In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, inspired by the new Porches album Pool: Songs from albums that marked a sharp left turn in an artist’s career.
Becoming a one-hit wonder grants you the latitude to take whatever artistic path looks most attractive without consequence. It’s reasonable to spend the post-hit years replicating the same formula in the hopes of catching another bolt of lightning in the same bottle. It’s equally reasonable to develop a toxic relationship with the hit and devote years to erasing it from the public consciousness. Megastars catch flak whether they stay the same or try different directions, and even obscure no-hit wonders with small but passionate audiences are shackled to expectations. A one-hit wonder is only as beholden to its legacy as it chooses to be.
Swedish pop quintet The Cardigans took full advantage of this freedom, having earned Top 40 radio’s fleeting attention with 1996’s “Lovefool.” The ultra-hooky “Lovefool,” with its roller rink-ready disco cadence, became The Cardigans’ signature track (and a charming installment of A.V. Undercover), but bears zero resemblance to any Cardigans song that came after it. The Cardigans razed and rebuilt its sound several times following First Band On The Moon, the album that spawned “Lovefool.” The evolution wasn’t totally surprising, given that the band signaled its interest in other styles by giving a pair of Black Sabbath songs lounge-lizard makeovers. But the directions The Cardigans chose were always unexpected. First, the band tried chilly electronica on 1998’s Gran Turismo, which added harsh synthesizers and distorted guitars to their sonic repertoire. That sound was abandoned in 2004’s Long Gone Before Daylight, a country-inflected pop record with moody lyrics to match lead singer Nina Persson’s new jet-black coiffure.
By 2005’s Super Extra Gravity, The Cardigans’ final studio album, the band had effectively obviated expectations and established itself as a band that will always zig when expected to zag. Gravity didn’t break from the preceding album’s sound as dramatically as Turismo and Daylight, but built on Daylight’s focus on guitars, though with a more muscular electric sound. Those tweaks gave rise to one of The Cardigans’ best singles, not to mention a solid contender for a short list of the best song titles of all time. “I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer” sounds nothing like “Lovefool,” but it’s as instantly appealing, with a fantastic opening full of lurching bass notes and perfectly portioned cowbell. Persson is at the top of her game lyrically, writing, as she usually does, about a toxic relationship: “It’s been a long, slow collision / I’m a pitbull, you’re a dog / Baby, you’re foul in clear conditions / But you’re handsome in the fog.” The song never got the attention it deserved, but The Cardigans probably prefer it that way.