vocals by Peter Morén and words that are a million miles away from run of the mill. It's an album in love with wonkiness; determined to inhabit a universe all of its own. And while often the wonkiness pushes them off the rails completely, as on I'm Losing My Mind which sounds like it was more fun to make than listen to, it seems wrong to deny them the kudos for at least caring enough to give us something different.
Yes, they do have a tendency to be a little too wordy. I Want You! leaves you with a headache as it crams in the syllables. And cynics among you may think that after Kanye West's sampling of Young Folks the bonky kids-led chorus of single Nothing To Worry About was constructed just so some major hip hop star would come along and give them the keys to royalty heaven.
Living Thing isn't in any way a failure, it's just a triumph on their own terms alone. The title track manages to hit a niggly township jive groove in the first two seconds that's irresistibly odd. And they may be Swedish but they know how to have a laugh. Blue Period Picasso is a song told from the point of view of a... Blue Period Picasso in a Barcelona gallery. And Lay It Down's chorus of 'Hey shut the f*** up boy, you're starting to piss me off'' at least signifies that they themselves know when they're getting irritating.
Madness or art, you can't help feeling that, if taken to its logical ends, Peter Bjorn and John's particular brand of brainy pop is destined to be increasingly ignored,only to be looked back on as a misunderstood work in ten years time. At this rate of willful own-furrow ploughing they're going to end up as the next Sparks: loved by critics, ignored by the masses and renowned for a hit that's atypical of their work.