“Charm School” – album review
Here it is - the traditional Daily Roxette team album review! Lars-Erik, Thomas, Judith, Colin & Paul gathered in the virtual TDR newsroom to write up this special review on Roxette’s brand-new album!
It’s been a long, long time (It’s been a while and lots of miles…) coming but here we are… a brand new studio album from Roxette. Years of speculation on Roxette’s future have ended with the release of Charm School and the upcoming World Tour. As for the album itself, it has so many trademark Roxette sounds, yet is totally new and it feels great to have real instruments again on some of the songs. Most fans we're sure will love it, but obviously there will always be some who won’t. Our review is quite lengthy, but it’s been 10 years since we've had a chance to do one of these. Anyway, song by song review time:
Colin: A Roxette album that starts with a mouth harp - that must be a first! The first verse really has that Aerosol Grey Machine studio sound and then at the catchy chorus the heavier guitars kick in. The song has a really positive vibe to it and to me it feels like a sequel to “June Afternoon” – awesome!
Thomas: “We will we will rock you!” drums. Love those guitars. And it must be Per playing that first weee-wah-wah-wah-wa after the first chorus! They also used a mouth harp in “I Remember You” if you remember.
Colin: Oh I do remember! That was my first Roxette song - loved it!
Paul: This song reminds me more of “Stupid” from The World According To Gessle. The drum beat is very similar indeed.
Lars-Erik: You know you’re right! I thought this had a familiar sound to it and that was it!
Paul: Not a typical Rox-album-opener really. I was expecting something along the lines of “Crush On You” or “Real Sugar”, so this came as a surprise… a nice surprise. The song, as with a few others on the album, is too short though. A Marie middle-8 would have fixed that problem Mr G!
Thomas: 2.46?? That’s barely longer than “Här kommer alla känslorna”.
Judith: Now that you mention this song, I keep having this one in mind when I listen to some of the tracks on this album. It must be the happy mood. This album has a lot of the Roxette sound we know, but yet we get to hear some new sounds we never heard with Roxette before. This is one example. Great guitars and opener! I am glad that Per realized he can use and experiment with his voice a lot more than he used to! I must say both sing wonderfully on this album. I think this is a wonderful album so you won’t get much negative points from my side, I am afraid. The only one is that the album is too short! I want more!! 2-3 more songs would have done it.
Thomas: Yes, what else is there to add? This is one of my favorites as well, maybe even “The Favorite” and I had hoped the whole album had been a bit more like this song.
Colin: Definitely one of my favorites too, after listening to the albums a few times this is the chorus that really keeps hanging around in my head!
Lars-Erik: Nobody’s mentioned the ending… I really like it! I think the distorted guitar there is cool!
Thomas: Yes we did! We all felt it came way too soon!
“NO ONE MAKES IT ON HER OWN”
Paul: Roxette is the only band who can do these types of songs, and do them well.
Thomas: Yes, it’s like Per says, only he can do a Per Gessle-song (like it should sound). Others have tried and I guess we all know how that turned out…
Paul: Marie’s vocals on this are great, I love the way her voice sounds a little different to previous albums. To me, it sounds more natural and ‘live’, just like Pearls of Passion recordings. I think there are parts of the song which may refer to her illness.
Judith: I agree with Paul, Marie sounds like on the live album and tour last year. Very touching song and Marie is top notch! Actually, after having heard these two songs, you know you are in for a treat: vocals, music, production.
Thomas: I have to say even though Marie sings beautifully and the lyrics are nice, this song doesn’t move me as much I thought it would. It’s not that I don’t like it, but already at track 2 it feels, to me, like an album filler. The piano and the bass is very Lennon & McCartney and so is the guitar solo.
Colin: I agree. the song has a laid back feeling and surely it has a strong message but honestly I this is a track I’ll skip most of the time. It might grow on me though over time.
Lars-Erik: Filler?!? I don’t think too many people will agree with you on that.
Thomas: I’m sure I’ll get some flak over it, I’m used to that.
Lars-Erik: This is definitely a strong song with stand-alone qualities. I love the way the lyrics transition from “her own” at the beginning of the song to “their own” at the end… from a personal reflection to a generic, universal truth. I think the song resonates, long after the music is over.
