It's a strange thing, y'know.
We all seek our individuality along the rocky road of life, some foible or idiosyncrasy to set us apart from those around us. Whether it be a certain talent, a certain look, or picking off innocent pedestrians with a high-powered rifle from the roof of the local Wal-Mart, we usually strive to make our mark or get that difference we have "out there" for the rest of our race to recognise.
Personally, my choice was made for me genetically. Whilst one single eye in the middle of the forehead may not be the first choice of many, it's a great conversation piece and always breaks the ice at the ambassador's party, although no-one seems willing to handle the Ferrero Rocher chocolates after I've been eyeing them up.
You just can't pre-judge public reaction sometimes.
Nowhere is the struggle for individuality greater than in the world of music. Brian May's guitar sound, the golden harmonies of the Beach Boys, Ray Manzarek's keyboard playing, and Stevie Wonder's harmonica style are all unmistakeable.
The latest addition to these ranks, gentle Sponge reader, is a bunch of Sweden's sons, collectively known as Caesars.
Those familiar with their single Jerk It Out (featured heavily on TV music channels and, notably, both iPod ads and the PS2 ski-boarding game SSX 3) will already know of the band and their future-retro sound. Aided by vocals treated with a short-delay and squeezed EQ, Caesars have, glory be, attained that Holy Grail – their own sound. I always thought that the Farfisa organ had had its day, being long consigned to the compactor when beach music finished, but not so. This once staple instrument finds a new lease of life with the groovy Swedish alt-rockers.
As an aside, the single has been released twice, once in 2003 and again this year. If you've never heard it (and if not, please tell me what it's like to live on the moon for an extended period of time), imagine Smashmouth's Walking On The Sun, with distant shades of Duran Duran's Girls On Film. Or, rather don't...it's nothing like either of them...and yet it is.
Yes, yes...a five minute medication break would be a good idea.
Most of Paper Tigers transports me back to the immediate post-punk scene, when melody and wit broke through, especially here in the UK, with the likes of XTC, The Stranglers, The Clash, Joe Jackson, and Elvis Costello seizing the initiative set shortly before by the more blunt leading edge of the punk wave. Indeed, the latter artist is a fair yard-stick. I can imagine Elvis Costello's snarling, sneering voice tackling most of the songs on this album and sounding completely at home.
Jerk It Out aside, Paper Tigers is crammed full of genuinely sharp, intelligently crafted songs, as indeed, the early albums used to be by those behemoths of post-punk recently mentioned. The album's title track should be a single. With its almost evangelical chorus, it chugs along with a wonderful, bittersweet undercurrent and is, for me, a perfect illustration of why Caesars are so good. No overblown vocals, the instruments are stripped back to the classic rock band, but the sound is so now...or even tomorrow, hence my earlier reference to future-retro.
This is such a good album that I don't feel inclined to dissect it track by track. For a pleasant, head-nod inducing experience which actually makes the listener feel happy (for Patti Smith fans, please see Webster's dictionary for a definition of the word "happy"...you'll find it between "habitual" and "herpes"), Paper Tigers fits the bill. More than pop, more than indie, but without getting too serious about themselves, Caesars have pulled off a major coup here. Hear one of these songs for the first time and you know it's them. How many bands can say that?
Now I've set out my stall and have verbally clapped Caesars on the back in congratulation, I must say that I have some reservations, as wonderful as this album is. While Paper Tigers is a tour de force, I'm concerned for their future and longevity. "Why?" I hear you ask, gentle reader. Well, I'll tell you why, you inquisitive young scamp.
Because Caesars may be trapped by their own uniqueness, that's why. It's a strange dichotomy. Should they abandon the successful sound of this album and expand, therefore losing that individualistic channel? Or should they plough on regardless, retain the vibe and make the next one like this? If they choose the latter (which would be the easy option), then I fear that their potential audience could suffer from burnout. Paper Tigers is a fine, fine release, but it should stand alone in style and production. To be frank, I wouldn't buy their next album if it were too similar in style to this one – the Paper Tigers thing has been done and done excellently...leave it and move on.
Should you, then, you wicked free spirit, buy this album? Yes, yes and yes. Play it, glory in it, share it with your friends, play it at parties and look cool, because you will be. Credible Beatnik music for the new century, Paper Tigers is a refreshingly honest, energetic and joyful album with not one bad track.
And albums like that, my friends are very, very rare indeed.