TDR tastebuds review PG Roxette’s very first album: “Pop-Up Dynamo!”
Well here it finally is, the illusive album we’ve been hearing about for more than two years. Now the big question is: was it worth the wait? Short answer: Yes. Here’s why:
Kai: Expectations were high. We were promised the missing link between Look Sharp! and Joyride. I mean, it’s not like I ever missed anything in between those two albums. Every Roxette album had its distinctive sound and this was a good thing. Most of the time anyway. So here we are now. By now, we have heard two singles. If they were to set the mood of the album, we were tricked in my opinion. Yet in a good way. The true gems are on the album, not in the radio rotation… yet. Must admit the first time I got the complete album I wasn’t impressed. This changed after the second listening. What had happened? Very simple: This is a record that needs to be listened to with good audio equipment. While I had first heard it on the small speakers of my phone, the second time was on big speakers with decent bass. Guys, this makes a ton of a difference, more than with most releases before. You are getting crisp sound, deep bass and clear definition of the tracks. Give it a try. It’s awesome.
Thomas: I agree, it’s not even closely related to these albums, in my opinion. Maybe his songwriting style, but not much else. I still don’t know how to feel about the album as a whole. While I do like almost all tracks separately I still, after a fair amount of spins, am not sure about the package. I will continue listening. And about the speakers, it’s a must. Listening to the songs on my surround system it feels like I’m standing in the middle of the studio. The mix is amazing!
Paul: Yes, that sound mix is epic. Please don’t listen to it on your smartphone speakers, you will lose at least 50 % of the experience! For me this seems like an album of two halves with the first half being my favorite. The second half is by no means bad, but I just prefer how the album kicks off. I’m impressed by Helena and Dea’s voices working so well together, with some of Dea’s ‘louder’ backing vocals really standing out.
#1 Walking on Air
Thomas: As Per have mentioned, written for Top Gun: Maverick but wasn’t used for reasons unknown. Probably the fax didn’t arrive on time. It was supposed to be sung by Helena in the movie had it been accepted. Anyway, the song is nice with good efforts from both Per and Helena and Dea. I don’t love the drums here though. The second single as I’m sure you know.
Paul: Such a catchy opening tune to the album! I loved this from the first listen and it always gets stuck in my head everytime I hear it. Shame there wasn’t an actual video released rather than a lyric edit, but you can’t win them all. This would not have been out of place as the opening track of any Roxette album, so it definitely makes sense to have this as the track number one on this project too.
Kai: They’re going full in here. An up-tempo song, probably meant to set the tone for the album but like I said, the gems are still to come. Nice little tune for the radio, no big surprises here. What’s next?
#2 Me and You and Everything in Between
Thomas: I just love the line “it could have been us, on a bus”! Per says this sounds like a hit single from a different era and I have to agree. I just can’t put my finger on whose. The Pet Shop Boys? A mid-tempo pop song which easily could have been a hit in 1987. Hard to say what it can do in 2022. There’s even a tad guitar in it.
Kai: It has its good points when an album is produced by the bass player of the band. You can hear it in this song. The bass line is a world of its own. The song is cheeky and melancholic at the same time. A hit in 1987? Sure but it would have sounded differently, not so sophisticated as it is now. Sometimes it has its advantages when time goes by.
Thomas: No it’s definitely upgraded but you know what I mean.
Paul: If “Walking on Air” is this album’s “Real Sugar”, then this track is “The Centre of the Heart”. It doesn’t really sound anything like “TCOTH” but there is just something about it that gives me that vibe. Nice track, nice vocals.
#3 Headphones On
Thomas: Now we’re talking! This was the last song written for the album, and Per included some The Cars and some Blondie into it. And the intro screams Blondie. And for the first time we hear Jonas! Yes! If there’s a third single, this should be it. An up-tempo track we can compare to maybe “Chances”? It doesn’t sound like it but that’s the feel I get from it.
Kai: It’s 1991, your Sony Walkman sits safely in the pocket of your pink running suit and you do your morning lap in the city park. The TV image is blurry and soft, someone dressed in colors that are forbidden today speaks into the camera. This is the good mood song of the album. You want to listen to it forever. Loud. Louder. Louder than the knocking on the wall from your neighbor. Hit single material? Oh yes. I’m just afraid that today’s radios would prefer Dua Lipa anytime for no reason.
Thomas: I got almost nothing of that, but sure.
Paul: Is Kai okay? This song is the best uptempo track on the album. Hands down. Jonas’ guitar still sounds great and that chorus is just so catchy! This is the one that has been on repeat since receiving the album. A lot of the production sounds like it’s a continuation of the Good Karma sessions but in a more organic way. Yes, the songs are VERY produced, but you feel more warmth to the music, which was always part of Rox’s trademark sound. This would be the song that I would play to someone to introduce them to this project – it’s everything that I want in a PG song.
#4 You Hurt the One You Love the Most
Kai: This is THE surprise of this album. In the beginning you expect Phil Collins sneaking around the corners and hit those iconic drums in “In the Air Tonight”. This is hit material and Per reveals in his comments that it was meant to be this way. The song begins innocently but gains power by every line. Helena with one her most angelic performances recently. The only thing I would have asked for was some proper drums to shout out the full potential of this song. It is powerful the way it is now but it would have been much more superior with a powerful drum track. Anyway, this song is on repeat here. Good stuff that digital music files don’t wear off.
