Album Review: A Camp – Colonia

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After the quick detour that was her solo debut, Nina Persson set out to record two moderately successful albums with The Cardigans, both of which sported her refined songwriting. It didn’t stop many from wondering if a second A Camp album would ever be, and if it could top the first album’s inevitable charm and raw yet balanced immediacy. During a long period, stretching from 2001 to 2008, A Camp was more or less a completely abandoned, silent camp. Colonia breaks that – and with generous measure!

Persson and her companions have reinforced their bonds, making A Camp a much tighter band, both administratively and instrumentally. Niclas Frisk and her husband, Nathan Larsson, have been fully merged into the project and as a trio, A Camp has never sounded better! It’s universally known, however, that the three stand and fall with their own duchess of style and personality. On Colonia, Persson steps forward as the humble songwriter, certainly a stretch from her previous work with The Cardigans, though it’s clear that she never had the opportunity then.

Colonia begins with a scene from a solemn day in an unknown country. “The Crowning” sets the mood and style for the album: a full orchestration with guitars, piano, bass, drums, a brass and a string section that gradually builds up the tension as Persson grants the new king with an acid salute (“So let’s raise our glasses to murderous asses like you”).

If the eponymous debut was a rush of independence from The Cardigans’s alternative rock agenda, then Colonia is where the band has found a solid ground to work on. Inspirations have yet again been brought from Persson’s new hometown: New York. Americana that travels cross-country is mixed with ’60s pop that roams the streets of the Big Apple. Her soulful contemplations and bluesy voice is set against elegant and rich orchestrations. It’s a budget-ignoring version of the band we knew from 2001. It may be seen as a move that doesn’t necessarily make the music more exciting, which unfortunately have hit the cognac-bitter and rather dull single “Stronger Than Jesus”, but this is where the fun part of Colonia begins.

Few bands can hope to succeed in upgrading their style, their musical social class, and at the same time raise the bar of what makes it interesting. Persson’s songwriting is indeed to thank for this, as it touches more distinct themes which coincide with the mood and style of the songs. Colonization is, of course, a central and exquisitely touched subject, which on Colonia stands as a rather direct and concrete theme; furthermore, it’s a fully embodied metaphor for the hazards of love and the love-hate relationship to it.

Persson makes good use of her wit and semi-ironic one-liners that seem drenched in sour liquid. In the theatrical soundscapes, this leads the band into a state where it sometimes is sardonic in its lovelorn despair of cologne-stinking upper class demeanour and sometimes airily sober in its affection for the essence of bittersweet. It’s delightful to see a band (and especially Persson, of course) bloom with such grace and raw maturity. The lighter moments, set against everything from the ’60s to the Baroque era, makes it temptuous to draw comparisons to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends. Yet, the only thing the two albums have in common worth mentioning is what also is their biggest flaw.

Both Colonia and Viva La Vida can be seen as triumphant comebacks for both bands respectively, extraordinarily elegant and majestic in their sound. Both were compelling and reassuring albums of alternative rock’s capacity of choosing alternative ways. But they just don’t manage to dig deep enough. Chris Martin might sing about walking the cemeteries of London and Nina Persson might croon about losing a needle in the hay, but it’s hard to take in the songwriters’ lament if it’s dressed up in such adventurous, romantic and neat suits. Sometimes those suits can feel a tad bit tight, inevitably restricting the emotional striking power – sadly, in Colonia‘s case, this is audible throughout the entirety.

Nonetheless, A Camp has worthily strolled down the Champ de Mars by the end of the album, and has won several battles on the way. The battle of “Chinatown”, memorable for its pleasant pace, gorgeous composition and clever lines (“But my reflection in the butcher’s window isn’t me”), and the battle of “Golden Teeth And Silver Medals”, notable for being reinforced by the one and only Nicolai Dunger, are fine landmarks in the band’s songbook. The record is a pearl of alternative pop that doesn’t try at all to be pop, there’s no doubt about that. Persson’s biggest winning here is that of lifting A Camp and marking it as an example of just how good and equally enjoyable a once side project, now fully realized band, can be.

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