CD Review of Sweet Bills by Kristoffer Ragnstam

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Sweet Bills
starstarstarstarno star Label: Bluhammock
Released: 2007
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Ever since the '70s, various artists from Sweden have shown overwhelming dominance in their respective genres. Those Scandinavian blonde bombshells known as Abba were the undisputed kings of disco in the '70s, which must be one of the reasons why fellow Swedes Ace of Base achieved similar success a couple decades later. Sweden is also where '90s alternative icons the Cardigans call home, as well as legendary masturbatory guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Sweden is also the home country of several lesser acts as well, including Roxette, Eagle Eye Cherry and the dreaded travesty known as Europe, the big-haired dolts that brought us “The Final Countdown.” (Whatever happened to those guys? Maybe they finally made it to Venus.) Kristoffer Ragnstam is a Swedish musician who probably hopes to add his name to the former list of Swedes and not the latter, and if Sweet Bills, his debut album, is any indication, he has absolutely nothing to worry about.

It's a great collection of top-of-the-line pop songs that rarely grows tiresome. Ragnstam manages to balance the delicate tightrope between being catchy and annoying throughout Sweet Bills, with almost every song on the record screaming out “this is your new favorite jam!” After starting things slow with a quick instrumental intro, Rangstam explodes into manic, danceable energy on “Breakfast by the Mattress” and only stops occasionally to deliver a few affecting ballads. Ragnstam keeps up the energy in part to his great voice, which occasionally slides up the register into Bee Gee territory on tracks like “#1 Money Hunter” but never long enough to make you wonder if he lost a testicle from some freak Brännboll accident. One thing that Ragnstam can proudly share with those falsetto bastards from Australia, however, is the ability to create some great dance tunes. Someone from the Scissor Sisters should grab the master tapes from “Man Overboard” and “Too Close To The Curb” and make club mixes out of them pronto.

Like many debut records, Sweet Bills does have a few rough spots, evident of an artist that has not yet found his sound. Rangstam tries to get his Beatles on with “Never Get Used To You,” a mid-tempo ballad whose amazing blandness is only made more apparent by the excellent tracks that surround it. “Born as a Lion” seems to be Ragnstam’s attempt to be a little gritty and dark, but he’s just too damn nice-sounding to be able to pull that off.

“No One Told Me” is a much better attempt by Rangstam to explore his darker side, comparing what must be two of the most painful experiences in the world, getting dumped by your girl and surviving a Swedish winter. Lyrics like “[The] window view makes me think of you because it’s empty gray and blue” are probably some of the best ever to convey the legendarily bleak weather that Sweden faces in the winter months.

With the alt-pop scene dominated by Canadian folk-rockers and jangle-poppers, Rangstam proves that you can record a great pop record that not only gets you on your feet to dance but gets you rocking too. Maybe he’s Matthew Sweet’s illegitimate half-brother or something. Whatever the reason, he’s definitely doing something right with Sweet Bills.

~James B. Eldred