Mando Diao is the second Swedish band I’ve reviewed in the past month. It appears as though the twenty-first century is upending the unspoken rule that in order to be European and play rock, you have to be from Britain. In the past year alone, indie bands like Mew or Peter Bjorn and John have demonstrated crossover success in the States and solid chops to boot. Mando Diao’s third full-length album, Ode to Ochrasy shows a talented band exploring facets beyond the 2002 garage-rock revival. Although the diversity on the album is sometimes a liability, these Swedes know what they’re doing and know how to deliver something solid.
When bands cut an album about being on the road, there are generally pretty favorable odds that it’s going to be a bunch of overwrought crap about being tired or how it sucks to be famous. The only road album in the last ten years to truly capture the loneliness, exasperation, and trials of endless touring was R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi Fi back in 1996. The rough-hewn feel to the disc as well as its expansiveness reflected the dingy diners and open skies of travel. Ode to Ochrasy does well to steer clear of bitching and focus on the whimsy and flash photography of constantly being in motion. The disc has a couple of recurring motifs other than being on the road. A good portion of the song names refer to individuals ranging from former Penguins left-winger Luc Robitaille to unibomber Ted Kaczynski. These cuttings from stardom or notoriety pepper a disc that explores the meaning of the moment.
Despite the growling yelps of its guitars and jagged production, Mando Diao plumbs into 1960s rock for inspiration and wardrobe. “The Wildfire” has a smooth Hammond harmony in addition to its Edge-styled guitar riff and a catch and release chorus. Gustaf Norén is obviously shooting for Bob Dylan with his rambling verses, and the tight pacing of the music gives him his opportunity. “TV and Me” is the most driving track on Ode to Ochrasy, with its stabbing guitar and snare charge. The electrified jangle of the verse guitar recalls R.E.M.’s “Orange Crush” and Norén hits a thick cadence of Britpop. This is the best instance of Mando Diao’s hooks and garage-rock cred.
The last third of Ode to Ochrasy is lighter on the overdrive knob, with some surprisingly effective results. “The New Boy” is a pretty mixture of twenty-first century U2 and minimalist lullaby that made me irked to think they’d play fluffy Bryan Adams at high school dances over stuff like this. “Song for Aberdeen” is about as far as one could expect from an homage to the best-known Aberdeen rockers: Nirvana. The song is more akin to the Flaming Lips or The Annuals with its keyboard-like guitars and swooshing crests of sound. The closing “Ochrasy” harkens back to the days of Roy Orbison and Leonard Cohen, when a dirge could be constructed around a crescendo and quaver instead of acid-soaked guitars and guttural bile.
There are a handful of sheer misses on the disc, which is unfortunate given the quality of most of Ode to Ochrasy. The derivative riffing on the first single, “Long Before Rock’n’Roll,” is on par with schlock garage bands like Jet who think that recreating AC/DC just means wearing denim and playing loud. “Amsterdam” is an ultimately stupid track with its dragged-out croons and stoned flaps about being disoriented in the city of green. Retarded lyrics like “I talked to God on the telephone” would sound more at home behind the leather pants and bombast of Creed than an indie rock band.
Mando Diao haven’t been able to recreate the punch of their debut album Bring ‘Em In over the course of the past four years, but these mod rockers still know how to churn out some undeniably catchy burners.