What makes a great pop band?
Is it an ease with catchy riffs, a lyrical dexterity, an innate understanding of rhythm? Or an effortless blending of all that?
Whatever it is, Komeda have got it. They’ve got so much of it, they should start lending the surplus to more disadvantaged groups.
The first time I heard Komeda it was on the amazing 1998 ‘What Makes It Go?‘ That record has become one of my favourite ever pop albums. ‘It’s Alright Baby’ is an insanely catchy pop song – every time I’ve played it DJing, I can see people loving it instantly. And that album is chock full of similar pop nuggets.
So, when I got my copy of Kokomemedada, Komeda’s new album, in the post this morning, you can understand I was slightly apprehensive. I’d read on their website that they’d lost a member and gained a major label contract. Would either of those developments water-down their pure pop?
Lena Karlsson, Jonas and Marcus Holmberg are Komeda now (Mattias Norlander having “vanished after a friendly-fire incident”). And they’ve made another wonderful Komeda album. Like all Komeda’s work, it’s an album that’s out of step with now, it exists 23 minutes in the future, just seven feet to the left of here.
From the moment the opening acoustic guitar melody of ‘Nonsense’ plumed in, I relaxed. Mmm?melody, counterpoint?depth. Then Lena’s beautiful pop voice floated in and I practically swooned. I’ve been waiting so long to hear new Komeda and now it’s finally here, I’m immensely happy. ‘Nonsense’ is classic Komeda in its skewed popness. “I don’t like your company, so sick of you…” They manage to make things obvious and simple without making them predictable and boring, which is the best kept secret of all great pop bands.
‘Blossom’ has the go-go swagger of ‘It’s Alright,’ powered by what sounds like a ukelele rhythm riff and reverbed autoharp. Lena and the lads trade lines, planning what sounds like a very gentle revolution where they “b.l.o.double-ess.o.m…do the right thing.” Or it could be about gardening, I guess. I’m singing along to it anyway, where do I sign on?
Where the hell do Komeda get all their pop? ‘Victory Lane’ strolls in, throws around a couple of catchy melodies so that I’m thinking ‘ahhh, that’s the hook’ and then they throw another one down. When most pop bands in the charts can’t find one decent melody in the course of an entire album, Komeda bung five or ten in every single song. They’ve also compressed this track to hell and back, listen to the juddering, clipped cymbal crashes in the chorus. Mmmm…
Then Komeda make their bid for a Bond theme song with ‘Fade In Fade Out,’ getting it right in all the places Madonna got it woefully wrong. It has that languid, jaded glamour and a slight undercurrent of getting shot by a Walther PPK. Okay, it’s not really a Bond theme but, dagnabbit, it should be. The frizzly crunching in the middle bit is unsettling but the last chorus comes back in smoovly. Oh, Komeda?you’re such a monster in bed. And you should surely be doing some major film soundtracks, you talented bleeders.
Bugger me – we’re halfway through the album already! Time flies by when Komeda are the drivers of your train. Their website lays out their magpie manifesto, of nicking their favourite bits from the 60s, 70s, 80s, whenever and then bashing them all together into a Komeda mutant pop frog the size of a fridge. ‘Catcher’ does all that admirably, I love the doleful ‘there ain’t no catcher?’ coda. You can’t call this song retro or current. It doesn’t belong anywhen.
Then we have possibly the poppiest song on this album, ‘Elvira Madigan.’ Named after fellow Swede Bo Widerberg’s film of intense love (or maybe the other two versions? or the metal band?), this song capers around like a frantic puppy. On first listening, it’s quite hard to follow, there are so many melodies, countermelodies and little flourishes sweeping past. In the same way as rap has concentrated lyrics, every rap song being hyperlyrical, Komeda have created hypermelody with this song, with this album. I love the way the overdriven guitar comes in towards the end, just when you think the song has no more surprises. For me, this is the obvious single from this album. If you don’t like this pop song, you must have piss in your veins.
Through lesser vocal chords, the see-sawing melody of ‘Out From The Rain’ might prove irritating. But Lena’s voice delivers it as playful and wistful, fitting the reverby, tinkly mood of the song. Looking out on this rainy, grey December day, it fits too well. It goes bizarrely Merseybeat in the chorus but the verses have that quiet Komeda deftness. Everything in its place. They seem to have the perfect marriage of production and arrangement.
‘Dead’ has a twee recorder riff and some hooting chorus vocals but goes a bit 70s Kraftwerk ‘Showroom Dummies’ in the middle. What are those drums? Sound like Synsonics to me? I love the ‘do ya?’ at the very end.
The ghost of Dr. Feelgood’s ‘On The Road Again’ haunts ‘Reproduce’ but it’s a Casper-type beastie, not an overwhelming, smelly poltergeist. Yep, the song boogies along but there are certain unsettling things that make it?unsettle. Listen to that rhythm guitar in the right speaker. It skips every now and then so you can’t relax. In the context of this “normal” pop song it’s more disturbing than a lot of extreme electronic music. Again, it’s Komeda’s use of light and shade. But how many people will think their CD is crapped up?
Will those same people complain about the vinyl crackles laid over the album closer ‘Brother?’ ‘Oi, mate – this CD’s scratched on track 10!’ The final track swings along over a piano bed that’s a wee bit Beatley but not really: it’s Komeda-y. The end morphs into a fractured nursery rhyme, quite a sombre close to a generally upbeat album
And now it’s over and what tracks do I immediately want to hear again? Hmmm?’Blossom’, ‘Elvira Madigan’ and ‘Victory Lane.’ The other tracks are all poppy but those are the standout songs for me. That’s no disrespect to the other tracks – they would, on any other album, be the poppiest ones. It’s just that Komeda raise the bar, you start judging them by their own pop-master levels rather than the norms of un-catchy pop.
Buy this album if you like short, catchy, simple pop songs with a tilted perspective. If you like early Cardigans, the Beach Boys, The Bee Gees or other similar pop, I think you should definitely at least check this album out. Don’t buy this album if you’re looking for virtuoso, pointless math-rock posturing or a dose of blundering testosterock.
Komeda – possibly the best pop band in the world,
love and kisses,