❉ Is this new comp Sweden’s answer to ‘Nuggets’? Yes and no, writes Andrew Hickey.
‘Svenska Shakers’, the new double-CD compilation of Swedish 60s garage rock from Cherry Red, is very much an album of two halves.
On listening to disc one, I was worried that I might not have enough to say about the album to justify a review – there’s a lot of extremely good music on that disc, but it’s also extremely similar music. Almost every one of the twenty-one tracks that make up that disc follows the same formula – a crunchy guitar riff, played in a style similar to the Downliners Sect, the Pretty Things, or other mid-60s proto-punk mod bands; a lyric either taken directly from an old blues classic or made up of near-random lines about love and dance steps; and a lead vocal sung in two-part Hollies-esque harmonies, with a lot of reverb on, and buried in the mix when compared to contemporary records from the US or UK.
Nothing on disc one falls much below a certain level of quality, but nor does anything stand out either. If you like the more aggressive end of 60s mod music, you’ll like everything on there. If you don’t, you won’t – and after listening to that disc I was rather concerned that I wouldn’t have enough to say about it to justify a review. Not that it’s bad – it’s very, very, good music of its kind – but it’s so genre-specific that I could easily have believed it was a single-artist collection.
Disc two, though, is a far more interesting, and mixed, collection. While it also has its share of guitar-heavy stompers, it’s got a lot to offer fans of psych-pop, soft pop, and sunshine pop as well.
‘Monica’ by Science Poption is a particular highlight – opening with a bluesy riff sounding very like Hendrix, it soon evolves into a mechanical-sounding groove, with a chugging guitar and drums that sound for all the world like the Beatles’ heavier psych moments, overlaid with a choral falsetto chant of the title over and over, with musique concrete effects. If you made a loop of the choral part of ‘My World Fell Down’ over the backing track from ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, it would sound like this.
‘Flower In My Garden’ by the Hep Stars is an early collaboration by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, later of ABBA. To my ears, it’s rather better than anything their later band did – a lovely little soft pop track that sounds for all the world like the work of Curt Boettcher, and could easily have fit in on the first Millennium album.
There are other tracks on disc two that show a rather more open and varied Swedish musical scene than disc one shows. ‘Anna Be Nice’ by Annabee-Nox sounds like the perfect blend of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and late period Zombies, with Rod Argent style vocals and organ over Floyd phased, chanting, backing vocals, while ‘Let Love Come Between Us’ by Attractions is a wonderful pop song in the white pseudo-Motown vein of Bob Crewe or Mike d’Abo.
Not everything on the compilation is perfect, of course. Some of the covers, especially on disc one, are notably inferior to the originals – Annabee-Nox’s version of ‘The Kids Are Alright’, The Best’s ‘Back Door Man’, and The Cheers’ ‘Somebody To Love’ all just make you wish you were listening to the originals. As with all various-artists compilations of this type, the compilers’ tastes aren’t going to align perfectly with any other individual’s, but what’s impressive is that there’s very little on here that’s truly poor quality. Even the dullest tracks on here would fit perfectly well on any of the Nuggets or Pebbles series, and given just how thoroughly mined as a genre 60s garage rock is, that’s a very pleasant surprise.
I suspect that for myself, I’ll listen to disc two a lot more than to disc one, but if your tastes run more towards the aggressive and the danceable you may well find yourself putting disc one on repeat. But for anyone who is at all interested in what the cover describes as “R&B crunchers, mod grooves, freakbeat and psych-pop”, ‘Svenska Shakers’ is, if not an essential purchase, certainly a worthwhile one.
❉ ‘Svenska Shakers’ is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99