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Pure Pop for Then People Living NOW – “Kristina” by Red Sleeping Beauty

Red Sleeping Beauty

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If you miss the Depeche Mode of old but don’t miss how they lapsed into pandering to the masses, if you miss the Pet Shop Boys but don’t miss their own faux-populist agenda that sometimes had them sounding like the musical equivalent of poppers, or heck, if what you really miss is the glowing pop sincerity of Sweden’s Red Sleeping Beauty that flourished like Abba’s candy-colored, electronica-smitten children back in the mid-90’s, boy are you in luck!

Returning under the RSB banner for the first time this century, Niklas and Mikael have resurrected the brand with their first album in 19 years both as a testament to the rekindling of the duo’s songwriting mojo and as a tribute of sorts to original band vocalist Kristina, who’s battled cancer the past four years – successfully, it seems – and sings portions of four of the ten tracks on her eponymously-titled LP, a record that, appropriately, glows from poles both somber and celebratory and, yep, often within the comforts of the same song.

“Cheryl, Cheryl, Bye,” opening proceedings, looms in reflection, lush with romantic melancholia before the cold splash of acceptance (“it’s time to move on now“) unleashes new possibilities, the chorus lit with release. Interpretations aside, the thing defines pop life down at the restrained end of gorgeous. “Always,” occupying slightly giddier ground, past it’s “Enola Gay”-intro (‘OMD much?’ I said to the stereo), travels like a lover in padded feet, flowing in a melange of electro-textures like we haven’t heard in too long, I’m thinking 1987 maybe. “Mi Amor,” meanwhile, is pure and simple a shameless un-apologia for that magic era, the instant club-ready synth, the clappy gated drum effect, lyrics akin to a Euro-Lionel Richie (“Heyyyy, waiting by the phone for you, girl“), but as it’s the most prominent of Kristina’s vocal appearances it’s verily impossible to not melt into the entire swooning layered bed of cliché. Doesn’t hurt that the production value (here and throughout) is so full and sonorously rich that even if you’re hearing these tracks as background music you still feel your life being upliftingly affirmed, roses blooming under every step. Is “Mi Amor,” all said, perhaps a bit schmaltzy (especially once the tandem of Spanish guitars arrive to sweep you off your feet)? Of course it is, and gloriously so. To have it be anything less would be a crushing disappointment.

There, in essence then, we have this record. By its nature at times at least flirting with the tease of cloyingness if not outright bedding it with unabashed glee, Kristina – not to get too technical – is a pop record, one of a type stripe that knows its remit and aims at it with a laser-like focus and abundant studio smarts. Brazenly intelligent but never – thankfully – dour with it, unafraid of its own gleamingly retro shadow, this is pure pop for then people living now and it’s genius.

[pre-order from Shelflife here]