Thomas: Written together with Giorgio Tuinfort, unknown to me but Per mentions him working together with David Guetta. A mid-tempo track, or possibly even ballad, Per says it reminds him of “Listen to Your Heart” and maybe it does. It’s a gorgeous song, with awesome vocals from Helena. Sad lyrics. Powerful. Like Kai says, hit material. Oh wait, that was the song before… Oh well, this is also hit material! It grows from moment one to the end, then you wonder what happened. Another single contender, I’d say.
Paul: I’m going to be the first one to say it during this review – I can only imagine what this would’ve sounded like with Marie singing the chorus. Helena and Dea both do a fantastic job, but I can really hear Marie giving it her all. This is a beautiful song that, in typical Roxette fashion, starts off quiet and builds up and up towards the ending. Just fantastic. Be sure to check out Dea’s backing vocals as the song progresses! Maybe this song should be the one that I play to introduce this album?
Thomas: Yes I have wondered too, and the album is dedicated to Marie by the way.
Paul: A lovely touch!
#5 Watch Me Come Undone
Thomas: Funny trivia: both the verse and the chorus use the same chords. Another mid-tempo track. This song is probably the only one which gives me the Roxette vibe. I can’t place it, but it does sound very Roxette. I would have preferred better drums. (Read: real.)
Kai: Roxette vibes, yes. But this isn’t the 1990s Roxette filling the gap between LS! and Joyride, this is a sound we never got to experience yet. Somewhere after Good Karma, back to the roots, laid back but modern.
Paul: I sort of agree, Kai. Not 1990s Rox, but also not Good Karma either – somewhere in the middle. It reminds me a little bit of “Speak to Me”, especially the verses. Nice bit of classic Jonas guitar on the outro.
#6 The Craziest Thing
Thomas: The chorus is borrowed from an old ‘80s demo written by Per’s old friend Eddie Jonsson. This song is to me 100 % Kylie Minogue 1987! Isn’t it the craziest thing? It could easily have been produced by SAW.
Kai: Stock/Aitken/Waterman… You know one song and you know them all. Or the stuff they called Europop back then…. Luckily for us, this track here does not have much to do with that. Fine, there are those distinctive synth drums that scream “1980s” so loudly. And the lyrics… oh well… there are rhymes in there… Let me put it like this: In ancient times, people got in jail for less. But apart from this, this is a very catchy pop song of the good kind. Not very deep but it makes you smile and this is what pop has always been good for.
Thomas: It’s the weirdest thing?
Paul: This is the one that I’m getting Pet Shop Boys vibes from! Not sure what, if anything, could make this song sound more ‘80s.
Thomas: Are you deaf?? And no, maybe some tape hiss.
Paul: There are so many PSB songs with these synths, but I guess SAW really nailed that sound back then. A big part of my childhood growing up – the less said about that the better!
Kai: Paul, you are so right about PSB! It’s so easy to imagine this song sung with the voice of Neil Tennant and then hitting the charts all over the world.
Thomas: At first I wasn’t too impressed with the lyrics, but then suddenly realized I was wrong! “Sunday Monday Tuesday I don’t know what to do/Wednesday comes so quickly I never have a clue/Thursday morning my breakfast tea is blue”. I think this is one of my favorites on the album. Per says the keyboards remind him of the keyboards on the TV show The Persuaders’ intro song, and he’s correct. A mid-tempo track again. Also good lyrics.
Kai: Ha! Greetings from the 1990s with Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. Remember “Where Wild Roses Grow”? Or even “Cooper – Closer to God” by this famous Swedish band? This is the kind of song they don’t play anymore these days but they really should.
Thomas: It doesn’t feel like that one to me but I see what you mean.
Paul: Yes Kai, I get the Cooper connection, especially with the baseline. For me, this doesn’t sound like a PG song. It’s a nice enough song with interesting lyrics, but didn’t really do much for me at first, but after a few listens, I like it. It grows on you and gets under your skin. Another mid-tempo track before we kick up a gear with the next one.
#8 The Loneliest Girl in the World
Thomas: To me this is what I thought the album would be, seems I was a bit off. This is Per at his best I think, a very good synth riff with bouncy drums and bass. The only thing I miss here is a drrrry Jonas-guitar licking all over it. I would really be interested in hearing the “guitar-driven” demo!
Paul: Great way to kick off this PG Roxette project. Very typical Gessle and a super-catchy chorus. A very nice video too. I agree with you Thomas, I thought the album would have a few songs like this. Seems we were both off.
Kai: Tough one. Very tough. I didn’t really like it in the beginning. For me, this is the same attempt to sound “modern” as for instance in “One Wish”. Catchy but without heart really. No idea how to describe it. Now, with the other songs on the albums sitting right next to it, it makes sense. It fits the flow when you play the record but doesn’t really stick out for me.
