In the heyday of Swedish indie, when Swedish indie did not hold much international interest, when I was still too young to know what was going on, Shout Out Louds emerged and howled and howled and gaffed and gaffed, and Swedish Indie Cindies and bespectacled bros shouted pure joy. Indie pop was mostly dominated by the second wave of twee that washed over the independent music scene in the late ’90s, and then in the early ’00s along came Shout Out Louds, who were rockier and rougher around the edges without losing the sweet melodies that the mainstream couldn’t hum along to. The charm was undeniable, and it spread across the Atlantic, making Shout Out Louds one of the first big indie acts to find success internationally.
Fast-forward past 2007’s Our Ill Wills, the eminent, at times brilliant, and more-ambitious follow-up to the debut that cemented the band as Swedish indie’s most-shouted-about. The third album Work is currently working its way through the speakers.
It works its way into my ears, through my mind… and then speeds out the other ear into thin air. Work has been eagerly awaited by everyone who loved the exuberance of “Tonight I Have To Leave It” or the sprawling energy of “Very Loud” or just about any other song on Shout Out Louds’ two fine previous works. What can I say about its third? Well, I can sigh. But I certainly can’t shout.
On paper it looks so good. An easily digestible 10 tracks, a decent 41 minutes of indie pop rock with the production touch of Phil Ek. La di da. This indie-rock veteran and, allow me, prodigy knows how to walk the thin line of greatness and pretentiousness, which bands like Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and The Shins can attest to. His production works are all prominent and exemplary indie-rock albums, so Shout Out Louds are probably the poppiest band he’s ever taken on. One may expect grand compositions a few notches above Our Ill Wills, but instead everything has been dropped down to a ridiculously spartan level that few bands other than The xx and The Whitest Boy Alive could benefit from. And they are more indie pop than indie rock.
The idea is interesting but somehow, and for the first time in the band’s career, the songs come off as uninspired and half-arsed. Listen to the lead single, “Walls”. When at last the melody kicks in and the chord progression starts to unveil something that easily could be mistaken for acceptable songwriting, we learn that nope, this is it… there isn’t much more to this than dutiful riffing, a weak piano melody, and Adam Olenius accurately singing the line, “I can’t get my mind straight.” Yeah, until the last minute of the song when “Walls” almost actually lifts from the ground. Luckily, the second single and best track, “Fall Hard”, showcases some of Shout Out Loud’s former glory and ability. Olenius sings, “If you fall hard, I fall harder/If you’re gonna break just let it break/I’ll pick up the pieces and mistakes” as if it’s from any given bright pop moment from Our Ill Wills. But “Fall Hard” alone can’t pick up the pieces and mistakes made in this job.
The saddest thing is that Work isn’t even catchy or well-crafted enough to produce any major hits such as “Tonight I Have To Leave It” or “Impossible” or to be taken as a worthy pop album on the whole, despite being considerably less rocking than the previous albums. In times when even Gossip has sold out, Shout Out Louds skip along as if it can live on past glory.
Work presents the downsides of Swedish pop craftsmanship. It’s a sound of musicianship gone monotonous, one-sided and harmless but contradicted by the rustiness of the three years that have passed since Our Ill Wills. It’s not a sound of a candle burnt out but of a spark gone lost. We all know the will is there, and ambitions, dreams, and expectations for the future are high. The lyrics tell that story. But you’ve got to work for it.