The story of The Cardigans was one that many critics, American ones anyway, tried to peg from the start. Winsome Swedish group, specifically from Jönköping, emerge in the early-to-mid-1990’s on the back of an ironic blend of heartbreaking lyrics and saccharine 60’s mod-swinging pop-rock. Said group will remain in the niche they began in to appeal to hipsters the world over; no evolutionary bounds and leaps to be made. The end? Not so much. As it turned out Peter Svensson (guitar), Magnus Sveningsson (bass), Bengt Lagerberg (drums, percussion), Lars-Olof Johansson (keyboards, piano) and Nina Persson (vocals) were really pop exhibitionists at their cores. The Cardigans revelled in the best chameleon luxuries the genre had to offer. What did that mean for their fifth long player Long Gone Before Daylight (2003) and inherently, the group itself?
After their arctic trip-hop excursion on their fourth LP Gran Turismo (1998), The Cardigans took a sabbatical. In the four years that divided Gran Turismo from Long Gone Before Daylight, each of the members became involved in other musical matters and personal affairs. Notably, frontwoman Persson ended up starting another alt-rock-pop crew called A Camp whose eponymous album appeared in 2001. Its lullaby and country gems were intriguing to hear from someone whose previous musical diversions had included various strains of 60’s and late 90’s pop. When it came time for The Cardigans to assemble for their fifth record, they all returned rejuvenated. Interestingly, they took an overarching nod from A Camp’s country-pop-rock remodel that’d later induce shock, awe and revulsion equally in fans and critics.
The Cardigans were ready to sit in the driver’s seat of their own long player and Long Gone Before Daylight offered that chance. Guided primarily in songwriting by Persson and Svensson, the other members each acutely contributed their instrumental gifts to an album that reverberated on a wholly rustic sensibility. The Cardigans gain in power still allowed for Tore Johansson, their primary producer on their four previous recordings, to co-produce; Per Sunding was also brought in to contribute ideas. Regardless, Long Gone was a Cardigans baby and their attention to detail was all at once full and arousing.
The opening and, as Persson and Svensson confessed during the press junket for the LP, classic “Communication” pulled back the curtain for Long Gone Before Daylight. Its teary-eyed tug was complete with violins-held-at-bay that met striking bass and accentuated guitar / drumming; immediately it set the scene of hope colliding with a world-weary sense of knowledge in love. A listen to the content of “Communication” drove home Persson’s unique ability as a singer, “You always seem to know where to find me and I’m still here behind you, in the corner of your eye. I never really learned how to love you, but I know that I love you through the hole in the sky!”
Persson’s vocal, somewhere between disinterest and investment, spirited the lyrics with a sense of sweetness and melancholy that easily could make fellow contemporaries Dolores O’Riordan (of The Cranberries), Shirley Manson (of Garbage) and Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt) blush with envy at her effortless turn of phrase. Persson further revealed her powers on the violent ideas of romance contained in “You’re the Storm,” “And Then You Kissed Me” and “A Good Horse.” But Persson wasn’t doing this alone, her bandmates showed that a singer is only as good as the canvas they’re working on top of.
Whether it was the sear of Svensson’s guitar on “You’re the Storm,” the thunderous backbeats of “A Good Horse” via Lagerberg, or the coiling bassline and keyboards of Sveningsson and Johansson (Lars-Olof, not Tore) in “And Then You Kissed Me,” The Cardigans were playing in top form. A worthwhile mention is that “And Then He Kissed Me” was a disturbing (in a good way) rewrite of songwriter Carole King and her ex-husband Gerry Goffin’s 1962 number “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” by The Crystals; the original was produced by the mad genius, Phil Spector.
The quiet, but brisk music continued on the gingery “For What’s It Worth” and “Live and Learn,” both playfully kicked up the tempo a notch and were eventually tagged for single release, wisely. Still, the songwriting remained the height of the album’s character, as heard on the wistful restlessness in “03.45: No Sleep” and the kissable “For the Boys”; the latter was a bonus cut that appeared on the American pressing of Long Gone Before Daylight.
