AU ABROAD

Roxette - Charm School (2011 LP)

Swedish pop music duo Roxette make their return with their first studio album in a decade. Titled Charm School, the record is a precarious foray into familiar pop-rock territory, yielding hit-and-miss results. Even a discovery of the former seems to necessitate numerous spins. This and more proves enough to demonstrate that Roxette’s best days might just be behind them, managing, at most, only a frustrating flirtation with the cracking form that made the group a household name.

To be fair, there’s no trouble to be encountered in identifying the single here. 'She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio)' possesses a distinct electronic funk, with a grungy guitar and Per Gessle’s vocals tearing through playfully. The song is, without doubt, lost in time, but that’s not its major pitfall. Whilst the chorus reintroduces the immensely harmonious bliss for which the band are known and loved, the verses succumb to dilute pop-rock, a strangely average sense of melody by comparison employed. Much of the song feels like a precursor to the main event of the chorus. Unfortunately, when you can make such a diagnosis of a record’s flagship single, that’s probably a bad sign.

Roxette succeed in creating an enjoyable enough blend of pop-rock music, but therein-lies part of the problem: 'Charm School' is not necessarily disappointing, it’s more that it’s far from satisfying. There’s just too many half-baked attempts at melodic hooks and grand pop moments. 'Speak To Me' emerges as a prime example, its romantic sentiments coming together to form a cliched ballad. Marie’s voice is marvelous, certainly, but there’s something so naff and corny about the whole affair. Roxette do their best to sound big and full, but you can’t help but think that the song seems destined, at best, to grace supermarket PAs and shopping malls.

The jaunty 'Big Black Cadillac' has a welcome edge to it, but the band still somehow manage to painfully detract from its obvious pop appeal. The chorus appears far too wordy and convoluted where 'She's Got Nothing On' was the opposite - the exact reason why the latter seems to be a far more coveted experience. Listening to 'Big Black Cadillac' is all to reminiscent of the film Happy Gilmore in which Adam Sandler mocks his antagonist’s tendency to use rhyming words. This song is just obsessed with that very thing when, really, the band ought to just relax.

The record does possess some redeeming features, however: the potty 'After All' is a burst of unabashed joy, a tremendously sunny song that proves an instant pleasure. Its stinging guitar closely resembles The Beatles' 'It's Getting Better' and it seems to be the most natural, unforced cut of pop present on the album. You have to wonder why it’s buried at the tail end.

That effectively sums up the whole release: the best moments of Charm School are too few and far between. You can hear what Roxette are trying to achieve, but their offerings consistently fall short of the mark, too many of its songs failing to leave any impressions great enough to invite further, future investigation. Charm School is, sporadically, as advertised: charming in sections, but barely as charming as that which we’ve come to expect from the duo.

Review Score: 6/10

Charm School is due for release on February 11th.