In the mid-1970s, the piercing scream of punk legends such as the Sex Pistols roused the middle classes abruptly from their affluent afternoon nap. Johnny Rotten & co. addressed pain points in society, blowing away romanticised peaches-and-cream attitudes from the live stages of music history. This wake-up call may not have lasted long, but it has continued to live on in subsequent musical movements, spawning continuous new sounds. Their fifth album “Alarms!” sees the Swedish sextet THE EXPLODING BOY accept the inheritance of an era when music still had something to say – be it with pensive independent rock anthems, nihilistic post-punk gems or melancholic new wave ballads.
The story of THE EXPLODING BOY is that of a rapid ascent to fame. In January 2006, Johan Sjöblom and Lars Andersson got together under the moniker of THE EXPLODING BOY to give a voice to their joint artistic vision. And although the name is borrowed from the musical canon of new wave luminaries The Cure, the two musicians’ work is based strictly on their own individual passions and ideas. “We simply wanted to record great songs without boring bits,” vocalist Johan recalls with a grin – an undertaking that was successfully put into practice from the very first note they composed. Their “Vampire EP” demo attracted the attention of Swedish electro pop doyen Sophie Rimheden, who immediately agreed to produce the duo’s future works. Their first appearance at Stockholm’s Fight Club, featuring an inflated six-piece line-up, turned into an instant legend and sold out to the last square metre.
Their 2007 debut CD “THE EXPLODING BOY” was greeted with equal enthusiasm and a Canadian magazine commented on the track “Go Away”: “This song makes me want to kill myself – in a positive way”. A number of line-up changes followed but never affected the band’s inherent spirit or typical sound, adding instead new nuances and expanding its stylistic cosmos. Along with those line-up changes, THE EXPLODING BOY’s success – whether as a quartet or a sextet – has remained a constant of their career. Gushing superlatives were lavished on their singles and successor albums and their live shows soon achieved global cult status.
“We’re very happy with the new recording”, second vocalist Stefan Axell sums up the group’s work on their fifth album, adding after a brief pause: “And we hope that people will understand its political message.” Because “Alarms!” is a consciously chosen title that’s intended to be anything but blatant. “It’s our reaction to the world today and all the things that we feel are going sadly wrong.” For this reason, THE EXPLODING BOY don’t just sound one alarm but have expressly opted for the plural. “When you look out of the window it’s pretty obvious that the world is going in the wrong direction,” founding member Johan explains the background. “If the human race does its best every day to wipe out all life on this planet, it’s pretty difficult to look to the future with a positive attitude.” Whereas their two-part club hit “Dark City” on the predecessor album still warned “The streets are for the dead/Somehow we should be scared/A city just about to explode/The signs are everywhere”, their new album’s opener “Fireland” proclaims the end of the “Dark City”. It’s too late, there will be no salvation, all that remains is a “farewell to the ones you love”.
Even if these lines create a nihilistic doomsday atmosphere, the six musicians don’t bury their heads in the sand. “Sign O’ The Times” is a statement on the current refugee crisis. “It’s a reaction to the war in Syria,” Stefan explains. “But it’s mainly about all those people in Europe and other safe countries who think that the people who try to escape the horrors of the Syrian war don’t have the right to do so. Who are we to judge people trying to flee from war?” Be it Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un or other political or economic “leaders”, “Liar’s Roar” exposes them all as hypocrites, while “Alarms In Silence” – in keeping with punk’s ideology – holds up the mirror to the individual citizen’s face that’s distorted by affluence and decadence: “Seventy years ago, after World War II, people were chanting ‘Enough is enough’. Fifty years ago they demonstrated against the Vietnam War everywhere in the world. And now? We have a number of wars in the Middle East and hardly anybody seems to be interested.”
But “Alarms!” is more than a social criticism; it’s also a look within, at mental and emotional conditions – always of a ponderous nature, reflective and well away from trivial superficiality. Its poetic and multi-layered verses are carried by moving and stirring melodies. THE EXPLODING BOY’s songs frequently bring to mind a giddy dance into the abyss, a joyful parade of the doomed. The warm and sensitive voices of Johan and Stefan blend with flowing rhythms, surging guitars and elegiac synth-elements into a somewhat “characteristic harmony”. Here and there that pulsating sombreness is blended with an emotional catchiness that affectionately winds its way into the listener’s ears and hence their awareness. “We like dark music and are probably pretty introverted as individuals,” Johan describes the group’s sound, “but during the composing process, our focus is on songs that stay in people’s memories.” To achieve this target, all six wrote the lyrics, composed and arranged the songs as a team. “At the end of the day every song stands for every one of us and represents THE EXPLODING BOY.” So no matter which genre is evoked by the multi-faceted sounds on “Alarms!” – be it indie rock, dark pop, new wave or pop punk – the Swedes deliver an unmistakable wake-up call that’s impossible to ignore and in a tragic way beautiful and seductive as well as painfully exposing and captivating. And despite the prediction “so it’s time now to meet the sundown” on the final track “11:59”, THE EXPLODING BOY have succeeded in turning the end of the world into an enchanting moment.
01 Fireland (The End Of Dark City)
02 Alarms In Silence
03 The Day
04 Run Red
05 Stop Time
06 Pointless Action
07 Danger Zone
08 Sign O’ The Times
10 Liar’s Roar
– Stefan Axell (vocals, electric guitar)
– Johan Sjöblom (vocals, acoustic guitar)
– Les Andersson (guitar)
– Nicklas Isgren (keyboards)
– Mattias Svensson (bass)
– Richard Ankers (drums)