Word on the streets and between the cuddlecore sheets has it that the best lovesick songs of this young year can be found on the Honeydrips' Here Comes the Future (Sincerely Yours). As winter gives way to spring, I'll admit I'm sometimes turning to Mikael Carlsson's tender tunes for that special bruised but hopeful feeling. The 10 tracks of tears this Göteborg, Sweden, troubadour has assembled push all the right sentimental buttons. They also touch some meta-referential ones: from its anonymously pretty one-off girl vocal to its invocation of a rock standard from the past, the Honeydrips' "(Lack of) Love Will Tear Us Apart" is an introductory single in the vein of Saint Etienne's bright orange-red puzzle piece of a debut 45, which translated the rural folk whine of Neil Young's "Only Love Will Break Your Heart" into synth pop.
The Honeydrips' album might be titled Here Comes the Future, but Carlsson repeatedly laces his melodies with lyrics that nod to the past. "I Wouldn't Know What To Do" not only invokes Morrissey's romantic twist on Andy Warhol's 15 minutes in order to stake a claim for the clumsy and shy, it pairs it with a jingle-jangle, strum-along guitar sound that ambles just a little bit faster than the one Johnny Marr created for Morrissey's lyrical trip to the YWCA.
Since both men specialize in Smiths-flavored Swedish it makes sense that Carlsson's virgin visit to United States' stages is as an opening act for Jens Lekman. One of the peaks of Lekman's most recent album Night Falls over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian) is "Shirin," in which Lekman turns a haircut from a girl who has fled Iraq for Sweden into four minutes of pop-symphonic poignance. For half a year now, I've wondered why with only one or two blog exceptions the heaps of rave reviews for Night Falls over Kortedala have failed to link Lekman's first-person lyrical address to a person cutting his hair with the one in Morrissey's "Hairdresser on Fire."
Lekman's "Shirin" is a sequel that might improve on its inspiration, right down to the political complications that he adds to original scenarist Morrissey's exploration of the strangely intimate bond between hairstylist and client. In "Hairdresser on Fire," Morrissey milks the lines "There was a client/He made you nervous/And when he said, "I'm going to sue you"/I really felt for you" for their full humor and pathos. Lekman's corollary in "Shirin" is the concluding couplet "What if it reaches the government / That you have a beauty salon in your own apartment?," a genuine worry that a falsetto harmony somewhat futilely tries to kiss away with the promise, "I won't tell anyone."
Lekman is peerless at marrying music-hall melody to lyrical melancholy. While Carlsson's rock-inflected, ultravivid scenes have biff-bang-pow impact, they haven't reached the same swoon-worthy level of storytelling mastery. To be sure, even Lekman traffics in heart-on-sleeve proclamations best indulged in through headphones, rather than shared blushingly in stereo with sure-to-mock strangers. Put your headphones on so I can whisper this to you: not only is Lekman's "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song" perhaps better than the unique movie Peter Bogandovich's 1985 Mask that inspired it, it's the closest anyone has come to the Motown and Philadelphia International majesty of Holland-Dozier-Holland, and the first part of the best pop mini-suite since the underrated British group Prefab Sprout's ditties for Jesse James.
The Morrissey, Saint Etienne, and Prefab Sprout songs I'm citing all date from 1988 or 1990, which shows that what comes around goes around in terms of nostalgia-drenched indie pop trends.
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