At my office recently, a colleague in the adjoining cubicle who harbors a fondness for the Brothers Gallagher overheard me spinning a new album and asked, ”Is that Oasis?“ It was, in fact, Behind the Music, the third and latest collection by the Swedish band The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Her confusion was understandable, for the U.K. brethren and their Scandinavian counterparts have much in common.
Today — half a century after the genesis of rock & roll, and 35 years after the music‘s mid-’60s epoch of high fermentation — acts like Oasis and The Soundtrack of Our Lives exemplify a legion of well-schooled synthesists who harvest rock history for their own multilayered purposes. Oasis persists today as a Beatle-worshipping sect purveying pop moves purloined from the Fab Four and a constellation of other Invasion-era units. If anything, The Soundtrack is more ambitious in its thievery, engulfing a couple of decades‘ worth of pop and rock whole; that the resultant mix manages to hang together is a gauge of the band’s poise and skill.
The Soundtrack, which has been releasing records at home for five years, is only now receiving a wider airing in the U.S. through the release of its first three albums by Hidden Agenda Records, the label arm of indie distributor Parasol. (Stateside listeners can get a sampling of the band‘s surprising punk rock roots as Union Carbide Productions by seeking out The Golden Age of Union Carbide Productions, on Dolores, a compilation of ”hits & misses“ from four albums recorded between 1986 and 1993; it is sometimes available from Parasol.)
Formed by a bunch of spoiled, bored kids in Gothenburg, Sweden, UCP began life essentially as a Stooges tribute band. Some songs are virtual rewrites of the Detroit quartet’s best-known stuff: ”Ring My Bell“ could be ”Funhouse“ (complete with Steve MacKay–style sax solo), while ”Down on the Farm“ heists ”Gimme Danger.“ But UCP always had a way of working in its own wrinkles: For instance, although ”Here Comes God“ borrows enthusiastically from ”TV Eye,“ it overlays an electric sitar on the proceedings.
By 1993, the members of UCP had soured on their hard but simplistic brand of garage-punk; lead vocalist and principal songwriter Ebbot Lundberg, in particular, was chafing to create a sound that would admit more of the classic-rock influences he loved. ”You grow,“ Lundberg says, on the phone from Sweden. ”We said, ‘Let’s change the name and try to live up to the new name.‘“ Thus Lundberg and UCP guitarists Bjorn Olsson and Ian Person formed the nucleus of a new, more audacious band.
The messianic bent evident in The Soundtrack of Our Lives’ moniker is also apparent from the first notes of its 1996 debut, Welcome to the Infant Freebase. The opening track, ”Mantra Slider,“ incorporates a barrage of familiar rock stylings, from Lundberg‘s Jim Morrison–like vocal, to the vast Beach Boys–inflected production sound, to a guitar solo that owes everything to the Mick Taylor–era Rolling Stones. The mark of the Fabs is everywhere, not least in the ”Fool on the Hill“–like piping on ”Embryonic Rendezvous,“ while ”Four Ages (Part II)“ makes an affection for The Who explicit in its power-chord voicings and manic Keith Moon drum rolls.
The 1998 sophomore opus, Extended Revelation, is no slump. In fact, the second set reveals a refreshing gravitation toward un-trendy precursors for inspiration. Although such obvious items as ”Tomorrow Never Knows,“ Who’s Next and Love‘s Forever Changes come into play, one can also hear such unlikely candidates as Procol Harum moving to the fore. An obsession with the Electric Light Orchestra rears its head on ”Jehovah Sunrise.“ And, though such young acts as the Warlocks have since made their allegiance to Pink Floyd known, the ersatz Floyd-isms of cuts like ”Let It Come Alive“ seem positively prescient now.
Behind the Music, the first Soundtrack album without the significant presence of guitarist Olsson, came out earlier this year and is the most assured of the band’s records. While fresh sonic borrowings proliferate, the songs play as more than simple pastiches. Added to the sextet‘s sound are such unlikelies as Bob Dylan (in the organ work of ”Still Aging“), Simon and Garfunkel (on the ballad ”Into the Next Sun,“ which also owes something to Neil Young) and the Raspberries (in a go-all-the-way intro to ”21st Century Rip Off“).
Speaking of rip-offs, is The Soundtrack of Our Lives merely that? Hardly. The stylistic pilferings on its albums are mated to brittle, punk-bred lyrical expressions of anomie, rage and doubt that seem distinctly the Swedes’ alone. But even if the writing didn‘t have a kick of its own, the sheer zest and go-for-broke spirit of these midnight funsters would elevate their work beyond mere larceny. If you want to call it musical robbery, then I say, ”Stick ’em up!“