"Do this thing this type of thing, put a little money in this type of thing, we've got nothing to worry about. I got nothing to worry about." From the opening high-pitched children's choir shriek of "Nothing To Worry About," Peter Bjorn and John had me hooked. Just three years after releasing one of 2006's most addictive songs, the Swedish boys had done it again with another phenomenal single. "Nothing To Worry About" bubbles over with infectious joy and fun, and it bubbled the indie rock world with excitement for their upcoming album.
The second single off of Living Thing piqued interest as well. "Lay It Down" begins with lead singer Peter Moren singing jublilantly: "Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you are starting to piss me off!" And in kicks in the choir once more (probably not children this time), singing a spectacular dirty ditty about telling someone to cut it out. Needless to say, these two singles got me extremely excited for Living Thing.
And while Living Thing is not the joyous, unadulterated pop-rock album I was expecting it to be, that doesn't make it any less great. No other songs are as catchy as the initial singles, but these Swedes still know how to craft excellent, mellow indie rock that grabs you by the heart and tugs- sometimes aggressively, and sometimes lightly, but almost always effectively.
Album opener "The Feeling" gets things off to a good start. Essentially Moren singing over drums and hand-claps, the song is bare and original. Most importantly, it keeps an upbeat tempo, which seems to be the trend for the best songs on Living Thing. This includes "I'm Losing My Mind," which features an I'm From Barcelona-inspired choir and grows to a foot-stomping ending.
Also among the album's best is the excellent, Afro-Pop titular track, which I reviewed more specifically earlier.
These upbeat tracks are indeed the cream of the crop, but a few slow songs work just as well. "Just The Past" is a quality, Peter Gabriel-esque track that only falls short of being great due to it's lack of climax. "I Want You" is effective too, a song that highlights Moren's innocence as a singer- his light Swedish accent impacts the song as he talk-sings; just a normal guy crooning over lush guitars, wondering why a girl can't realize that he is in love with her.
"Stay This Way" is also beautiful, with almost a Motown feel: the drum shuffle, the sneaker-squeak sound effect, and the "Stand By Me" finger snap. Moren continues with his trademark simple but powerful lyrics- "I don't want to grow old, I don't want to stay young."
To me, these simple, to-the-point lyrics are very appealing. The band never takes their songs too seriously, they never try to create "deep" moments. They prefer those simple words/phrases: "shut the fuck up, boy," "I want you," "I'm losing my mind," "Can you feel it? I can feel it!" It's not about the words, it's how they are sung, layered, and formed to pack an emotional punch in some way, whether you are reminiscing or singing along.
Living Thing's biggest problem is that for every two songs that work, there's one song that doesn't."Blue Period Picasso" pings along with a lazy 80s electro-beat in the background. The song tries to mix an upbeat feel with a moody one, and it has a displeasing effect. The same happens on "It Doesn't Move Me."
"4 Out Of 5" even better accentuates Living Thing's occasional over-moodiness, sounding like filler on an album that doesn't need it. Almost a second-rate version of Ben Folds' "Cologne," the melody just isn't strong enough to hold your interest, and the necessary emotion is lacking. "Last Night" is also weak, as the band tried to end the album with a whimper, not a bang. It doesn't work.
At 12 songs and 47 minutes, Living Thing is a bit too long for such a repetitive album (the same stomping drum beats, hollow production, and vocals are littered throughout). But the highlights are enthralling and bountiful. So while Peter Bjorn and John's latest won't top anyone's year-end album list, more than a few songs are stellar enough to make Living Thing a goodie, and a record that will certainly hit the middle of some lists come December.