Paul: I didn’t notice that transition. Well spotted!
“SHE'S GOT NOTHING ON (BUT THE RADIO)”
Lars-Erik: This isn't the first time this famous Marilyn Monroe quote has been used to inspire a song, but of the ones I know about, this one certainly has the most energy. That hook certainly is infectious!
Thomas: Marilyn Monroe?
Lars-Erik: Yeah… she was asked at a press conference about upcoming photos of her that were to appear in the one of the very first issues of Playboy magazine. A reporter asked what, if anything, she was wearing at the photoshoot. "It's not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on," was her reply!
Paul: From the moment I heard the chorus I knew that Roxette had come back with a great song. This might have worked better as the opening song of the album, seems its in an odd place at number 3. But it’s a great song, and I can’t wait to see them perform it live this summer! Plus, I actually like the video…
Judith: Loved this one from the beginning, different, crazy, but still, Roxettish. My favorite part is the first one with the “really?” - this is so much funny teasing Roxette! And Marie’s.
Colin: The first time I heard the song’s first few seconds it really reminded me of “Thai With A Twist”, it has that “Spegelboll” disco-like feeling. A good choice for a first single with a fresh Roxette sound but it sounds a bit overproduced.
Thomas: The guitars could’ve been more prominent.
Judith: I have a major problem with all tracks on this album, they are addictive and won’t leave your head.. found myself humming all the tunes now and then.
Thomas: Yes, although so far not a hit in Sweden, and I don’t know if the charts down in Europe are “real” charts or fan voted. I really like this song, especially the catchy chorus. Per obviously sings this and it has a lot of machines, almost like “Crush On You” but more softly produced. Basically nonsense lyrics like “The Look” or “Joyride” but that’s what we want on a Roxette album, no? There are remixes coming soon, by the way.
“SPEAK TO ME”
Colin: While the guitar riffs during the verse remind me of “(Do You Get) Excited?”, the overall atmosphere and feeling of this beautiful duet brings back the Pearls of Passion feeling but with a much more modern, grown up sound. Thumbs up for C&C - great job of getting back some of that ‘old Rox sound’!
Thomas: Yes, this makes me also think about the Pearls of Passion era, but more modern. One of my top three with the pumping bass in the background and the keyboards all over the place. Did anyone else notice the “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around What’s Already Gone” reference in the last verse/chorus?
Judith: Yes! I thought ha! Roxette doing a cameo of themselves?
Paul: No. What reference?
Thomas: “Sank like a stone”, same words, same intonation, same sound! No?
Paul: *Goes and has a listen* Well, maybe. Just maybe though.
Thomas: Yeah I may be over-interpreting it…
Judith: Reminds me of “I’m sorry”, “(Do You Get) Excited?”. Marie’s (backing) vocals “oohh yeah”, “ooh..”.. you cannot resist that!
Paul: Anyway, who’d of thought Roxette still had this in them? C&C&P certainly did a great production on this one. The song is amazing, and it NEEDS to be a single. Maybe the first single release in the UK perhaps?? This could easily have been on their Crash! Boom! Bang! album and I think this could (if it was promoted blah blah blah) have a chance of being their biggest UK single since “Wish I Could Fly.” Wonder what it’ll sound like live??
Colin: I couldn’t agree more with you Paul, this is an epic song and needs to be on the radio!
Thomas: I do hope that countries get to choose singles somewhat more freely. Some songs work better in certain territories.
Paul: The perception of Roxette in the UK is mainly ballads, and I think that this song will give them their best chance. “Radio” wouldn’t be a success at all, I don’t think.
Thomas: By the way, the vinyl version is slowed down. That will be interesting to hear.
Lars-Erik: I stopped at this track, and listened to it over and over again… conjuring up images and directing the music video version in my head. I just love this song, and especially like the way Marie’s voice is introduced with a “zoom” effect.
“I'M GLAD YOU CALLED”
Lars-Erik: Rain. Thunder. It makes for an effective segue between these two songs. But really, other than Mystic Moods Orchestra, I don’t know of any group with more references to rain on their albums than Roxette.
