Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Charm School!

Charm School by Roxette: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Greetings, Glancers! I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a Barbie movie called something like Charm School. That one where she’s Blair Willows. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to hear something we haven’t heard before, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’, and by ‘me’ I mean ‘I’. I haven’t heard any of this album before and in truth I don’t have high hopes. Charm School was the first album in ten years from Roxette, after the not so good Room Service. Marie had had a brain tumour you see, and that sort of thing gets in the way of, well, everything. But the band and Marie kept fighting and returned with another record. I have no idea what it’s like or what it’s about, but the best I’m hope for is one good single in the vein of their past greats – one song that I hear and can say ‘hey, that was actually pretty good’. Lets do this.

Way Out‘ starts out with some distant swirling before a laid back beat and acoustic guitar section starts. Per’s vocals should always take a back seat to Marie’s for me, but that’s me. It’s nice to hear that Roxette pop rock sound again, in this modern world of clipped melodies and auto-tuning. There’s some crisp guitar, some light melodies, and the chorus is as always the focal point. It’s not bad.

No One Makes It On Her Own‘ begins with Marie and piano. With a name like that, it’s easy to draw parallels with what she had been going through when gone from the public eye. Her vocals are still good, but is there some sort of mumble quality or lisp there now? Or is she struggling more with English? There’s definitely something a little different from before. Otherwise, this is very nice – a melody as simplistic as something like Imagine but honest and heartfelt. Two songs of varying B Grade quality.

She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio)‘ opens with a funky beat and strange oozing distortion. Per leads again. The verse is guff, the chorus isn’t bad but too short versus the longer verse. The verse is C or D grade, the chorus B, the bridge B – whatever that works out for you. I’d call it the weakest song so far, but the most up-tempo.

Speak To Me‘ starts with one of those oriental sounding string instruments. More Per. A better melody and verse. The Marie comes in with a blast of a chorus – that’s a very Roxette chorus, very reminiscent of their heyday. It’s good. I get the impression that this one would act as a comeback anthem for diehards. It’s not challenging, just a reminder that they can still do the big emotive power pop thing when they choose to.

I’m Glad You Called‘ is slow acoustic guitars and the start. It’s Marie and that lisping mumbling quality is even more prominent here. It’s quite distracting, which is a shame because the music is quite lovely – no booming drums, but lots of string accompaniment and unusual vocal choices, even when Per joins. I think this could be really good with a more powerful vocalist in their prime, or Marie twenty years earlier.

Only When I Dream‘ kicks off with the big hook first, some fuzzing guitars and synth stuff alongside it. Per propels another decent atmospheric verse forwards before Marie joins. It keeps kicking on and building and then the chorus drops suddenly. It’s pretty good too, but those transitions are slightly too sudden – like there’s a few seconds just missing to connect the pieces and heighten the emotion and solidity. Still, it’s more compelling than most of what was on the last couple of albums and it actually feels like a return to form.

Dream On‘ opens with a nice acoustic flourish before trending towards an early Britpop sound – like James or one of those bands who were doing the Britpop thing before Blur and Oasis exploded. They’ve pulled way back on the experimental outbursts from the last album and are dedicating their focus on melody, which is a big plus for a band like this. Marie gets a quick hook in there too, followed by some harpsichord type jingling.

Big Black Cadillac‘ sounds like they’re going experimental again. There’s synth humming but at least it’s melody based again rather than just chucking in sounds for the sake of it. It’s more that they’ve said ‘instead of guitars, lets try this’. The verse is silly and bouncy, the chorus better. A little similar to some other songs on the album but not so overt as to make me discount it.

In My Own Way‘ is another slow one – arpeggio and Marie, singing more clearly now. Another good melody, more building in the background. We get the few seconds of space before the chorus. But is that the chorus or just another verse? That’s a shame as there is no clear and obvious standout chorus. The rest is good, though we probably didn’t need Per’s part.

After All‘ has another quirky Britpop approach. Feels like the start of a sitcom or a kids TV show. It’s fun and silly and nonchalant. This one feels like a sleeper single.

