It’s now just over twenty years, believe it or not, since Nina Persson began her musical career with The Cardigans. The Swedish band broke into the mainstream with ‘First Band On The Moon’ in 1996, and the ubiquitous Lovefool single typified their sound at the time; sweet, but with a wry bite underneath the melodic pop sensibilities. Further releases took a harder edge, and Persson took a sojourn from Cardigans duties in the ensuing years in the shape of two acclaimed A Camp albums. With her first solo effort ‘Animal Heart’ it seems she’s taken a backward step – it’s certainly a more assured vocal that’s on display than those earlier, sweet Cardigans releases, yet her voice somehow seems to have lost a distinctive element.
’Animal Heart’ is an album of two parts, the latter half somewhat more developed than the front end. The first half of the record is punctuated by the forty second Digestif, a track that is rendered all the more superfluous by the fact that we haven’t yet actually imbibed anything of any substance. Each track glides benignly by with an indistinct electro pop veneer, a vacuous ream from which it’s difficult to glean any sense of individuality. Persson’s voice seems stripped of personality when set against the bland Pet Shop Boys-lite backdrop of these largely forgettable moments. Burning Bridges For Fuel seems like it’s building to something but goes nowhere meaningful, there’s no payoff; frustratingly, it playfully flicks out a wonderful little melody line buried away in the coda, a gratifying teaser that vanishes as quickly as it appears.
It’s only after the aforementioned Digestif that the album takes on a more forthright stance. Food For The Beast is more disco-oriented with a bit more kick and conviction than the previous tracks, while Catch Me Crying comes on like an ABBA/Blondie hybrid before taking an odd turn into darkly hued ’80’s pop. It’s when the album pares back the synth adornments that Persson’s personality comes to the fore – the brightly melodic dreampop style of Forgot To Tell You, with its peculiar feeling of sparseness despite the sweetly chirping instrumentation; the folk shanty of The Grand Destruction Game; Silver Like The Moon’s flirtation with doo-wop and waltz. The latter is the most overt love song on the album, and it’s a good’un.
While not particularly bad, the bulk of ‘Animal Heart’ falls into an even more unfortunate category – the inoffensive. The knack that Persson has shown for an irresistible pop hook through her tenure with The Cardigans and A Camp rears its head, fleetingly, then sinks back into an indistinguishable synth patchwork. It’s an amiable enough album to spend an afternoon with, certainly, for a stroll in the park or a coffee on the promenade, just not one that really warrants a second date.