The Cardigans back catalogue remastered on vinyl
In a fit of almost masochistic folly, The Cardigans released their debut album ‘Emmerdale’, into the UK music scene at the height of what was to become Britpop and during an overwhelming frenzy of lager and ladism. In 1994 the world was not waiting for a soft and delicately produced light jazz pop album from our Nordic brothers and sisters.
This didn’t stop The Cardigans and they continued in the same vein into 1995 with follow up ‘Life’, which for us Brits meant a large helping of ‘Emmerdale’ (or its poppiest parts) added onto a collection of their new songs.
The Cardigans had been on my radar at the time, but I foolishly had written them off as too twee. I remember seeing the ‘Sick and Tired’ single in record shops, with its cover featuring the spaniel from the album cover, and thinking about whether associations with woollen cardigans and floppy-eared dogs were essential to me… something was being lost in translation and so I initially missed out.
However, in the latter part of 1995 I heard the new version of ‘Rise and Shine’ and then ‘Carnival’ and was hooked by that sound. It was such an antidote to the tired droning of strummed overdriven guitars that had pervaded England’s countless Beatles wannabe bands, and it was a joy to hear minor 7th and major 9th chords after a year of just D, A and E (with an occasional B minor). I didn’t rewind to ‘Emmerdale’ until much later as I believed the best parts had already been lifted onto ‘Life’, but learnt the error of my ways until it became the one Cardigans’ album I return to most often. In 1996 their crossover album ‘First Band On The Moon’ was released and despite an initial false start, ears finally tuned into ‘Lovefool’ (albeit with help from the hit film ‘Romeo + Juliet’) and the band’s success steadily grew.
I saw The Cardigans play in November 1996 at the Wulfrun Hall and it remains one of the most disappointing gigs I have attended. This is mostly because my expectations of hearing the beautifully produced albums replicated in a live setting being extremely high, set against the reality of a show where Nina’s vocals were painfully quiet and not always hitting the right notes, and a thoroughly static and lacklustre performance. I have read later that the band had been working themselves to death to promote this album and maybe the fatigue had set in. However, if anything, the bad show only made me return to the recordings with a greater fondness. Despite my feelings at the time, The Cardigans then went to take on the world and the rest, everybody knows.
From this February all of The Cardigans albums are being rereleased and remastered on 180g vinyl and I have been given a couple of them to listen to. Thankfully ‘Emmerdale’ is one of them, the other being their final album ‘Super Extra Gravity’.
The first thing you notice when you hold them is that the albums are beautifully packaged in gatefold covers and printed sleeves, with all lyrics presented along with glorious images and original artwork. The vinyl is also is reassuringly solid. The two albums are at opposite ends of the band’s catalogue and could not be sonically more different, however, the mastering is sensitive and heartwarmingly dynamic. The deftness of production on all of ‘Emmerdale’ remains intact so you find Nina’s vocals are crisp when she whispers and never harsh when she breaks into falsetto. The separation of instruments is outstanding and they seem to have more space than ever in the stereo field. The Cardigans have never sounded so good.
‘Super Extra Gravity’ is a very different album, where their jazz influences give way to pop and rock having already been channelled on earlier releases (‘Gran Turismo’ in particular). Nina in fact often sounds more like Sheryl Crow than Nina on some of these songs. There seems less space in these mixes because overdriven guitars are taking up so many frequencies, but it is never cloudy. It sounds more powerful and driving with an enhanced rhythm section, so polite on their earliest work.
What is alarmingly clear is that despite these two albums being their least popular in terms of record sales and chart positions, the standard of songwriting is higher than on their multi-platinum seller ‘Gran Turismo’. Granted that album had solid hit singles written all over it, but for me, these two albums are where the craft shines through and hooks and riffs become motifs and refrains.
The decision to release The Cardigans’ back catalogue seems to come on the back of the twentieth anniversary of the release of ‘Gran Turismo’ and the renewed interest from last year’s small tour, but I’m glad they included all albums in this release because if you only know their hits, now is the time to discover what really made The Cardigans great.
Emmerdale (1st time on vinyl)
First Band On The Moon
Long Gone Before Daylight
Super Extra Gravity (1st time on vinyl)
Reviewer: Alan Neilson