Friday, May 16, 2008

When you're on the edge and you're not getting all that you oughta get

(Warning: this is not really an album review--more just somewhat random musings inspired by E.M.D.'s A State Of Mind. Second warning: if you don't have a general fondness for the boy band sound or you liked Danny's album but are already thinking you probably won't like this album, I wouldn't really suggest getting it.)

It's rare to find boy bands doing the pure boy band sound of the late '90's and early 2000's today. Sure, if you do a little continent-hopping you'll run into some solo artists whose work could pass for one man boy band of the old sort, but nowadays it seems far more common for boy bands who don't want to wield guitars to incorporate a significant urban/R&B influence into their music.

We're not here to talk about those boy bands who seem to have taken "Girlfriend" as their inspiration, though. Instead, we're here to talk about how, after long having a surprising (or perhaps not, if you think about money) lack of boy bands considering the number of boy band classics its songwriters have given us, Sweden now has a new boy band: E.M.D. With two successful singles under their belt, one a cover and one original, the group of former Idol contestants released their new album, A State Of Mind, this week. And, save for a couple of tracks, it's R&B-influence-free (one of the exceptions being "One Call Away," a musically sweet fluffy R&B-lite ballad which I initially brushed off as pointless filler that didn't feel like a natural fit for the group and left no real impact but which as skyrocketed up in my affections since then to become a massive favorite).

That means they've generally avoided one of the major stumbling blocks of today's boy bands: a preoccupation with trying to seem cool that almost inevitably seems insincere and puts them in this dangerous zone where they never truly go far enough to make us believe their hip claims music-wise (or styling-wise) but also spend so much time trying to pursue that more R&B/contemporary sound and image that they forget about the vital importance of just having good melodies. In other words, many boy bands nowadays come off as "try hard" with their posturing but actually haven't tried hard enough to actually make cool edgy pop songs or to make such great songs that people don't care--or both.

Neither, though, is A State Of Mind a return to that sound of the golden age of boy bands; it tries to sound more organic, as if it's based more in real instruments (though it should be said that this is a matter of degrees--indie this is not; it's all still a tightly produced affair). That's not to say that some changes in arrangement wouldn't allow these songs to be used in an older boy band album; some of the melodies would fit right in. As is, though, the musical base here is one that wouldn't sound out of place on, say, a Bryan Adams album. Maybe the best way to illustrate what I'm trying to say is this: there are no songs here that feel designed to be (non-slow) danced to. Sure, you could picture some should swaying and dramatic hand gestures in a video for or performance of "For You" (which Andreas Carlsson and Jörgen Elofsson helped write) but that's about it. Or maybe it would be even simpler to just restate that the music is designed to sound more instrumental--not in the sense of lacking vocals, but of having real instruments, even if that's not actually the case.

Sometimes those real instruments are very welcome: the strings-and-piano base of "Give Me Some Time" makes for a distinctive (in the context of the album) and lovely sound, though I do wonder if in an alternative universe we'd have gotten a trancey-dance backing instead: it's written by the "D" of E.M.D., Danny Saucedo, and Oscar Görres, who worked with Danny on Danny's solo album--could it be a leftover from that, or is it just a result of Danny and Oscar's continued collaboration?

I really like going-for-big-and-semi-majestic "Run To You" and "Look At You Now" as well, but they too have that Bryan Adams-in-a-boy band sound. Which is fine in some ways--it means no tinny production likely to sound dated very quickly, and there is definitely a richness that can result from this sort of instrumentation. Sometimes, though, I long for the pop stormer-ness of 'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye," the giddy sugar rush of LMNT's "Juliet," or the intoxication of Backstreet's "Larger Than Life," which manages to be totally grand while still being streamlined, no element out of place and nothing wasted. Or a brilliant cascading over-the-top pop epic like a1's "Same Old Brand New You." Those songs would never have fit in on this album given its current style, and I know there are some people who are glad of that because pop has moved on; I don't think that was the main concern here, though, given that this is hardly a boundaries-pushing album. Being bold doesn't have to mean pushing boundaries, though, and I wish there was more boldness here;

None of this is to say that A State Of Mind is a bad album or one that isn't enjoyable (for me, it is--I can envision myself listening to "Run To You," "Jennie Let Me Love You," "One Call Away," "For You," "I Lied" [a song which I've got a whole mini-discussion of, though it's writing about the song, not raving about their version of it], "Give Me Some Time," and "Look At You Now," and given that I'm not really an albums person, that's pretty good, more than enough for me to not regret buying it); it's just that it would have been nice if it could have found some way to incorporate some thrilling pop moments, those heady rushes of songs.

To buy E.M.D.'s album A State Of Mind, go here (physical) or here (digital).

(I do not usually upload this many songs from an album, but I really think the music will help explain my thoughts better than my words could; still, consequently the songs will only be uploaded for a short time.)


D said...

Thank you for these songs, Poster girl :)
I love you! hehhe ;D

Paul said...

I find the whole premise of EMD fascinating and slightly strange. I'd much rather Danny continue with his solo career and none of their songs so far have had me drooling, though indeed some are quite good. I think there is a need for a boyband - and referring back to the PJ article about Billiam, i think they DO need to come out with a song that is totally their Sound of The Underground. The songs you reference are classic classic boyband songs. I think What's Up do the sound very well and VFactory have a more hip hop appeal. I guess i'm still waiting for that "wow" factor boyband to appear :(

Keira said...

Thanks for the songs. Will no doubt buy the album on my travels in Scandinavia next year. I really like Jenny Let Me Love You, and although there may not be a stand-out track there is something to be said for a good collection of songs on one CD :)

Resa said...

I'm restraining myself from getting the songs before I've got the hard copy in my hands. I loved "Jennie Let Me Love You" much more than their first album (Not saying I liked it because it was semi-biographical for me (Har har).

Reading your musings has prepared me for it. I loved Danny's debut, as well as Erik's and hope they'll continue on their own thing with Mattias doing solo material in the future.

Another random note, Sweden is draining my pocketbook because I keep buying albums!

Poster Girl said...

Aww, ha ha, thanks! I hope you enjoyed them--if you did, the album is probably worth getting.

"Fascinating" is a good word. I'm finding myself increasingly interested in artists or projects or songs just because they prompt thought in some way, not necessarily because I love them (though that's not totally the case for me here). I almost mentioned What's Up--they do have that old school boy band sound from what I've heard, but then didn't, mainly because though if you look at their singles rankings you might think they're fairly big in Sweden I don't really think they are at all (singles sales in Sweden are low--do some signings/appearances and you'll surely do well; I don't think they really, say, get radio play), and this post felt long enough already without me adding thoughts there in too ;) Also, I should add in (though I know you're talking about my comment on your site and not this post) that this article was totally not inspired in any way by that article about Billiam--it was basically written up before that.

You should have an amazing time in Scandinavia--a really expensive one, though! ;) You're totally right, too--there is a lot to be said for just having a fairly consistently listenable album.

In an earlier and longer version of this post (yes! It actually was longer at one point in time), I actually mentioned Erik's solo album--I think if you enjoyed that, there's an even greater chance you'll enjoy this, since ASOM's musical heart is a lot closer to the style of that album than, say, Danny's solo album. And I bet! If you're still there, I hope you paid for your flight out in advance or else you might not be able to afford it by the time you go to leave.