Happy On The Outside‘ has some brief synth beats and swirls which pull back to allow Marie’s vocals through. Atmospheric again, melody focused again. The chorus clearly owes a debt to Coldplay with the way the drums and piano jangle together, but the melodies remain strong. It all seems effortless, though the cynic in me could say they’re treading water and barely trying. I don’t think that’s the case – I think it’s more a case of them finding comfort in music again and re-introducing themselves to the world in the best way they know how.

Sitting On Top Of The World‘ has more synth sounds. Marie in the verse again and more decent verse. That plinky instrumental overlay reminds me of Michael Jackson’s Someone In The Dark from ET. It’s a strong ending, gentle, easy, clean, they’re not breaking any new ground but simply saying ‘hey, we haven’t been around for a while, but we’re back and we’re still doing that thing you like’.

Well, I got more than I asked for. Quite a few songs met my categorization of ‘pretty good’. When they stick to what I feel they are best at – emotive pop – then you know you’ll get some good stuff. When they try to branch out into different styles and approaches it tends to fall to pieces. Here the softer songs are stronger, the weaker tracks reserved more for the upbeat, up-tempo, more rock oriented songs. Also, it’s a consistent album – it doesn’t bounce from sound to sound and style to style, and it’s not bloated like some of their biggest released. As such, there are plenty of songs I’d gladly listen to again. I don’t think any of them come close to their absolute best, but a few drop into the same crowd as their second tier stuff. It definitely works as a comeback album, a reminder that they can still write crowd-pleasing anthems and emotional ballads. It would take sterner critic than me to complain about that, given the length of time they’ve been away and the circumstances surrounding their absence. If you like Roxette, or if at some point you’ve enjoyed their biggest hits, there will be something here to pull you in.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Charm School!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Speak To Me. No-One Makes It On Her Own. I’m Glad You Called. Only When I Dream. Dream On. After All. Happy On The Outside. Sitting On Top Of The World.

Nightman Listens To – Room Service – Roxette!

*Note – written July 2019

Greetings, Glancers! It’s Roxette time again, and another album that I’m 100% unfamiliar with. Last time around, I didn’t think much of Have A Nice Day beyond a couple of okayish tracks. The general next step in a band’s late career after an average album is another average album. Some acts call it a day, others go on a hiatus before a, more often than not, well-received return to form some years down the line. This came a couple of years after the previous album so I can only assume it’s going to be the same sort of thing. I’m clutching at straws here to fill out the intro. Let’s do this.

Real Sugar: A synth opening. Per sounds as youthful as ever as he begins to sing. Melody is alright, the drums are terrible, but the chorus is better – a little edge, and as you know I prefer Marie’s vocals. The chorus actually makes the verse marginally better, giving a shadow/light dynamic to some extent. The bridge seems tacked on – as if it could have been written for any song, it doesn’t feel like part of this song necessarily. Marie’s vocals actually feel a little off here. Still, it’s a poppy opener which long-standing fans should like.

The Centre Of The Heart: We open with a swell of more of that Euro-dance sound which popped up often on the previous album. It has its place, though I can’t take a lot of it in a single sitting. The chorus is catchy, I get that, but it gets on my tits by the second time around. I much prefer the verse – it’s simple and understated, though I don’t think we need the effects on the vocals. The ‘na na na na’ stuff post-chorus is also less annoying than the actual chorus. I’m all for the strings, but the drums are feeble – not enough depth or boom to make you want to dance. They want to stay in the pop realm without doubling down with the bass. I understand if people like this, but it’s average as far as their singles go.

Milk And Toast And Honey: Three things I like. A lullaby style introduction, or like the sound from opening one of those creepy jewelry boxes which has a ballet figurine twirling around inside. Lyrics aren’t the best, the rhymes seem forced. The melody is sweet, I like the extra line without the music accompaniment before the chorus. Was that a chorus? It was over before I actually typed the sentence. Yes, second time round it is a chrous. I’ve always felt Roxette is at their best when doing ballads – power or otherwise. This is a straight, innocent ballad though it doesn’t tug in the right places this time around. Matron.

