One of Sweden’s most treasured musical exports, Roxette, are back this month with their first record in ten years following the devastating and lengthy illness of singer, Marie Fredriksson back in 2002. Throughout their career Roxette have had a long string of hits, particularly throughout the 80s and 90s. With a lucrative back catalogue which includes the number one singles It Must Have Been Love, The Look, Listen To Your Heart and Joyride, Top 10 singles, Dangerous, Almost Unreal and Fading Like A Flower and monstrous albums including the duo’s breakthrough Look Sharp as well as the follow up hits Joyride, Crash! Boom! Bang! and Have A Nice Day, Roxette have remained at the epicenter of all that is fun and great about well crafted pop music.
The band enjoyed a lengthy and highly successful period at the top of the charts, having to date sold in excess of 70 million albums worldwide and became known for their catchy pop melodies and infectious, driving hooks. By the new millennium the band had taken a lengthy hiatus following the almost fatal illness of Fredriksson, who suffered a life threatening brain tumor in which only 5% of sufferers survive.
Various compilations and a couple of comeback singles have been released in the 8 years that followed however nothing too intense or to the extent of calling them part of an official comeback. However, over the past year the band have taken back to the road as part of a gradual process to get the act back into the worlds vision.
It’s been a long climb back to the international spotlight following Fredriksson’s illness however Roxette are back this month with that official comeback.
Monday sees the release of the pop duo’s first album in ten years, Charm School, and the album proves to be well worth the wait. Charm School is about to set the stage for the long awaited return of Roxette.
Combining the new and the old Roxette sound, Charm School is Roxette back at their top form best.
Album opener, Way Out, ignites the return with a twangy, poptastic Gessle delivered gem. The track stands out as one of the records instant highlights with its boppy melody and addictive sing along quality.
No One Makes It On Her Own offers us our first ballad and first Fredriksson delivered numbers. Led by the gentle caress of a piano backing the singers soft and tender vocals the track is a smooth addition to Charm School that offers some gorgeous and moving lyrics such “have you ever been in love, thought it’d last forever, then you know no one makes it on their own”. The song is further buffed up with some inspiring backing vocals delivered by Roxette and band that gives the track a momentous push with some truly haunting moments.
The albums lead single comes in the form of the power pop ditty, She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio). Already a number one single in several countries throughout Europe as well as proving to be a highly successful release in South America the single is also quickly climbing the airplay charts in the UK. The track was a good choice for single release and mixes driving verses with a classic Roxette hook heavy chorus. This is Roxette as we know them and combines classic Roxette hooks with a punchy melody and swinging vocals that a shared between Gessle and Fredriksson.
Speak To Me is the the stand out ballad on Charm School with a powerful and emotive chorus delivered by Fredriksson that is drawn around Gessle’s driving verses and a synth-based backdrop. The track ticks all the boxes for a Roxette ballad with Fredriksson’s power heavy vocal delivery causing a hair raising effect.
I’m Glad You Called gives the collection its most acoustic inclusion. The gentle strumming of Gessle’s guitar with a sweet, complimenting backdrop of strings that envelope Fredriksson’s whispery and melancholic vocals is sentimental as much as it is mournful. The track also features a rather lovely Gessle sung “look around” midsection which sits perfectly within Fredriksson’s delicate vocals.
Only When I Dream crashes in from here and sees Gessle and Fredriksson passing the role of lead vocals to one another. Fredriksson’s performance on the track is nothing short of perfection and symbolizes why Roxette are a true great in the arena of pop superstars. The feel of the song switches from power ballad verses to high energy electro-pop chorus’ with effortless precision and sits among the collection as a perfect central filling.
Though Roxette have always been my favorite band and an act I find extremely hard to fault or critique, as a music reviewer I know I have to have an unbiased approach to any record and if there is criticism to be made then so be it. Like any record, Charm School has a couple of hit and misses. Here they come in the form of Dream On and After All. Both tracks are splashed in 70’s euphoria and both additions seem to feel a little out of place, particularly the former, though both feeling quite loosely put together and rushed. There is room for the tracks to grow however after numerous listens both numbers fall a bit flat among the rest of the numbers on the record.
Big Black Cadillac gives us a darkened pop number with a deep and driving verse which lets loose on its electrifying and striking chorus. The track is also complimented and distinct with its wonderfully structured and alluring dream sequence shared by the duo and some witty, classic Roxette lyrics such as “a sticky love affair, bubblegum in my hair”.
Principle song writing engine of the band, Per Gessle, has given the album every ounce of detail with what is so far proving to be a fruitful comeback for one of music most loved and iconic pop duo’s. The release combines power pop artistry with an equal number of ballads while the duo share the role of lead vocals.
In My Own Way is a sombre nugget of girl power gold. Fredriksson gives her all on this track as she sits vocally within some deep guitar swaying and a haunting yet beautifully executed melody that gives the singer an arena to pour her heart out, particularly on the tracks final power ballad chorus, not unlike the early Roxette days.
As the album closes Fredriksson takes the reigns and ushers us gently to the end of the record with two final ballads. Happy On The Outside is mid temp balladry at its best with touching lyrics and a sweet and captivating melody before the closing Sitting On Top Of The World ends the record with a graceful and exquisite number, soft yet notably touching both musically and lyrically.
With Charm School Roxette stick to what they know best combining ingredients from the duo’s previous studio records. The album was recorded and mixed with Roxette’s long time collaborators Christoffer Lundquist and Clarence Ofwerman and was recorded at Lundquist’s Aerosol Grey Machine, giving Roxette fans a fantastic follow up to the bands last studio record, 2001’s Room Service.
Fredriksson’s ability to deliver any song with pure and heartfelt conviction as well as Gessle’s craft in penning a long list of musics most iconic and era defining additions is what sets Roxette apart from the rest.
You could never tell that Fredriksson was ill, her vocals as strong as ever and drenched in as much emotion and vigor as the early Roxette years. As someone from EMI once said, “Marie could sing a phone book and it would sound good” and having a life threatening illness hasn’t deterred her from singing her heart out to a rich and embracing caliber.
Charm School is a pop record unlike any other out there at the moment. Not only does it portray a band, who after 25 years are still going strong and creating track after track of iconic musical bliss but it is also a record that is drenched in determination and dedication. Charm School is testament to Marie Fredriksson’s defiant attitude to an illness that almost took from the world one of musics most distinctive and beautifully engaging voices. It is also testament to Per Gessle’s support to Fredriksson and his endless ability to pen such timeless pop records.
The end result of the long awaited comeback is enough and more to put a satisfied smile on any Roxette fans face as well as a record that will enable to band to grace the radio waves once again and reap new fans the world over.
With the new record, Roxette have once again hit the road to promote the album with the Charm School World Tour that spans Europe and South America. So far the band have scheduled 65 dates with more added each week.
With such an abundance of Glee loving teen pop starlets and make up laden X Factor pop lads taking over the current music scene, Roxette prove just how much further these industry hopefuls have to go before becoming as credible and genre owning as Roxette have become in their 25 year plus career. Charm School is a truly inspiring collection of all that we love about Roxette.