Thomas: Was a country song when Per wrote it in 2016. Per brought it to Christoffer Lundquist to make it fit the album. When he heard the results he wasn’t sure he’d put it on the album, but he did after all. “Cause that’s the things I do!” The first real ballad on the album. Probably also one of my least favorites too.
Paul: I’d call “You Hurt the One You Love the Most” a ballad? This is the most ‘acoustic’ song on the album and I can imagine Per & Helena sat on a small stage performing this with just one acoustic guitar. This may grow on me, but at the moment, it’s the one I reach for the skip button the most.
Thomas: Yes maybe it is, but it’s faster than this one at least.
Kai: This song is different to all the other songs, especially soundwise. You can hear that CL had more influence here again, it’s… basic. In a good way ‘cos sometimes this is what is needed.
#10 My Chosen One (featuring LÉON)
Thomas: One of the first songs written for this project. An early idea Per had was to include guest singers on the album, so on this he got Swedish singer LÉON, someone he had never heard about, and neither have I. She has a good voice though, and seems huge on YouTube. Yet another mid-tempo track. No drums, no guitars. It also reminds me of Roxette.
Kai: One of the first songs? Interesting in the sense that it resembles the sound of the Vacker… albums. A trace of Nashville here and there. LÉON has a strong voice and I’m sure she could have added a notch or two if the production had permitted her to do so. On the other hand, why overdo songs if they can stand on their own legs. Really nice tune.
Thomas: Very. LÉON impresses me.
Paul: This reminds me of an outtake from the Have A Nice Day-era, production wise. LÉON has a nice voice and she definitely adds something extra to the track. Like Kai mentions, this song could’ve aimed for something higher towards the end, using LÉON’s vocals to elevate it more. This is another song that has grown on me after a few listens. There is a theme here.
Kai: Just found out that LÉON has two big idols: ABBA and Marie Fredriksson. Imagine the goosebumps she must have gotten when she got the chance to sing with Per…
#11 Walk Right in
Thomas: Per is very proud about this song, he plays E minor then G minor instead of G major which is what you normally play. I’m sure he’s right! He couldn’t sing it, because the sentences turned out too long for him to sing, so who was he gonna call?? Ghostbusters? No, Helena! She was up for the challenge. It starts very innocently with Helena singing the chorus over a slow keyboard, then BAM! One of the fastest songs on the album, and it ends with it, which never happens in Per’s world! Not really a favorite of mine but the synth hook is hot. Per isn’t anywhere to be found. I think it has an ABBA sound to it.
Kai: Oh wow. This is good. This is so good someone needs to shoot a Netflix series and want a theme song for the intro, only to give this song the platform it deserves. Something with 4 dimensions, under water and high above the clouds, fairy creatures and adventures with plot twists that make sense only in season 2 or 5 or even never. I’d watch this, just for the sake of the music.
Thomas: Ha ha! You make less and less sense.
Paul: The pandemic has definitely affected Kai! Although that series synopsis just sounds like a regular Saturday night for me. That synth really is channeling Donna Summer’s disco classic “I Feel Love”, although it really wouldn’t sound out of place on Kylie’s Disco album from 2020. What an odd track to end the album with, of course I was expecting a ballad and then this kicked off. That synth would make an excellent opening to a gig in the similar way to the Room Service tour. The storyboard for a video basically writes itself – a sweaty nightclub, lots of dancing, lots of lights. Make it happen!
Thomas: Hard to say what I want to say, I can’t find the words. When I first heard the album I was not blown away. Having heard it a few times it has grown exponentially. Yes it lacks guitars and drums to some extent, but it offers so much else. It wasn’t the album I was expecting, as Per did tell me this spring, but I still think this is more than a solid effort. The album is very keyboard oriented, probably Per’s most keyboard heavy album ever. So my advice to you who listen to it and don’t take an instant liking to it; give it a second spin. It’s well worth it. 3.5/5
Paul: This is one of the trickiest reviews that we’ve had to do I think. It definitely didn’t grab me on the first listen, apart from a couple of songs, so it takes a few listens to get into it. This could’ve easily been released as a Per Gessle solo album, rather than PG Roxette, and it probably would’ve made more sense. It feels more connected to Party Crasher than Good Karma for example. I still prefer the first half of the album and “Headphones On” is one of the best songs that Per has released in the last decade! Album rating: 3.5/5
Kai: Well, no skipped songs for me this time. It may have sounded different when you read my reviews but I really enjoy the album as a whole. It makes sense as it is, it’s pop of the good old kind, I could play the album forever. Like I said, it’s the sound of Roxette and yet it isn’t. The songwriting is from a time when you could still sing along songs, with witty moments here and there. Could have lived with more harmonica or just some whistling. And I miss real drums here, they would have given some of the songs another level. But I’m sure Per is listening to us and our ideas will find their way into the next album. Who knows, maybe they’re already recording it at this moment? 4.5/5
Let’s leave the last word to…
Photos: Fredrik Etoall
Artwork: Pär Wickholm
October 27th, 2022
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This article was posted here on TDR in these categories:
TDR:Editorial, TDR:PG Roxette, TDR:Releases, TDR:Roxette.