Jefferson: A straight soft pop rock song of the type we expect by the band. I’ve no idea who Jefferson is, but I can see people singing along with the chorus. This is probably the most catchy (without being annoying) song so far, though I don’t think we could do with the piano following the melody in the bridge. Very simple, but not bad.

Little Girl: Squeaky synth stuff and piano and more weak drums. It’s another ballad so I automatically sort of enjoy the melody. The chorus isn’t great, Marie’s pushed vocal makes it better for a moment. The second verse and pre-chorus are a little jumbled and ruin the momentum. The rest of the song is a non-eventful bridge and more repeats of the chorus.

Looking For Jane: Another nice enough song – melodies are nice, vocals nice, music nice. It’s just very safe and doesn’t hit the heights of their best stuff. Again, fans will gobble it down. It’s not bad, just lacking the impetus and spark.

Bringing Me Down To My Knees: Another ballad. More Marie, so that’s a positive. Maybe if I’d heard all these, maybe if they had been made fifteen years earlier and been part of my childhood I would enjoy them more. There’s nothing wrong here, ignoring the fact that it’s all safe and simple. It’s a case of me being nowhere near the target audience for this sort of stuff and assuming that the fans will still enjoy it. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, but the band was once capable of more.

Make My Head Go Pop: Another up-tempo Euro-pop thing with Per vocals. As with the others it doesn’t have a big enough chorus, or edge, or thumping bass to appeal to the crowd who listens to this type of music – it’s Roxette’s lighter take on that type of music without really adding anything good to it. The little lullaby in the middle is a nice twist I guess, but it doesn’t lead to anything.

Try: Well, that is very Gina G of you. Back with Marie now. It’s slow. It promises to go somewhere but instead is content to remain in this dreamy aimless space.

Fool: Haven’t we heard this one already? No, it has trumpet or something, so that’s new. They’re all blending together now – no melody poking its head out of the ground, no moment grabbing my attention. That trumpet is very annoying.

It Takes You No Time To Get Here: A Per ballad now. This is sweet. His vocals get a little weird in the chorus. This feels like a Country song, thankfully without any Country shite. If I heard this on its own I’d maybe enjoy it a tad more, but these album listens are hard work and suck any of the goodness out of the good songs. A lot of the songs feel much longer than they are.

My World My Love My Life: Fade in. Crappy drums, good piano. I realise I’m repeating myself. I quite like this, at least the chorus melody has an air of sadness even though the lyrics seem positive. I’d add this to my playlist picks but it’s too similar to everything else that is there.

I know Roxette were never the most exciting band beyond a few hits in the 80s, but they did have a knack for making emotive pop. Now it all seems very boring. I do prefer this to the previous album – less focus on studio malarkey and more on making good songs. The songs still don’t end up being very good, but at least they don’t get on my nerves. It’s just pleasant background music for people who don’t really love music. It’s another album where I’ve already forgotten every song as I type this. There were some C grade hooks, none of it was bad – just meh. Forgettable. As memorable to me as any of the faces I pass each day – there for a second, gone for eternity, forgotten or barely registered. I actually liked a number of the songs but none of them reach A grade. They’re still nice enough that I wouldn’t take issue with hearing them again, but I imagine they wouldn’t last long on my playlist. Man, I need some metal after this.

Let me know, etc.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Jefferson. Milk And Toast And Honey. Looking For Jane. It Takes You No Time To Get Here.

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Have A Nice Day!

*Note. This, and at least three subsequent Roxette album posts were written before this week and the news that Marie had passed away after her long cancer battle. I typically write these posts many months before I actually post them (I have already listened to and written about Charm School by September this year – who knows when I’ll post it). It’s strange to think we won’t get another Roxette album now, but we still have a collection of songs to look back on and enjoy.

