Few can crank out the guilty/not guilty pop pleasures like the Scandinavians: ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, teen-pop impresario Max Martin, Junior Senior. The Scandy-pop tribes simply have an uncanny knack for sating the world’s musical sweet tooth. The latest in a proud tradition: The Teddybears, a former hard-rock band — called Skull! — from Sweden, now making dancy indie rock-pop-dancehall-electronic fluff. Their debut album, Soft Machine (Big Beat/Atlantic), is an unabashed and better-than-expected ?good time.
The Teddybears wear huge bear heads, but their identities are not a secret. You may remember Teddybear Joakim Ahlund from his other other band, Caesars. No? How about “Jerk It Out,” Caesars’ catchy-cool garage rocker that sounded like Franz Ferdinand doing Smash Mouth, heard on those flailing-silhouette iPod commercials last year? Yeah, I thought so.
That song was overexposed to the point of ubiquity; now, the Teddybears are reaping the benefits of that (literally) commercial success. Ahlund has reinvented Teddybears into a jumpy dance-pop outfit somewhere between DFA, Fatboy Slim and a semi-ironic Hollywood hipster party (like there’s any other kind). And since we hook-hungry consumers can’t get enough of scarily catchy tunes in adverts, their hand-clappy raga-charged single “Cobrastyle” has been making the rounds in spots for Tab Energy drink and, most effectively, a break-dancing Heineken ad worth finding on YouTube. (Note: “Cobrastyle” refers to guest vocalist Mad Cobra.)
The disc has plenty of sweaty dance tracks à la “Cobrastyle,” including “Throw Your Hands Up” (with dancehall hero Elephant Man on the mike), but keep your ears open for two particular standouts. “Yours to Keep” is a sunny, top-down anthem featuring the original Kelis (that would be Neneh Cherry) on vocals, with new school Swedish pop queen Annie cooing behind her. A close second is “Punkrocker,” featuring the king of them all, Iggy Pop, barking to the guitar-powered beat. So: While Soft Machine may not exactly be a work of substance, that’s pretty much the point. In short, don’t think — just dance.
THE TEDDYBEARS | Soft Machine | Big Beat/Atlantic