I saw Nina Persson recently, when she visited the UK with her band A Camp. She is a lovely lady, if a little quirky. In fact, her manner is summed up by something in the warm-up act, Kristofer Åström, a softly spoken Swede who played relaxing solo guitar and voice, with the odd harmonica part thrown in. We were almost asleep standing up listening to his relaxing with his gentle tones, and did a bit of a double-take when he introduced his next song as being called "Blind Motherfucker". I suppose it is probably a Swedish thing and not just a Nina Persson or a Kristofer Åström thing, but it kinds of sums up Swedes, because they manage to be very chilled, relaxed and easy-going, while at the same time being a little bit more open and matter-of-fact than the English.
A Camp were very good. They were sharp and engaging and played a good mix of songs from both albums. I am still amused that the first album is from 2001, before the last two albums were conceived. It seems strange not to play the Cardigans songs in the middle, as they fill a gap somehow. The lyrics are unmistakeably from Nina's imagination, as they cover love about everything else, and are slightly quirky, with lyrics like
Love is a fire; a hot, hot blaster
and we're the Belgians burning in the Congo sun
However, most of the themes covered in recent songs are themes already covered in previous albums, so now is a good time to discuss the themes in her lyrics.
This post is an attempt to answer the question "What is love?" from the angle of the Cardigans. It's almost the only thing they write about, but they do it so well because they capture it in a way that is real, with the intense emotion of real life. I was looking for some evidence and I looked up the bonus DVD that came with their album Super Extra Gravity. In that, Magnus says "Nina's always writing about unrequited love and how difficult everything is". Also, in Musik Express (the German magazine) Nina is quoted as saying "auf diese Platte hat schon jeder Song etwas mit Beziehungen zu tun", describing Long Gone Before Daylight. For those who don't speak German, that means "on this record every song has something to do with relationships".
Love is used to describe a lot of different things. In a Christian perspective, love simply means "displaying kindness". Love is an action and not a feeling. But love is often thought of as a feeling. It's a feeling of devotion, or of dependence, or of obsession. It's a feeling that may mean a collection of different things, and can be different things at different times. It could mean that you can spend forever in someone's company or maybe it means that the feeling won't die with time apart. Perhaps it's not always good, but the love comes because some of the times together are the best times ever. Is it something that reflects on how they interact physically or how well they understand one another, or how accepting they are of each other's faults? Whatever, it's the same feeling. But it comes in different guises which is why the Cardigans are able to write so much on the subject.
According to the Cardigans, the good, happy part of love is almost secondary to the pain it causes. From the first album in 1994 they made it clear that things were not all plain sailing. Cloudy Sky contains these lyrics:
I'd paint the grey sky blue
and just for you
so don't tell me you want the rain...
...I've always tried to find
what satisfies your mind
but I will never know
And the famous single Lovefool is a screaming desperate call for her lover to stay with her - helpless with the feeling that her lover has fallen out of love.
By the release of Gran Turismo in 1998, the pain of being in love seems unbearable. If you haven't heard it, listen to Paralysed (Track 1) with the volume turned up and the bass even louder. Even without the words, it's a powerful song, but with the lyrics...
This is where your sanity gives in / and the love begins
Never lose your grip / don't trip, don't fall
You'll lose it all
The sweetest way to die
...it's even more powerful. Or listen to Do you Believe (Track 9), which I quoted in the title to this post.
When Long Gone Before Daylight arrived in 2003, it was clear that the message was this: if it's not horrible and painful, you're not doing it right. I've said it before and I'll say it again: And Then You Kissed Me is the saddest and the best song ever written. The song is about an abusive relationship in which the abuse makes the love stronger if anything
baby you hit me!
Yeah, you punched me right in the heart
and then you kissed me...
and then you hit me...
The message is this
True love is cruel love
If it doesn't hurt, it's not right. And this is the theme for most of the album. You're the storm says you're the storm that I've been needing and For What It's Worth shows what kind of a difference to life love makes.
A four-letter word got stuck in my head
the dirtiest word that I've ever said
and it's making me feel alright
The four letter word is love, and saying it changes everything about her relationship. It goes from being a care-free festival of joy to something dirty.
After all this, it's incredible that any of the Cardigans are in relationships and even married. But some of the other songs show the lure of love. Happy Meal II from The First Band On The Moon is about the feeling when you invite a new boyfriend back home for a meal. The words...
no one can be happier than me
...sum it up.
And Then You Kissed Me (a song mentioned earlier) explains as well why you would go through so much pain to be with someone you love.
It hit me like never before
that love is a powerful force
Even recently, A Camp released the song Stronger than Jesus, and guess what is stronger than Jesus? Love.
In fact, say the Cardigans, the good side of love is so good that you don't mind the bad stuff that comes too. Take Step on Me, for example, where she protests that her man is walking all over her. Despite that, the love makes her say go ahead and step on me along with some tongue in cheek lyrics about him standing on her foot - this is weird Nina at her best (You'll break that foot that you're standing on / I'll walk with the other one)
Not everyone will agree with what the Cardigans think of love, but most of them are in long term relationships or married, so they must be doing something right!