220px-Roxette_Have_a_nice_day

Greetings, Glancers! Between 1994’s Crash! Boom! Bang!  and 1999’s Have A Nice Day the music world had moved on. While the band had released a Greatest Hits, a Rarities compilation, and an album of Spanish covers of their own ballads, five years is a long time to go without new material. Did anyone still care about Roxette on the eve of the old millennium and were they still capable of making instant pop classics? With regards to the first question, the album charted well and still sold a couple of million copies, though it wasn’t as large a success as their previous albums. Looking at the 14 songs on the track list, I don’t recognise any of them although given that ‘Wish I Could Fly’ was apparently the most played song of 1999 I assume I have heard it and somehow blanked it from my memory. I assume the album will be all new to me, but possibly bring some surprise nostalgia.

Crush On You‘ opens with a different sound for the band. Not jarring, as we know Roxette like to play around with their sound a little. It’s a heavy percussive opening before descending into a cheesy dated rave sound before stabilizing a little in the verse. Per sing talks the vocals with Marie filling in for the chorus. That chorus is pretty simple, a nice counterpoint to the plain melody of the verse. It is designed to feel hectic, a rap quality to the verses and a lot of synth and drums bouncing around. Nice enough production – a lot of switching around and different sounds, each couple of lines has a slightly different accompaniment to keep things varied. Stripped down it would be quite simple and straight, but all together it’s an okay opener, should get the blood pumping.

Wish I Could Fly‘ doesn’t ring a bell for me at the moment. I was listening to the radio in 99 so if this was such a big hit I should remember it. The verse feels marginally familiar, but I think I’m searching for a memory where there isn’t one. The chorus sounds like a couple of other Roxette songs and is strong enough that I should remember it, so I’m confident that I haven’t heard this. I’m not sure why it was such a hit as it feels like a pastiche of other Roxette songs… maybe it’s exactly what fans wanted after five years, but it’s definitely a lesser version of what they’d already achieved.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around What’s Already Gone‘ starts with DJ scrapes and crappy digitized beats. Per delivers the lead verse melody – it’s fine, lots of effects on his voice. It’s the backing stuff which is more interesting – the band clearly having fun messing in the studio but the unfortunate result is it sounds very dated. I have a feeling a lot of this is intentional, as if they were going for an already dated sound in 1999, but that sound isn’t one I’m keen on so it sounds very juvenile.

Waiting For The Rain‘ has a McCartney feel. The piano rhythm and the vocals feel very much like mid-career Beatles. The overall tone is very 60s to me, there’s a little bit of brass and flute stuff going on, and again the vocals have some effects over the top. It’s catchy enough, and each repetition builds a little something extra on, but it never gets better than okay.

Anyone‘ opens with a nice piece of piano, then a big string section gives me hope for an unknown ballad. This is much more what I prefer from Roxette – heart tugging melodies and vocals. Yes, it’s easily my favourite so far but you should know by now I love a good ballad. The verses stretch out, making me wonder if there is a chorus. The chorus, extended as it is, or split up as it is, doesn’t work as well as the verse and I’m happier once we get back to the verse. That return is short lived as we’re quickly back to the chorus. That’s a bit of a letdown as we were heading for one I’d quickly listen to again. As it is, it’s one I wouldn’t mind hearing again but not one I’d look for.

It Will Take A Long Long Time‘ is a rest from the over produced nature of everything we’ve had so far. A simple acoustic guitar intro and Marie’s vocals. Then some keys. Then the production comes with the chorus, but it’s not overbearing. Simple hopeful lyric. That’s a better chorus too – this one feels more even musically. The bridge and instrumental are as by the numbers as you can get and simply lead to another chorus before the end. Usually I say these ones are lazy and thrown together in a matter of hours, but it’s one of the better ones due to its simplicity. Nothing bad so far, just a range of middling songs.

