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“What the world needs now is love sweet love.”
So sang Dionne Warwick in the 1960s, and the words couldn’t possibly ring truer today. Love is a powerful thing, and sometimes pop music can summon its healing powers, especially in times of distress. Luckily for the world, Roxette is back with a new album.
Yes, Roxette—that Swedish duo from the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack. “It Must Have Been Love,” which was originally recorded as a Christmas single, topped the charts in 1990 when it was attached to the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts blockbuster. “Our third #1 in the US,” recalls founding member and songwriter Per Gessle. “Not bad for a song that was lying around, gathering dust.”
“‘It Must Have Been Love’ is the best pop-rock torch ballad of all time,” musician Max Bernstein tells BTRtoday. Bernstein knows what he’s talking about—he plays guitar in Demi Lovato’s band and also played with Kesha, providing synth and guitar duties. He’s also fronted a number of bands, including The Actual, Max and The Marginalized, and Shelf Life.
“Bon Jovi would kill to have a song that good—anyone would.”
For Bernstein, pop has always been there, tugging at his heartstrings–though sometimes he resisted it. “When I was 12-years-old and started getting really deep into punk and metal [bands like Dystopia, Neurosis, and Shudder To Think], I immediately made the silly choice to hate anything that wasn’t that,” he says. “It was impossible to do that with Roxette; it’s just too good.”
What is it about their music that makes it so impactful? For one, it’s singer Marie Fredriksson’s voice, a driving, yet humble force. She delivers powerful anthems like “Paint” off 1989’s “Look Sharp” (EMI Records) with finesse and just enough desperation—avoiding the extremes of, say, Madonna, and coming across as a whole lot more likable.
“Their music is so completely middle of the road and the fact that it doesn’t come off as banal is just a testament to the sheer quality,” says Bernstein.
There is a frailty to Fredriksson’s ballads that is relatable and human, while at the same time, inspiring. Take “Watercolours in the Rain,” off 1991’s “Joyride,” a song that exudes both loneliness and hope.
Roxette’s songwriting is packed with juicy harmonies and an intriguing blend of acoustic guitar and programmed, synthetic elements. The band’s first big hit, “The Look,” brought that 1980s New Wave cowboy thing to the forefront, with an infectious lick and Gessle’s strangulated mantra, “she’s got the look.”
Bernstein marvels at the band’s idiosyncrasies.
“That sonic template in the hands of anyone else results in music they play on airplanes after you land,” he says, “and somehow they walk out of the studio with “Listen To Your Heart.”
The term “epic” is thrown around a lot these days, but “Listen To Your Heart” is truly deserving of such esteem. It is a call to the senses, a celebration of love and life, and of feeling. This was back before the irony-soaked 1990s, when earnestness was in vogue. Just listen to D.H.T.’s 2010 cover of the song and it’s clear that there is a difference. Where once there was soul, there is now a sanitized toilet bowl.
In the time since those early classics, Roxette has released seven studio albums. Marie Fredriksson, who battled cancer and lost sight in her right eye, has also released a slew of solo records, as has Per Gessle, who today mans Sirius XM Radio’s exclusive Scandinavian music show “Nordic Rox.”
So, how does “Good Karma” fare? Well, it’s pretty good. The first single, “It Just Happens,” feels like it could have come out in the band’s heyday. Delicious synths and Beatles-eque chord progressions abound, as well as an uplifting chorus. All of the ingredients are here and it sounds fresh, a continuation of that effervescent feeling.
“Some Other Summer” grooves along with a mid-tempo beat, proclaiming that “you will do better!” It’s melancholic and bittersweet in its trot, heightened by a late-song transposition. This one is sung by Per Gessle, vocoded, but delightful nonetheless.
There are undoubtedly some modern flourishes sprinkled throughout this record, but that’s not a bad thing. As with The B-52’s’ fabulous 2008 comeback album, “Funplex,” the integrity of the rock is retained, and even enhanced via new technology.
“For the new record,” Gessle says, “we wanted to combine our classic Roxette sound with a modern and slightly unpredictable production to create a soundscape where you would both recognize our sound and find something new.”
“Good Karma” is out now on Parlophone and Roxette Recordings.