Cardigans singer Nina Persson said she knows it would have been easier simply to write another upbeat love tune to follow the inescapably catchy radio hit "Lovefool" (RealAudio excerpt) from her band's 1996 breakthrough album, First Band on the Moon.
But these are the Cardigans.
On past albums, the Swedish pop stars have willingly confounded their fans' expectations by recording a couple of lounge-style covers of songs by pioneering heavy-metal act Black Sabbath.
So rather than revisit the blissful vibe of "Lovefool," which was also available on the best-selling soundtrack to the recent film remake of "Romeo & Juliet," the Cardigans went for somber trip-hop on their upcoming album, Gran Tourismo (Nov. 3).
Not that the band has lost the knack for writing catchy pop music. "My Favourite Game," the first single from Gran Tourismo, is an uplifting number on an album awash in glum meditations on love gone wrong and edgy, electronic-tinged ballads delivered in Persson's trademark breathy voice.
"That song's about f---ing up in love," said Persson, 24, on the subject of "My Favorite Game."
Speaking from her German hotel room last month while on a European press tour, she sounded a bit sleepy. The frontwoman/lyricist had good reason, having recently endured what she described as a grueling video shoot for the "My Favourite Game" clip in the California desert with award-winning director and fellow Swede Jonas Ackerlund (Madonna's "Ray of Light" and Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up").
"Jonas was so excellent to work with," Persson said. "I can't imagine working [on videos] with anyone else now."
The singer described the video as being like a mini-road movie. It involves fast cars smashing into each other in a hot desert. As the video climaxes, Persson is ultimately flung from her car and deposited on the side of the highway in a bloody heap.
The sweltering shoot took its toll on Persson, sending her into a few dizzy spells. She recalled that she required oxygen several times during the two-day shoot. How hot was it? "110 degrees," Persson said, "hot enough for a Swede to fall down."
Although two different versions of the video were shot (MTV was not expected to accept the more graphic clip), both play on the group's dark sense of humor, including the second version in which Persson is tossed from the car and survives but is killed by a rock used to hold down the car's accelerator. Mercury Records publicist Mike Cubillos said the more graphic version of the video was screened on the band's official website (www.cardigans.net) on Oct. 1 on a one-time-only basis.
Persson said the song was picked as a single not only because it is one of the more upbeat tunes on the album, but because, as far as she's concerned, it represents Gran Tourismo in its entirety.
"More than any of our previous singles, I think this one speaks for the entire album," Persson said.
The song, built on a yo-yo tempo that swings from a propulsive dance rock sound to a sparer, more atmospheric feel, features such lines as, "I had a vision I could turn you right/a stupid mission and a legal fight/I should have seen it when my hope was new/My heart is blackened and my body is blue."
"It's about how women often try to change people in relationships to suit themselves better or save people from themselves," Persson said, counting the song among a handful on the album that deal with similar issues.
That dark sense of humor and generally bleak sensibility is rampant on the 11-song album. It extends from the slow-grinding album opener "Paralyzed," in which Persson warbles about the "sweetest way to die," to the mechanical, pseudo-Gothic "Explode."
Peter Svensson, 24, is the guitarist and songwriter for the band -- which also includes drummer Bengt Lagerberg, bassist Magnus Sveningsson and guitarist/keyboardist Lars Johansson. According to Svensson, the group did not set out to record a less accessible album than First Band on the Moon, but, as with all things Cardigan, it just happened.
"We wanted to make an album that was more modern in a way," Svensson said, "which is why this album has more in common with our first album [1994's Emerdale, not released in the U.S.], because the lyrics on that one are horrible -- really dark -- and the whole atmosphere is pretty dark, even if it's a soft, cute album on the surface."
Svensson explained that he and Persson, who writes all the band's lyrics, have a few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to songwriting. One is particularly relevant to the darker sounds on Gran Tourismo.
"When I write songs, I tend to do it when I'm not satisfied and not totally happy," Svensson said. "When you're totally happy, you don't want to change anything. You want to go out drinking with friends."