7Twenty7‘ brings the production back with a digitized howl of noise, I guess signifying the 727 airplane. The song is another lackluster one built up by the wall of sound. I always say – can a song be stripped down to just a voice and a single instrument, and still be as powerful as the original, and this case I don’t see it. Very mundane melodies and aside from the odd Marie moment the vocals are plain. Of course, many songs are supposed to be that wall of sound and the stripped down theory shouldn’t apply, but this isn’t one of those. The song isn’t four minutes long but I’m bored long before that.

I Was So Lucky‘ seems a little more stripped down, maybe another ballad. Better melodies, better music. It’s still not reaching those top levels, but it’s better. The main feeling I get from the album is just that it’s plain, white music. I’m not sure the songs could be transformed to something better than what they are – what you hear is what you get and none of it is terrible or amazing. I still like this, but I can’t see it reverberating in my head after it’s done. Better than meh and in cases like this, quite good is the most positive I can be, but still waiting for one I’d really want to hear again.

Stars‘ opens like a terrible cheesy Europop rave up, one of those one-hit wonders from the late 90s which had the braindead bopping in droves. It ends up being better – the verse melodies and the kid choir stuff is good, but the backing beats and sounds are generic and weak and I dismiss them entirely within milliseconds of hearing them. It’s a bit annoying then when they finally get a better selection of hooks that they surround them with garbage.

Salvation‘ keeps the improved melodies running, with a wispy organ sound accompanying Marie. It’s all going well until that dreadful 90s drum sound comes in. That sound alone is almost bad enough to ruin the whole song for me. There’s a religious bent to the lyrics which the instrumental choices mirror, with angelic voices filling in, and we get another good chorus. This is easily one of the best songs – I don’t think the bridge does anything – but the verse and chorus do nothing wrong aside from the drum sound. Take that away and I’d gladly listen to this again.

Pay The Price‘ seems to go for a more traditional rock sound. It still has a lot of studio shenanigans going on instead of going for a pure live sound, but this is Roxette we’re talking about. It’s jumpy and fun, feels like a nice Summer song – something you’d have in the background of a 90s movie beach scene. Harmless fun and I don’t have any complaints – just not the most memorable. That’s maybe the best two songs in a row – can we keep the trend going?

Cooper‘ is the name of my cat. He’s named after Alice and Dale, not this song. His middle name is Michael Jackson, according to my kids. I don’t know who this Cooper is they are referring to, seems to be a lady. Per’s vocals are good here, maybe because of the good melodies, interesting lyrics, and tone suggesting something sinister. It’s a ballad, but has something akin to Little Susie. Cooper was sleeping as I started to play this song, but he’s now sitting up and staring at me so I have to console him and let him know it’s not about him.

Staring At The Ground‘ opens with more interesting drum sounds then some more summery guitar. It’s another light and fun song, inconsequential, but one which really tries to slap a smile on your chin. It even has harmonica. It’s almost like a 3 minute chorus.

Beautiful Things‘ opens with strings – always good. Good breathy vocals, sad tone. I’m good with the melodies, drum sound isn’t great but not too distracting, and the chorus works nicely as a counterpoint. Good transitions between the two tones and parts, blends well. The bridge isn’t the best, but that’s par for the course on this album. Yeah, good song, good ending to the album.

It’s a shame the start of the album isn’t as fun as the end. There are four or five good songs worth mentioning in that run in which are better than everything else. I wouldn’t say there are any bad songs but there is too much that is middling and either never hits top gear or is brought down by over-produced fluff. Albums which sound over-produced to me usually suggest a void of ideas or lack of creativity, or alternatively show an artist excited about a new box of toys but with not a clue how to use it to make a good time. Many albums throw a lot of these tricks into the mix and it pays off, because it either compliments the song’s purest form or elevates that song to something even more special. When it doesn’t work, it’s either vapid noise or highlights how uninteresting the music actually is. There isn’t a true standout song for me here, but those few towards the end warrant another listen – I’m not sure whether I’d include them on a personal Roxette compilation, but maybe after another few listens.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Have A Nice Day!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Beautiful Things. Salvation. Pay The Price.