Review Summary: An ebullient and cutting-edge effort from an often overlooked duo
“You were something special” hollers Eric Berglund, distorted as if shouted through a bullhorn, at the beginning of Swedish duo The Tough Alliance’s third album. Five years after the album initially came out, the call sounds all too fitting. The combination of charismatic lead singer and chaotic electronic programming has become played-out and complacent in the last half-decade, with Matt & Kim and Sleigh Bells leading the charge toward homogeneity, and Berglund’s cheeky shout no longer sounds playful but warily vindictive. Regardless of how others have affected the genre in the intervening years, A New Chance still stands alone as a very strong pop album and, if not for lack of relevance when it debuted, could be regarded as a revolutionary album.
Thanks to car commercials, The Tough Alliance’s formula is something that everyone is used to by now- brief verses, catchy choruses and raucous electronic instruments, with a dash of intriguing sampling. Despite the relative rigidity of their style, The Tough Alliance performs a veritable miracle by keeping all of the songs different enough for them to not blend into one-another. Through the 32 minutes of music, there is never a minute of boredom or a lapse in energy- the whole album reeks of pure enjoyment. It’s easy for a band like The Tough Alliance to lapse into the sardonic or self-parody, but the Swedes opt instead to explore the pure joy of making pop music. The mood is rarely serious and often brightly jocular, such as the refreshingly bright if cynical take on American culture in “Miami.” Berglund repeats that he is “too tough to die” more times than can be counted while slipping in drug references in the background.
But, for all the repetition that the vocals provide, there is very little to be found elsewhere in the album. The mix provided by Henning Furst is distinctly European, almost Robynesque, but he still finds ways to remain elastic- ranging from the tradition guitar and drum machine on “First Class Riot” to the Caribbean sounding steel drum and whistle on “Looking for Gold.” A theme of multiculturalism is also present on the album- including Islam inspired writing on the cover, a Muslim prayer call to begin the album and a spoken-word Spanish sample- that highlights the skill and precision that went into creating the album; an amount of deftness rarely seen or heard, especially in the fickle landscape of electro-pop. Furthermore, the tracks frequently vary between loud and upbeat and slow and calculated. The rise and fall between songs as well as within certain songs keeps the album from growing stagnant, as albums like this often can when there isn’t enough variety in pace. The construction of the album as a whole is a huge plus and shows the effort that was put into an often overlooked part of making an album.
Perhaps the best part about The Tough Alliance though is that they do all these feats while making it look effortless. The album has an air of easygoing to it that projects only the fun and positive. The record is buoyed by the instruments and perfected by Berglund’s vocals that lack diversity in range, but are compensated for by his unique tone. The brevity of the album is another defining factor: with just eight songs, there is no filler whatsoever, each song selected because of the impact it will make. Frankly, the only problem on this album is there are no standout “singles” that you come to expect from a pop album like this- every song is more-or-less even in quality. A New Chance truly is something special.