Album #64: The Cardigans – Life

  • Released: 1995
  • Origin: Jönköping, Sweden
  • Label: Stockholm Records
  • Best Track: Rise & Shine

So at this time of global crisis, what is the logic behind a review of a 25-year-old album from a Swedish indie-pop band?

Like most of the world, I’m spending a lot of time indoors with my family right now, and last week we were playing one of the old Shine compilations. These ran from the mid-to-late 1990s and were a collection of indie and rock songs from a fondly remembered period in British music. One of the songs on it was ‘Rise & Shine’ by The Cardigans, which my four-year-old daughter took an instant liking to, and now wants played on repeat.

It’s not hard to see why this song would appeal to an infant. It has a childlike cheeriness, with its upbeat, jangly guitars and the lullabyish vocals repeating a phrase they would’ve heard regularly since the day they were born.

‘Rise & Shine’ was the fourth single from the band’s 1995 second album Life, although it had actually appeared on an EP they released as far back as 1992. Reaching the heady heights of #29 in the UK singles charts, it’s probably not one of their better known songs. You’re more likely to have heard the album opener ‘Carnival’, and there’s even more chance you’ll be familiar with the 1996 hit ‘Lovefool’, which featured in the Romeo + Juliet film of that year.

It instantly strikes you as a happy, summery song, but on close listening and attention to the lyrics, one thing that stands out about ‘Rise & Shine’ is that the words during the verse are at odds with those of the chorus. With lyrics like “I want to be alone for a while” and “I want it all to be gone tomorrow” (both quite fitting at the moment, actually), this sounds like the voice of someone who is not the least bit happy. In fact, far from being a feelgood indie-pop tune, I’m beginning to think this is a song about depression.

The chorus (“I raise my head and whisper/Rise and shine/Rise and shine my sister”) can therefore be interpreted in two ways. One is that the ‘sister’ is a real person – a close friend, or perhaps even literally a sister. It’s that person who’s got your back, picks you up when your down, and tells you that you can ‘rise’ above it and ‘shine’ like a star. That’s a pretty uplifting message.

But the alternative is that the ‘sister’ is merely that mask worn by many people who suffer from depression, and represents that part of the brain that tells them to just get up and get on with it, wear a smile and stick it out. The interesting thing about that interpretation is that the song itself is doing the same thing by giving the impression of being a fun and breezy pop song, when in reality this is the facade of a dark and serious subject.

In any case, ‘Rise & Shine’ seems doomed to be a song I associate with COVID-19 and self-isolation for the rest of my life, and both interpretations seem apt. I don’t know whether to think positive and find inner-strength, or just put a brave face on and look forward to it being over. As an anthem for the current state of affairs it seems as good a song as any, except maybe ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ by Mudhoney.

But this has turned into a single review, hasn’t it, so what’s the album like? It’s good, nice, pleasant…one of them really. You can’t exactly rave about it, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable accompaniment while in the car, at a barbecue or just about anywhere else. Singles aside, my other favourite moments are the bouncy, odd-time signature of ‘Travelling With Charley’, and the sophisticated lounge styling of ‘Celia Inside’.

Hope that explains it. I’ve always said I’m writing a journal first and a music review site second with this blog. I can’t promise I won’t be as waffly and idiosycratic as this again.

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