ARE BASS PLAYERS going the way of the dodo? It sure seems that way. Some of the best bands around today, like the Gossip and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, make plenty of noise without one. Unlike drummers, nobody even makes fun of bass playerssave for the mean-spirited record execs who occasionally green-light their solo projects . . . and the poor journalists assigned to review them.
That said, nobody had to coerce me into listening to I Sing Because of You (Future Farmer Recordings) by Righteous Boy, the recording alias of Magnus Sveningsson, bass player for brooding Swedish pop ensemble the Cardigans. But that's mainly because I'm sweet on him, and have been since I interviewed his better-known band in 1996, when I was blown away by Sveningsson's stature. He's a broad-shouldered fellow, who stands at 196 centimeters (or roughly 6-feet-5-inches) tall. As my boyfriend would say, Sveningsson looks like he'd be fun to climb on.
Of course, dinosaurs were huge, too, but they couldn't tough out the Ice Age. Bigger isn't always better. As Sveningsson points out, he may enjoy a great view at crowded rock shows, but trying on new duds is a pain in the ass. "Especially clothes from these devils called stylists," he jokes, via a late-night e-mail from Sweden. But judging from the seductive, glad-to-be-unhappy I Sing Because of You, even if scrappy three-piece punk combos force this gentle giant's primary instrument out of fashion forever, he won't have trouble adapting.
A captivating, 47-minute set of 12 dark yet melodic numbers, I Sing . . . bears the marks of his lifelong love for atmospheric rock acts of all stripes. "You can trace a lot of things [from my youth] on my record," says Sveningsson. "You can hear indie rock like Spiritualized and Ride in 'Elephant Man,' or Massive Attack and Happy Mondays in 'No More Love.'" The dreamy "View From a Satellite" augments a smoldering soul vibe with a The The-style trumpet solo. Even Sveningsson's oft-cited heavy-metal adolescence poked its head out at least once ("I nicked a bass line from Metallica's cover of 'Small Hours,'" he admits), although the result, "Isle of the Colourblind," was relegated to the flip side of the album's first single, "Loved Among Friends."
But perhaps the most surprising and engaging quality about I Sing . . . is Sveningsson's vocal style, a hushed, husky, almost spoken delivery, reminiscent of Donovan and Nick Drake. It's a voice that seems especially reserved coming out of such a big fella. Prior to Righteous Boy, Sveningsson says he always eschewed singing in public, even with the Cardigans. "I always used to hum the bass lines rather than sing the lead part," he writes. That habit, he is quick to add, also makes him an ideal candidate for a barbershop ensemble, and toward that end, he and five friends are currently developing one, albeit with a few twists. "We've never rehearsed, but I know that we've got a winning concept!" (Without disclosing too much, I'll say that it involves very tight, powder blue stage outfits, a repertoire featuring Manhattan Transfer's evangelical ditty "Operator," and a name that won't win them any points with booking agents: the Humble Hitlers.)
As titles like "No More Love," "I Made It Hard for You to Love Me," and "All My Evils," suggest, I Sing . . . is hardly a shot of pure sunshine. Sveningsson started writing and recording the songs during the winter of 1999, a year after announcing he was taking a sabbatical from the Cardigans. "Pretty much all the lyrics are diarylike," he concedes. "Some of them are about the panic attacks and emotional exhaustion that stopped me from touring with the band. A lot are about this ex-girlfriend who dumped me when I was at my lowestaround Christmas. One or two might be a little less self-centered, but one tends to get a little narrow-minded when having rough times."
Ultimately, distilling all these negative feelings into Righteous Boy not only yielded a compelling individual work and kick-started his muse (Sveningsson says he hadn't written music since the Cardigans' 1994 album, Emmerdale), it also inspired Sveningsson to rejoin his comrades in time for their new album, Long Gone Before Daylight (out now in Europe and tentatively slated for an autumn U.S. release). "The ability to turn something so evil into something good is one of the best things that has happened to me, even though the process was sometimes hell," he concludes. "I would never want to go through these years again. Still, without the breakdown in '98 and my recovery, which led to the will to write these songs, where would I be now? Maybe not with the band." Instead, now he has not one but two new releases in stores.
In other words, even more Sveningsson to love.