At 14 cuts deep, give or take three-to-four additional songs that were earmarked for different international representations of the record, The Cardigans had made their most focused project to date. The question was after the mixed reception of the heavy and noisy Gran Turismo, how would a reserved and patient Cardigans be greeted?
When The Cardigans unveiled the first single from their fifth LP, “For What It’s Worth,” how the song was received depended on the territory it was released in. Britain who had shown (waning) favor with The Cardigans rewarded the track with a Top 40 placement on their singles chart (#31).
Sweden was far more rapturous for the first single and “For What It’s Worth” landed at a lofty #8 in their singles chart. The album itself had a similar fate when it finally dropped, courtesy of Stockholm Records, on 3/19/03: U.K. #47, Sweden #1. America didn’t get the project until a year later, 4/25/04. In spite of its deluxe repackaging through the indie-label Koch Records, it didn’t make waves outside of the indie brackets majority of The Cardigans fans moved in.
Taking it back to 2003, two more singles were pulled from Long Gone Before Daylight: “You’re the Storm” (6/2/03-U.K. #74, Sweden #10) and “Live and Learn” (12/3/03-U.K. D/N/C*, Sweden D/N/C). The album proved to be a perennial in a touring context, taking The Cardigans on another world walkabout that had fans rejoicing to the new material.
How the critics met Long Gone Before Daylight also depended on the audience that was privy to what the group was trying to achieve. The United States had notoriously turned their backs on the Swedes in 1998. As evidenced by this particular view from American critic John Bush on All Music Guide, the consensus was that The Cardigans took themselves too seriously:
Long Gone Before Daylight is understated and well-designed, a musicians’ record, one that sounds more like an MTV Unplugged session than the high-energy chamber pop of their early recordings. Unfortunately, it’s also over-produced to within an inch of its artistic life, and lacks the quality songs and exquisite productions that the group had made a hallmark.
There were a few dissenting opinions Stateside and Slant Magazine provided an interesting look into Long Gone Before Daylight from its writer Sal Cinquemani:
For their first studio album in over five years, guitarist Peter Svensson furnished his band with some of its strongest—though sometimes understated—melodies, while Persson’s lyrics are simultaneously burdened and resilient. “Oh, I wish my arms were wider,” she says simply on “Feathers & Down,” attempting to rehabilitate a drowning lover. She’s an object to be excavated, punched, kissed, reaped and sown, not only on “You’re The Storm” but on tracks like “And Then You Kissed Me” and “Lead Me Into The Night,” which softly evoke Fleetwood Mac. Persson’s finely graveled voice, however, is more Sheryl Crow than Stevie Nicks.
The United Kingdom’s soft spot for the group carried on even with their sliding commercial fortunes there. The frank and fickle NME (New Musical Express) had Peter Robinson report a fair finding on the new long player:
Where the cold production wedges of Gran Turismo were distant and aloof to the point where they ignored the songs themselves, the flourishes here are sparse enough to let them bloom. Best of the bunch are country-tinged opener “Communication” and the Spector-referencing “And Then You Kissed Me”; heartbreaking pop with an unstable psyche and a fresh, naked charm. This is an album powered by its own radiance – like a solar-powered torch stringed up to a pair of mirrors, driving itself on forever, and still going strong, even by daylight.
“You’re the Storm”
Directed By: Amir Chamdin
Long Gone Before Daylight unsurprisingly only certified in Sweden, platinum two times over. The glory days of their Japanese, British and American reign had certainly concluded. Yet, as mentioned The Cardigans had successfully continued their pop reinvention with the charming Long Gone Before Daylight.
Much like their Swedish cousins that came before them with The Visitors (ABBA, 1981) and Flowers (Ace of Base, 1998), The Cardigans weren’t content to be a predictable pop pony from abroad. Instead they blazed their own path in a defiant, but hushed way that had them raging against the preconceived notions of what pop could be. Ranking: Classic