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Friday, December 08, 2006

Linda Sundblad, "Back In Time" (2006)

Like many pop fans, I first heard of Linda Sundblad when Popjustice did a typically arch blurb on her and her single "Oh Father," but the greater impression was made when Sounds Of Sweden featured, a few weeks ago, another track from her album, Oh My God.

"Back In Time" justifiably got many bloggers, like XOLondon, excited. Vocally, Linda is almost a dead ringer for Robyn; on this track her voice has the same kind of taut muscularity, but is also less frosty. And the joyous song itself is anything but cold: most of it is accompanied by a stomping beat, a rubbery bassline, and frequent synth stabs. On the chorus -- "I could never imagine a boy could love me/But I found a baby, a baby who loves me" -- all those elements come together, and then even that is surpassed by the little diddly-dee synth riff that leads us out of each chorus while, over it, Linda makes endearing little grunting noises of pleasure ("woah-oh! woah-oh!").

But "Back In Time" is in some ways unrepresentative of Oh My God. By this, I don’t mean that the rest of the record stinks and disappoints. Yes, there are some duffers ("Dirty"), and the second half of the album, in general, is pleasant instead of outstanding; there are also a couple of lines that are distractingly nonsensical ("I am keeping my baby, and I make him turn on"?) -- but more about this later. Yet, Oh My God features "Cheat," the giddest song you'll ever hear about someone resisting adultery while on vacation (still up at Into The Groove); "Lose You," which could be an 80s Cyndi Lauper ballad, even as it features a synth passage that recalls "Smalltown Boy"; "Beautiful Boys," which has yet another dinky-dink keyboard part; and "Daisies," which despite a tragic guitar solo, is a rather sweet closer ("you’re making my daisies bloom"), and these songs, while not quite as brilliant as "Back In Time," are all great pop tracks.

No: what makes "Back In Time" unusual on the album is the way it, as its title suggests, moves back and forth in time. The song is about the joys of having found someone, but parts of the narrative also seamlessly go back to Linda's adolescent years, when she despaired about this ever being the case. The middle eight makes it especially clear: "I just wanna go/Back in time/Just to let her know/That she'll be fine." In that moment, Linda imagines being able to speak to her own teenage self, in order to assure her that things will turn out okay.

It's a sweet gesture, and a pretty universal desire that many of us have had. If I could go back in time and talk to my younger pimply self, I definitely would, and tell him to pack light. But strikingly, there are very few such moments of double consciousness on Oh My God. The end of "Dirty" slips in the observation that "life is much more complicated than it used to be," but that and "Back In Time" are pretty much it. Instead, the album isn't just "about" being a teenage girl, but actually coming to you, live, from those moments. In her recent review of the album for Stylus, Jessica exclaims, "Who needs Seventeen when you've got Linda Sundblad?" She doesn't put too fine a point on it, but the sentiment in its way notices that the album takes in Linda's traumatic teenage era, rarely from a safe "years-later" vantage point, but from the ground. This price of this, of course, is that some of the lyrics will come across as clunkily juvenile. "Keeper," for instance, is almost entirely in the vernacular of such a teenage girl, and thus silly: "He is the dynamite/Even my parents like/He makes it happen/He’s a keeper." (On the other hand, the title of the album functions brilliantly: it literally refers to God, of course, which is apt given the religious concerns of the record, but, as we hear on the short album intro, it is also a perfect teenage expression, like, oh my god!) But it's not a bad price to pay for a record that is interesting because, unlike many others, it is almost entirely committed to speaking as a teenage girl. Like, totally!


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