Guilty Pleasure Entry No. 1: The Danish Edition
Once upon a time there were two popular bands in Denmark, Swan Lee and Mew. They were both very respectable bands, even if Swan Lee was a little on the poppy side. Then something magical happened: Johan Wolhert, Mew’s bass-player and Pernille Rosendahl, Swan Lee’s glamorous lead singer, fell in love and had a baby, and thus, Swan Lee dissolved and Wolhert quit the band to spend more time with his new family.
After a while, Rosendahl and Wolhert decided that they wanted to make an entirely different kind of beautiful music together and, lo, The Storm was born. Fans were anxious. What would happen when beloved members of two beloved Danish bands put their heads, hearts, and basslines together in song?
Now, before we get into the monstrous birth that was The Storm’s first album Where the Storm Meets the Ground (think about that title for awhile), I want to talk about Mew. I love this band; they’re kooky, they’re arty, they seem relatively smart and self-aware — even if their sincerity and ambition sometimes makes them a little uncool with the hipster crowd. It doesn’t hurt that they’re good-looking, too. In their younger days, they were downright boy-band cute, complete with label-ready personalities: the shy one, the funny one, the sexy one, the boy next door, etc..
And speaking of boy-bands, I want to talk about one of Mew’s earliest singles, “Mica,” from their lost second album released in 2000, Half the World is Watching Me (only re-released last year after being out of print for awhile). File this song under What Were You Thinking? The sublime Europop ridiculousness of this song is only matched by the even more sublime ridiculousness of the video. Are they serious? Are they kidding? Who knows! You can never tell with Mew. No doubt the same man who could sing “But if there’s a glitch, you’re an ostrich,” with a straight face on “The Zookeeper’s Boy,” is also dead serious about killer androids and world peace.
The most endearing part of the video is lead singer Jonas Bjerre, who is notoriously skittish and withdrawn, because he clearly has no idea what to do with himself on camera. You can practically see the terror in his giant kewpie-doll eyes. Check out the amazing subtitles, too, a cult favorite among Mew fans.
I love watching this video even though no amount of hipster irony can make it okay. It makes me laugh, brightens my day, but there’s still a good deal of embarrassment in that laughter. It’s the kind of song/video that makes you question the band, whether or not every other good idea they’ve ever had was some kind of massive fluke. Is this the true face of Mew?
So while you’re all processing that, let’s get back to The Storm. When they debuted themselves, playing “Drops in the Ocean” live on a Danish TV show, I’d like to think that the world stood in shock (and awe) at the sheer awfulness. Wolhert’s personal style aside (I’ll deal with that later), the marching band drums, the Metallica-lite guitar riffs, and Rosendahl’s pop diva attitude combined into one melty, stringy, cheesy mess.
Naturally, I had to have this album.
Sometimes when I’m in the car by myself, like say, commuting to Tupelo, I put on Where the Storm Meets the Ground and belt out the lyrics to “Drops in the Ocean” (I’ve memorized every word), and then I bray along with “Lullaby,” “The Beauty of Small Things,” and “The Table’s Turning.” After a while, I even become convinced that it’s not so bad, that some of the songs, like “Lay Down Your Head,” are actually half decent. Whenever my mind starts down this train of thought, I have to stop and ask myself: “Would I listen to this music in front of people I know and admire?” I only reveal my affection for The Storm when I can’t help but geek out a little, and now I’m confessing it to all of you.
So what’s the connection I’m trying to make between The Storm and Mew’s silly misstep so many years ago? I’m pretty sure that an over-the-top pop song like “Mica” is the work of Bjerre, who, after all, is in touch with both his inner child and his inner cheeseball. During that phase in the band’s history, he frequently admitted to loving musicals (Annie? Seriously?) How else to explain that song, which is mostly an anomaly in the Mew catalogue, along with its sister songs “King Christian” and the piano-rock ditty (think Ben Folds on crack) “Saliva,” a song so saccharine that you’ll cringe yourself to death before the second chorus. But now that we’ve seen what The Storm can do and what Wolhert’s songwriting is like, it’s tempting to blame him instead. I do like Johan. Trashing his music feels bad because he seems like an affable and articulate guy — and hey! he even recorded once with Elliott Smith on a cover of “Hey Jude” that has yet to see the light of day — but ever since he started dressing like a death pirate from outer space, fans have started to wonder if he wasn’t the Ringo to Bjerre’s John and Madsen’s Paul (bad analogy, sorry). It will be interesting to see what happens on Mew’s upcoming album (out sometime in June) without Wolhert’s influence.