Sweden's Whale is best remembered in the United States for their 1994 "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe" video, in which a coy nymph with corkscrew curls, braces, and boots seductively licks a huge lollipop while two caveman-types scream maniacally in the background. The raw, flirty images were as visually arresting as the song was ear-catching, with a seductive, brutal style MTV couldn't resist. The video's success led to the band's 1995 album We Care, but the enduring popularity the group enjoys in Europe and Scandinavia has translated only to one-hit-wonder status stateside. After bassist Gordon Cyrus left the group in 1996, vocalist Cia Soro and guitarist Henrik Schyffert regrouped, hiring Jon Jefferson Klingberg (guitar), Jorgen Wall (drums), and Heikki Schiavo (bass) for the band's second U.S. record, All Disco Dance Must End in Broken Bones. Recorded in Chicago with Brad Wood (Veruca Salt) and in London with Chris Potter (the Verve), the dual-producer model proved to be the perfect mechanism to refine Whale's rock, funk, and Abba influences into a more sophisticated sound.
An original hybrid of alternative pop, electronica, and primal-scream therapy, the band's latest creation is sweet and graceful one minute, crude and explosive the next. Techno noise, sly samples, and guitar shrapnel are scattered through the tracks like land mines, blowing holes in the songs and abruptly turning serenity into pandemonium. This unpredictability is especially keen on cuts such as "Smoke," on which the traveling electronic groove cycles endlessly as Soro coos "Share my last cigarette, share my dream to forget." But just as you fall deep into the trance, the song takes a sudden, jarring detour into distorted guitars and Schyffert's raw-throated screaming. The lonely guitar and vocal of "Into the Strobe" slowly becomes a hypnotic cacophony; noises and pulses escalate until the dreamy atmosphere is punctured. Even the minimalist ballad "Roadkill" swerves from warm to frozen, as Soro moans "Won't you help me hot-wire my heart," only to have Klingberg coldly reply "You only care about yourself."
The band also shifts genres with ease. Their affinity for urban music is heard in "Crying at Airports" and "Four Big Speakers," two excellent tracks featuring rapper Cream from the Swedish bands Bus75 and Addis Black Widow. From deep blues and Fender Rhodes soul to righteous beats and techno chaos, they get it right. And on "Deliver the Juice" and "Losing CTRL" the band rocks in loose alternative splendor, with fat, geometric guitar figures and brooding undertones worthy of their most petulant American slacker contemporaries.
When Soro sings "I might be naive as hell, but I think that we can change the world" on the album's closer, "2 Chord Song," she's right on both counts. The band's disregard for the boundaries of genre is both innocent and prophetic -- a wide-eyed philosophy in career terms, and a look at the shape-shifting future of rock and roll. Whale resurrects the idea that music is what you hear, not what you label it, and on All Disco Dance Must End in Broken Bones their wisdom yields a glorious racket.