MANDO DIAO (SWE)
Wed 25.10.2017 @ Helsinki, Tavastia
The most challenging period in Swedish rock band, Mando Diao’ s career to date has yielded perhaps their best album ever. Good Times is a manifesto on love and friendship in dark times.
Reset, start over: When Mando Diao’ new album, their eighth, is released in a few days, everything will be totally different – and yet some things will be familiar and even better than before. In a certain sense, Good Times is a back-to-the-future-album by the biggest, Swedish rock band of all time. The twelve songs combine classic, Mando Diao virtues with the Swedes’ diverse musical influences and experiences. The album simultaneously marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new, exciting one on their unique career path.
But first things first. After 19 years, singer and guitarist, Gustaf Norén, left the band, inJune, 2015.He left on friendly terms, tobe able to devote himself to other projects outside of music. “It was his decision, he didn’ t want to lead this life anymore,” Mando Diao mastermind, Björn Dixgård, says. Loosing a singer, of all things, is obviously a setback that most bands don’ t recover from. Not Mando Diao: Björn Dixgård has always been identifiable as the main frontman because of his distinct voice; moreover, he’ s one ofthe best songwriters ever – and not just for European rock music.
Mando Diao isn’ t merely a business enterprise; first and foremost, its members are justreally good friends. These musicians’ deep connection is the unshakable basis for everything they do together, which means the band’ s potential breakup can continue tobea theoretical thought experiment, as Dixgård explains. “We love this band, for usit’ s like a big family. Continuing on together was the easiest decision in the world.”
Good Times now recounts, inan exceedingly impressive way, how right and good this decision was. Each second of this highly energetic album is permeated with that wild, boisterous, special Mando-Diao-energy, that people really appreciate from the Swedes. What’ s added here now is a certain cleverness that we haven’ t heard so far. It’ s this mixture of turbulence and subtleness that makes songs – like the first single, the four-to-the-floor, in-you-face floorstomper, “Shake”– get their strength. Mando Diao has done way more than just turn hardship into virtue. With Good Times, they’ ve reinvented themselves musically, not in the least because the album is truly a group effort. With two such extroverted personalities in the front, other members are often just seenofas extras in the eyes of the public. Good Times proves how wrong this way of seeing is and always was. Because this is the first Mando Diao ever, where Carl-Johan Fogelklou, Patrick Heikinpieti, Daniel Haglund and Björn Dixgård all participated equally in writing the songs.
The new guitarist, Jens Siverstedt, really excelled at this. Norén’ s replacement – who’ s also a good friend ofDixgård– leaves his mark on this album in a striking way. Why weren’ t these sources tapped earlier? Dixgård explains, “It’ s part of the ripening process that I go through as a songwriter. Back then, it just happened that way naturally. Now I
realize how much collaborating with the other inspires me and how much richer our music has become through their input.”
In this respect, “Good Times”is the band’ s band album – the one you always wanted tohear from Mando Diao. However, anything else would have been astonishing for a band that has braved a few storms and always comes out of a crisis invigorated. Mando Diao has always had a special knack for questioning themselves and their sound. And therein lies this band’ s exceptional strength. Fogelklou, Haglund and Dixgård have been making music with each other for almost 20years. Butler, the predecessor to Mando Diao, was founded back in1995. The band was able to get their big break right off the bat in Sweden with their debut album, Bring ‘ EmIn. Obligatory tours and enthusiastic festival performances allowed Mando Diao tosubsequently draw onan ever-growing fanbase across Europe. Then, hits like “Sheepdog”and “Down in the Past” made sure that albums, like Hurricane Bar and especially Ode ToOchrasy, made itto top spotson the German charts.
More top-five albums followed, including the megahit, “Dance With Somebody,”as well asthe platinum album, Give Me Fire! – which landed Mando Diao at the top of the charts inseveral European countries. After this preliminary climax in their unparalleled career, Mando Diao embraced their Scandinavian roots with Infruset, which isin Swedish. On the occasion of the centenary ofGustaf Fröding’ s death, the band set ten of the Swedish poet’ s poems to music. Once again, the consistently melancholic ballad album became a huge success. Today, it’ s still one of the most successful works in the history of Swedish music and has gone quadruple platinum. Later, the musicians integrated synthesizers and opened upto pop and electronic influences for the top-ten hit, “Black Saturday.” Their side project, Caligola also earned them another gold single in Germany.
The band’ s essential signature has always been its superb songwriting, richin harmony and informed by styles from the Sixties. Good Times does indeed place these roots more pronouncedly in the foreground than its immediate predecessors did. However, it would be a mistake tosee the work as a classic, back-to-the-roots album. Instead, Mando Diao isconcentrating the sum of their experiences and influences from the last two decades and distilling some of the best songs of their career out of it. “Break Us,” written byJens Siverstedt, especially symbolizes the way Mando Diao has leveragedcrisis onto strength.
“All the wars we fought, all the love we lost / It won’ t break us,” sings Björn Dixgård over muted piano chords. His voice initially sounds naked, fragile and wounded. It’ s the voice of a man, who, in the hour of his greatest defeat, isable to find hope in the music as the song continues, and can find a new path in doing so. It’ s way more than just a morale-boosting story; it’ s an authentic affirmation of love and of life, carried by a melody that you can’ t get out of your head after hearing it once. “All The Things”is also about self-affirmation. But Dixgård is considerably more militant when projecting the pertinent lines here. “You got me fucked up / Stripped down tomybones / But I’ m breathing.”This up-tempo banger is equal-part call to battle and manifesto – with one of those instant-hit refrains that only this band can deliver. You immediately want to leave everything where it is, get up, go out, do exciting things and dance, dance, dance as fast as you can.
Good Times makes the dance floor rumble in a way only a rock band can. The first single, “Shake,”isan orgiastic gospel – byBjörn Dixgård, the soul messiah. The first songs already forcefully demonstrate the enormous range that Mando Diao’ s musical vocabulary operates in these days. What’ s really special here though, is that nothing seems to have been disrupted. The soul ballad, “Brother,” fits perfectly with the contagiously-disco “One Two Three”– Good Times is a classically flawless album in the best sense. Even when Mando Diao later integrates a vocoder, for “Voices on the Radio.”In doing so, they demonstrate how they constantly open their music to new aspects.
The prevailing mood of this album came together during a kind of family trip last summer. The musicians spent several days inJens Siverstedt’ s summer house on the island ofGotland in Sweden and started jamming without having a concept or deliberate ideas. They drank beer, cooked together, had endless conversations and slept into the afternoons. There was an exuberant mood on Gotland those days and Dixgård and the others were reminded of their origins. “When Gustaf left the band, we thought a lot about friendship and relationships,”Björn says. “When these kinds ofthings happen, you automatically look back and reflect on things.
That’ s why some of the songs have melancholic notes – they grew quite organically out of our situation.”That’ s not the only reason the album’ s title can be read ironically. It’ s absolutely also a commentary on the current political situation across the globe. “If you look at the world, you don’ t really talk about itas good times. Wars, Donald Trump, the ascendance of right-wing parties, so many shitty things are happening,” says Dixgård. And Carl-Johan Fogelklou elaborates, “We’ re having good times in a shitty world.”
The Swedish rock band had to make it through a few valleys before they could reach good times again. They can now thank this period for what may be their best album ever. It’ s about loyalty, transience and getting old together. What do you have when the party isover? Mando Diao only knows one answer to this question: Friendship and love. The band took this realization and channeled it into moments of total genuineness on the album. Good Times is a manifesto on love and life in dark times.