CD Review of Crossing the Rubicon by The Sounds
The Sounds: Crossing the Rubicon
Recommended if you like
Shout Out Louds, Black Tie Dynasty, Pom Pom Diary
Label
Original Signal
The Sounds:
Crossing the Rubicon

Reviewed by Neil Carver

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T
he ‘80s have been alive and well for much of the 2000s, and nowhere more so than on the first two albums by Swedish band the Sounds. Their third album, Crossing the Rubicon, only continues the trend. Unlike many bands that have capitalized on sounds and phrasings reminiscent of the decade of greed – from Franz Ferdinand to the Killers – the Sounds embrace the old-school synthesizers, power pop guitar, simplistic drum lines and deeply earnest performances as if they were a cover band for the whole decade. So many reviews of classic ‘80s acts will comment on how that music sounds dated, but the Sounds are clearly asking if sounding dated is a bad thing at all.

Maja Iversson’s vocals come across like Shona Laing or Nena (of "99 Luftballons" fame), but her insistence can become strident at times. She sings with an urgency that is infectious, but sometimes sounds like she is chastising the listener, as if she is telling you to wear your seatbelt or put a sweater on. Perhaps it is the lack of any topical depth and only vague emotional pictures. So much of the post-punk/new wave sound carried a political, environment or social urgency during the ‘80s that is utterly missing here. The music is insanely catchy, but beyond the obligatory "Midnight Sun" song by those living too close to the Arctic Circle, they seem to be stretching for anything meaningful to sing about.

Still, there is something to be said for the efforts they put into creating a solid, distinctive piece out of each track. It’s clear that they had strong ideas about what each song was trying to do musically, and even when they create a clunker like "Beatbox" with its Blondie-style faux rapping and shallow rhythms, they do so with gusto and verve. There’s no doubt that the Sounds really love "the sounds" they’re making, and that unabashed enthusiasm goes a long way.

The most powerful tracks are on either side of "Beatbox," filling the middle of the album with the songs that make its greatest impact, both good and bad. "Dorchester Hotel" is an emotional rocker about renewing a relationship that is more addiction than love. It’s framed with a beautifully lilting guitar and a melodic refrain that would have done A Flock of Seagulls proud. "Underground" is a doubly ironic song that uses choppy punk guitars and 4/4 drums to evoke a reminiscence that is too lovelorn and sappy to be truly punk, and calls into question the entire motive of the band in the first place. With lines like, "The past is a place that you can never return to / Even though people say that this is where you belong" you have to give the band credit for a level of self-reflection on what they are all about. The synthesized steel drums are a nice touch as well.

There are two other highlights that should be closely listened to. The title track that leads into the back half of the album is barely over two minutes, yet has a huge wall of sound and is more modern and experimental than anything else on the record. The use of a haunted carnival piano twists the listener out of the retro groove and resets the aural expectations for the rest of the album. Its counterpart is the lullaby-like "Goodnight Freddy," which closes out Crossing the Rubicon. All instrumental, a muted piano with tinny synths plays gently to a simple beat, quietly letting the listener ease into a restful finish. It’s a pleasant surprise, especially after the enforced two and a half minutes of silence tacked on to the preceding "Home Is Where the Heart Is."

All in all, the Sounds have continued to make eminently addictive music that withstands closer scrutiny than one would think upon the first listen. Anyone who grew up listening to the original new wave sounds will swear this album was recorded back then, and the younger listeners will get a chance to experience why it sounded so good and fresh the first time around.

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