Paul: I loved the Party Crasher version. This is the song that I listen to the least at the moment. Maybe its because its not a brand new song? It reminds me of “First Girl On The Moon”, and I didn’t like that one at first, so maybe this is a grower? Marie’s vocals are clearly recorded live and left untouched, something which proves how good her voice still is.
Judith: I thought we would get the song as we know it from Party Crasher, so when I heard the first words sung by Marie, it simply blew me away, my reaction was “OH” - (more) tears followed. It’s like Marie is singing in your ear, so soft, so touching. Ståpäls! [Gunde Svan] Makes me think it would be great to hear Roxette unplugged again.
Thomas: I like it, but I like the Crasher version better. This is a soft, acoustic version with Per on the guitar and Marie on very fragile, lovely vocals. Apparently Per et. al. hated the Crasher version… What’s extra nice about Roxette’s version is the Beatles-esque strings that start sneaking in during the second verse. Very “She’s Leaving Home” and “Eleanor Rigby” I think. A combination of the two versions would be most interesting.
Lars-Erik: Yes, “fragile” and “left untouched” are both apt descriptions of Marie’s voice here. I’m surprised actually at how unpolished it was left to sound at the very beginning. It almost sounds as if she had really been crying just before starting to sing this song.
Paul: Gives it a lovely touch though.
“ONLY WHEN I DREAM”
Colin: For the past few years the demo of this song (Have A Nice Day era) has been one of my favorites. the addition of Marie’s voice really makes the song feel complete – better and stronger than before. Another great duet on this album!
Thomas: I never really liked the demo, it felt like a failed attempt to do an ABBA song. But when I hear this it’s like it’s a different song. Of course, that’s what Per wanted it to be. Also one of my top three songs.
Lars-Erik: I didn’t like it much on first listen, especially the “One Wish”-like intro, but having played it repeatedly now, I like it a lot.
Thomas: Maybe they could’ve upped the drums a bit, that’s all. I think Chris mixes drums too low constantly. Great acoustic guitar in the background.
Paul: I think it would have been better with more electric guitar in the chorus rather than acoustic?
Thomas: Maybe you’re right. Classic Roxette at any rate.
Paul: This is a cracker of a song though. One of my favorites on the album actually. Never knew there was a demo floating round though.
Thomas: Can’t really say it’s ‘floating around’…
Paul: Hmmph! Anyway. I love the way Marie and Per’s voices combine in this song. Sort of a “Things Will Never Be The Same” vibe going on. And one of the best middle-8 sections that Per has ever written. Maybe could do with a small instrumental section after the middle-8 but that’s just me being picky. Some people are never happy! Ha Ha!
Judith: I haven’t known this song before (I think?). It’s great to hear both sing in a song together again and again on this album. I love Marie’s longing voice, desperated, which proves once again Marie is simply one of the best singers around. Roxette is back! Ah, and Per’s voice is top notch!
Paul: Son Of A Plumber: The Sequel anyone? I like it. However, as you know, I am more of a Per-solo fan anyway, and this sounds like it could have been on SOAP. The first of the double A-side together with “After All”? Beatles-esque, Summery, and very Gessle!
Judith: Typical sweet cute sing-along pop Gessle song. I am glad to get to hear this on a Roxette album as well, with Marie on the bridge. Fantastic. Getting back to the unplugged I mentioned before… Another great vocal performance of Per.
Thomas: Perfect song! Almost Gyllene Tider sounding. Or Tom Petty if you will. Lots of acoustic and dry electric guitars. Probably not a hit in a million years, but one of the best on the album.
Judith: This is where I get the Här kommer alla… feeling again.
Colin: Yes, it definitely has a cozy summery Gyllene Tider/SOAP feeling to it. Good stuff!
Lars-Erik: Yeah, I like it a lot also! It’s got this folksy quality that’s hard to resist. Can’t say I really understand (or like) the gun reference though.
Judith: Sing along!
“BIG BLACK CADILLAC”
Colin: When I first read the track listing for the new album, I asked myself whether Per had chosen to re-record the early Gyllene Tider song “Cadillac” but (luckily) this is a brand new song! I really like the dirty synth sound. The chorus is really catchy, it has that The World According to Gessle feeling to it!
