Peter Bjorn and John are a curious trio. With the rise of bands out of Sweden making dynamic indie pop songs in English, their record “Writer’s Block” stood out amongst the fray and garnished a single that broke into the big time and was universally hailed by the music criterati. That song was “Young Folks” and the intense whisle-bound hook along with a guest vocal performance from Victoria Bergsman helped to seal off its brilliance and give the boys a little leeway when it came time for a follow-up. They took the opportunity and ran with it, the product of which was the all-instrumental “Seaside Rock”. As you might expect, not many people paid attention to it because there was no chance it’d yield another “Young Folks”. Around the same time, primary lyricist and vocalist Peter Morén put out his first solo album, which was full of quiet folk songs that didn’t win him any favors either. Peter Bjorn and John returned to vocals and pop music with 2008’s “Living Thing”, though they went very dark and percussion-heavy rather than lighter and catchier. For one reason or another they also seemed to feel like maybe dropping a whole bunch of f-bombs in the hook of a song would charm people, though it didn’t seem to be a problem for Cee-Lo Green last year. So five years and a host of failed experiments later, the guys seem to be making a much more conscious effort to reclaim the spotlight with their new record “Gimme Some”. In this case, it’d seem the titular “Some” is fame, fortune and hits.
“You can’t can’t count on the second try/the second try is such a comedown”, Morén sings on “Gimme Some”‘s first single “Second Chance”, which is practically modeled after the band’s subsequent failure when attempting to sustain their success. Ironically, it’s also Peter Bjorn and John’s strongest song since “Writer’s Block”, with a strong enough hook that it’s already earned some prominent commercial placement. It’s one of a few tracks with just the right spunk to break them out of their self-imposed funk. “Breaker Breaker” is pretty well charming too, with some fuzzed out guitars and a smattering of punk rock attitude. That same furious attack is also applied to “Black Book” and “Lies”, both of which show up later in the record and give it a much-deserved spike of fun and energy. “Lies” in particular is irresistably catchy and well-constructed to the point where it legitimately feels like one of Peter Bjorn and John’s best. Again, it’s no “Young Folks”, but most bands don’t even get one of those kinds of incredible songs, let alone two (unless that band is The Beatles). Even when they’re not playing the quick and catchy game, the hefty percussion, complete with handclaps and a descending guitar line makes a song like “Eyes” worthwhile and enjoyable. Whenever the band is able to develop a song into a solid groove that’s not necessarily fast but interesting and then sustains it for an extended period of time, it tends to pay off in spades. The final minute of “Eyes” is one of those moments, though the most exceptional example comes courtesy of the 5.5 minute closing track “I Know You Don’t Love Me”. The song may not have the chutzpah of a supreme PB&J like “Up Against the Wall”, but it’s probably their most engaging long form track since. There’s not really any better way to close out the record.
The start of the record is a different story. Coming out of the gate strong is important for many bands, but apparently not Peter Bjorn and John. “Tomorrow Has to Wait” can only muster up a mid-tempo pace amid a martial drum beat as Morén sings about a day so wonderful you want to postpone the next one. The hook is merely okay, as is the song, and you get the impression it might have functioned better were it positioned later in the record. The boys try to go a little calypso on “Dig A Little Deeper”, with a fun-in-the-sun guitar jangle and backing “oh-oh”‘s. All that’s really missing from the song are some steel drums, though the use of bongos pretty much handles that nicely. The track is interesting and fun to say the least, a little different from what we might otherwise expect, which is also what the song is coincidentally about. Their intentions may have been to throw a little spice into the record, but when you pair it with exceptionally weak lyrics (“all art has been contemporary”???) it doesn’t help things. Also, while it might be very light and a little silly, it’s also just a tiny bit cheesy and bland overall – ultimately a risk not worth taking. Other parts of the record are simply bland an ineffective, courtesy of tracks like “May Seem Macabre” (which can’t seem to decide if it is or isn’t macabre) and “(Don’t Let Them) Cool Off” (which does stay hot but sounds like it could have been written by any number of bands).
The full story with “Gimme Some” is that Peter Bjorn and John have made a recovery. Granted, it’s not nearly a full recovery, but they’ve created a record that will guarantee their longevity for at least two more, even if those turn out to be more crappy experiments. They’ve got a fair chance to score at least one more hit single, on which they’ve already made more headway than they have in years, and even besides that a few songs that are just generally good for their live shows. This is a far cry from “Writer’s Block”, but it’s also a significant step back in the right direction after the absolute mess that was “Living Thing”. Either PB&J have taken their time thinking about how to make this all right, or they’ve fallen on the sword and forced their own hands into a sonic direction they wanted to give up on a few years ago but are now only returning to with the hopes of cashing in. Whatever the reason, “Gimme Some” will indeed get them some as claimed, ranging from everything just mentioned to both popularity and unpopularity. At its simplest, those that have been sticking with the band through thick and thin know all too well what they’re capable of, though it’s been a string of consistent disappointment since then and up until now we’ve been left with only little bit of light remaining at the end of the tunnel. Now that things are getting brighter once more, maybe next time there will be a reason to break out the sunglasses.