The second album from Jönköping, Sweden’s Mary Onettes (after 2007’s self-titled debut) had a difficult gestation. As they told TLOBF in a recent interview here, the initial mix of many of its tracks was lost when the computer on which they were stored was stolen, a problem compounded when the backup drive on which they had responsibly kept a copy coincidentally broke. Some things, seemingly, are meant to be, and the band picked themselves up, re-recorded the lost tracks, and have ended up with this release, more organic in nature than the originals.This incident seems strangely fitting, since it quickly becomes apparent that this is an album suffused, lyrically at least, with loss and regret. Nearly every song tells of a sadness, with one eye and a heart firmly in the past. So ‘Dare’ tells of “the darkest hours”, ‘Once I Was Pretty’ confesses that “it’s only our youth we’re chasing”, whilst acknowledging that “looking back is even worse”, whilst ‘Symmetry’, poignantly states “I’ll never know love the way I did before”. Old photographs are a motif that recur in ‘The Disappearance Of My Youth’ and ‘God Knows I Had Plans’, and even the track titles (‘The Disappearance…’, ‘Century’, ‘Once I Was Pretty’) are nostalgic.So far, so melancholy. What makes this album that bit more than just a doom-and-gloom-fest, though, is the juxtaposition of these downbeat lyrical concerns with music that is exuberant, upbeat and celebratory. From the balearic opener ‘Puzzles’ onwards, the majority of the songs are framed in a rich, lively, cheerful sounding setting. Production is glossy, full-sounding and often 1980s-flecked (‘Once I Was Pretty’, ‘Century’, ‘Bricks’) and chock-full of polish, harmonies, sweeping synths and yearning strings. This is a band who have a great way with a chorus – the likes of ‘Puzzles’, ‘Dare’, ‘Once I Was Pretty’, ‘God Knows I Had Plans’ and ‘Bricks’ are all moving, memorable and very easy on the ear: effortlessly hummable, like all the best pop tunes should be. ‘God Knows I Had Plans’, in particular, is one of those tracks that provokes an instant endorphin surge, simply by means of its tune and is probably the best thing to be found on this not-at-all-bad album.At times this slickness and absence of anything that could accurately be characterised as “grit” (musically, that is) can be a little numbing. Occasional guitar sounds that are shoegaze-ish (‘Cry For Love’, ‘Century’), jangly (‘Dare’) or strummed (‘God Knows…’) are welcome when they appear, breaking as they do the smooth sheen prevalent elsewhere. The A-Ha comparisons (apparently made at the time of the band’s first album) can here be understood not simply by the ‘80s quality to the sound but also thanks to the vocal of singer and songwriter Phillip Ekström, which has a noticeable similarity to Morten Harket; and indeed a similar insipidity in places (‘Once I Was Pretty’), although elsewhere, as on the dramatic closer ‘Bricks’, it demonstrates much more conviction.In any case, nestled amongst all the other great things that these songs and this band have got going on – the lovely lush fullness of sound, the dramatic and striking subject matter and most of all Those Tunes – these are minor gripes. Once again a band from Sweden has pulled of that trickiest of feats, and given the world an album that is a great listen: at once undeniably pop, and yet anything but disposable.RECOMMENDED

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