Thomas: That was of course not a Gyllene Tider song at all, but a Hepstars cover.
Paul: “Black-black-black-black-black!” The ‘either Love-it-or-hate-it’ track on the album. The “Stars” or “Make My Head Go Pop“ if you will. I’m not a huge fan of either of those two, but I love “Big Black Cadillac”. If it wasn’t for Marie singing the chorus, I think it would fall a bit flat, but she brings the life that’s needed into a song like this. Try it loud in car – it works!! And it actually features the lyrics ‘Bubble gum in my hair’ – what is there not to like!?
Thomas: All of it?
Paul: Well, I like it! It’s a bit of fun.
Judith: I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I heard this song. Craziness reloaded! I am glad they are still doing these kind of tracks. I would love to see a video for this song!
Thomas: Really don’t like this song!! It doesn’t fit the album in any way. It’s “Make My Head Go Pop” but gone sour.
Paul: Seems I’m on my own with liking this song then!
Judith: No, your are not. I always liked these crazy tracks they do. I would just like to see some videos of the recordings, must have been fun.
Thomas: Brits… I never really cared for “Stars” either, except on the dance floor.
Paul: Don’t mention “Stars” to me. I still haven’t forgiven them for it! ha ha.
Colin: I’m with you Paul!
“IN MY OWN WAY”
Colin: Jill Johnson eat your heart out! A really smooth ballad, it’s great to hear Marie’s voice this strong. If I got goosebumps just listening to the record, I imagine this will be great to hear live.
Paul: This hidden gem from 1984 has been reworked and finally found its place on an album. I’m glad they left it until now as the way Marie sings it gave me goosebumps also the first time I heard it. It sounds like such a classic Roxette ballad and I can’t wait to hear it sung live this summer. Reminds me of “Crash! Boom! Bang!” (the song) and REM’s “Everybody Hurts”. I love it!
Judith: After the first listenings I thought the song doesn’t really fit to the album. Maybe because the other songs have something new, and this is “just” a classic Roxette ballad. Or maybe it’s in the wrong order. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the song. I think Marie sings wonderfully, goosebumps all the way!
Thomas: I’m with you, I love the song, but it doesn’t fit in, at least not in that spot on the album. One neat thing is the unusual key change at the end of the song! Of course heard at least in two other versions by fans; first in Swedish (“En gång i livet”) by Niklas Strömstedt and then again in English by Jill Johnson, whose version is much more country. Jill’s album is nowhere to be found though.
Colin: “Ooh-ooh-ooh”, tambourines and a sixties style guitar make this such a happy song - it just makes you smile. “Life goes on, after all” indeed!
Paul: The other half of “Dream On” (see above). I actually prefer this one to “Dream On” and I think it’s sits well in between “”In My Own Way” and “Happy On The Outside”. It’s the last bit of fun ‘60s, 12 string pop on the album.
Judith: A Beatles tribute. Who doesn’t like this kind of sound? A bit The World According to Gessle too, which can only be positive. I think I can hear Christopher on the backing vocals.
Thomas: While I’m not opposed to the song per se, it’s not a favorite of mine. It’s not Roxette enough in my ears. A decent Per-track with lots of Paul McCartney draped all over it. It feels like a discarded SOAP song (it isn’t).
Judith: On the other hand, it’s nice to hear this sound by Roxette as well. Change.
“HAPPY ON THE OUTSIDE”
Paul: Before I heard the song I guessed that the lyrics would be ‘I’m happy on the outside, but I’m sad on the inside’. Turns out I was pretty close! Pretty standard mid-tempo track really. Not a favorite of mine. There is always a song on a Roxette album that I don’t like at first and then it grows on me. Maybe this is that one?
Judith: Yeah, I had the same feeling about this one too, but meanwhile I am glad to hear it at the end of the album.
Thomas: I think this track or the next is OK by their own, not both in a row. I like hearing one and feel ‘yes, decent track’ but when they both come together it’s too much, they are too similar. Then one of them becomes a filler. I don’t want fillers. If I have to choose, “Happy” is my winner.
Colin: I totally agree with you, Thomas!
Judith: I think here we are again, the album misses 2-3 more tracks. We never have enough, do we?
“SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD”
Paul: I always love Roxette’s closing tracks. This sits lovely alongside “Perfect Day”, “Queen of Rain”, “Go To Sleep” etc. A nice little middle 8 section as well, and this song just works. It’s quiet, hopeful and Marie sounds great as usual. A nice closer.
Judith: Typical album closer for a Roxette album with Marie, just as you mentioned, Paul. Actually I think we get two this time, this one and “Happy on the outside” - even though the message is totally different. I could of course listen to Marie endlessly, so I won’t complain.
Colin: I feel that “Happy” would’ve made a nice closer, honestly this track seems more like a b-side to me.
Thomas: I like it, but like I said, two in a row…
Thomas: Well, Roxette is back, no doubt. Before I conclude I must point out that basically all songs on the album actually have endings!! Almost no fade outs whatsoever. While Expressen’s Nunstedt gives the album 2 out of 5 I think he’s overly negative, which is something he usually is if it isn’t Håkan Hellström, Robyn or Eurovision. However, he feels this album could have been so much more, and with that I agree. This is, in my opinion a decent album, it is not a Joyride by any stretch. It beats Room Service, but if it hadn’t beaten that album I don’t know what would have.
Paul: I never knew Room Service was so disliked!
Thomas: I won’t say I disliked it, but it’s not the album I put on first if you know what I mean. Now, Per sings like he always does - great, Marie is back to her former self and also sings beautifully. It’s the songs and production that I feel lack. Songs are good, but could be even better. The production is professional and slick, but we know this team and sound already - C&C&P. Remember what you told me Per? You need to re-shuffle your team once in a while. No more resting on your laurels now, take it to the next level. Even so I think fans will love it, but it won’t be collecting any new ones. I give it 3/5.
Paul: I agree, Thomas: Roxette is back. It’s a good album, better than I expected actually, but it’s not their best. But I do think that this is the best that they could’ve done whilst using the same production team.
Thomas: Yes I agree to some extent, fresh blood…
Judith: I also think it’s a nice album, and actually for Roxette a step forward with some new sounds and back to the roots with guitars and real instruments. Maybe in a whole, taking into account all Per solo albums from the past years there is no big change, but I always missed Marie’s input in SOAP or Party Crasher, so for me here it is, finally. Maybe for the next album it will be time to re-shuffle.
Paul: Also, an uptempo Marie-led track, à la “Sleeping In My Car” is missing. If there is to be another album after the tour, then things needs to be shaken up to make it sound as fresh as Have A Nice Day did back in 1999. Both Per and Marie sound great on this album though, and there certainly are some real gems on here. My score 4/5.
Judith: Now that you mention it, yes, more Marie up-tempo would have been nice. We get to hear her on “Cadillac”, though.
Colin: For me it’s 4 out of 5 as well. Roxette is back with a new and fresh sound, but this time they shouldn’t wait that long to make a new album! Maybe recording à la Tourism during the upcoming world tour might be a good idea? Maybe it’s not necessarily fresh blood that’s needed but more old blood? I’d love to hear Anders Herrlin back in production, as well as MP!
Judith: For me it’s also 4 out of 5. I think the word is magic. It’s back. As I mentioned, I feel the album is too short for my taste. And if I want to be picky, I would have liked to hear Jonas (and maybe Anders, as you say) guitars. And I am all for a Tourism 2 followed by some unplugged shows. On a side note, as much as I disliked Have A Nice Day or Room Service back then, I have been listening to those a lot lately and I like them. Time changes everything.
Lars-Erik: I'm surprised how much of our conversation has been so matter-of-fact. We've treated this as normal review… but yet, we all know that this is anything but a normal release. This album to many, many fans represents a miracle…. a wish fulfilled that barely seemed possible at one time. But gradually, our prayers were answered… and our wishes grew from fleeting fantasies to real possibilities. I'm simply delighted with this album. I think we all are.
PS. The deluxe edition of the album is shipped in an "eco" packaging, while the regular edition comes in a jewel case.
The live album that comes with the deluxe album is by no means a crappy bonus. A vibrant Roxette performs on the short summer "tour" last year. If you can, get the deluxe edition.
Technical errors may occur.
February 8th, 2011
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