KENT

"Ni måste sjunga sånger om oss"

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
1990 - 2016 Alternative rock, pop/rock, synth rock Paus (link TBC)

Line-up: Joakim "Jocke" Berg (vocals, guitar), Sami Sirviö (guitar), Markus Mustonen (drums, backing vocals) and Martin Sköld (bass) form the core of Kent, from era to era and line-up to line-up. Martin Roos played guitar on the debut but left the band shortly afterwards to focus on other parts of music business - and eventually became the band's manager. Harri Mänty joined the band to fill the guitar gap after the recording of Verkligen and stuck around until 2006, at which point he amicably left the band.


Swedish is the second official language of Finland, and while its day-to-day use is largely limited to the bigger cities and the Western coast, due to its official stature it's a mandatory school subject. As a kid, it was easy to develop some level of antipathy towards it as it got forced upon you in school for years, its grammar so different from Finnish that it became a chore - and unlike the other mandatory language you learned in school, English, it wasn't a useful lingua franca that you picked up by default as it was everywhere in popular culture. Kids were divided into three groups: you either hated learning Swedish because you didn't get it, you hated learning Swedish because it fought with your learning of English due to how different yet similar the two languages were, and then there was a kid or two in your class who actually liked it.

I didn't get along with Swedish because my head was so full of English that it was a struggle to not mix the two, and while I did get decently good grades in it I never got particularly high ones. I didn't like the language. I even had relatives living in Sweden, but that didn't stop me from having this literally childish aversion towards the language. I immensely regret not paying more attention now because my Swedish is rudimentary and I'd love to know more languages, but I wasn't always the smartest kid no matter how much I pretended to be.

Kent got rid of my immature leanings and taught me how to appreciate music sung in languages that weren't Finnish or English, the two I was comfortable with. Not at first - when they got popular in Finland in the late 1990s I brushed them off by default because of the language and didn't care to think twice. But the hits kept coming, the songs kept appearing everywhere and their sound had started to shift into something that I would have fallen over for without a doubt in mind if they'd been in English. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and one library trip later I had to admit to myself that I had been a complete idiot for years. I go into this whole revelation into a little more detail in my review for Du & jag döden but suffice to say, Kent made me a better person by virtue of getting rid of my prejudices.

Often dubbed Sweden's greatest or largest rock band, Kent started out as a group of cocky lads in love with depressing British rock music and eventually became an institution whose retirement announcement many, many years later drew massive headlines. The great thing about that journey is that it was always completely in Kent's control. From very early on Kent were given a surprising amount of autonomy by their label and their evolution through the years - whether small steps or the complete tonal shift in the late 2000s - was completely natural, always in reaction to their own steps and driven solely by what they wanted to do at any given time; it just lucked out that the general public agreed with those steps most of the time. Had Kent been a British band, they'd likely be acknowledged by the wider music critic influence-sphere as one of the all-time greats: the quality of the songwriting, Berg's introspective and later scathingly sociopolitical lyrics and the sheer effort they put to their albums to make them flow as grand statement pieces could easily generate countless thinkpieces, listicles and retrospectives across music media. But by sticking to their chosen language, they ensured they'd only ever be truly cherished by the most northern parts of Europe.

(Kent did try for a few years to make a break in the anglosphere by re-recording both Isola and Hagnesta Hill in English, but listening to those version it's painfully clear that speaking in another language didn't come naturally to Berg. They're awkward performances from a frontman who I otherwise list among my favourites in voice and resonance alone, and the lyrics are full of clunky direct translations that struggle to stretch to fit original meters. The English attempts are best buried in history, like Kent themselves did to them.)

One of my secret hopes with these reviews and this list is to inspire other people who may not have ever heard their name to dig into their works. Theirs is a discography truly worth exploring for anyone who loves modern rock music, particularly when it goes emotional and grandiose. And when they did suddenly change their style and embraced a more electronic direction, they did so with more conviction than most other rock bands who decide to dabble with some synths for an album or two before they pack it in to "go back to their roots". Kent pulled off their transformation into a blend of guitars and synths with conviction and made it into a real second life for themselves: sometimes those later albums feel like they're an even more natural fit to the band than the early guitar-based material, but that could just be the effect of hearing that evolution happen in real time album by album and being so used to it now that it's hard to even graps how they sounded like initially. There's no lesser side of Kent between the first and second halves of their career: only two interpretations of the same brilliant materials, both forming a great discography.

Main chronology:

Other releases:

Side projects:

Joakim Berg:


KENT  

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1995 6 "Blåjeans", "När det blåser på månen", "Stenbrott"

1) Blåjeans; 2) Som vatten; 3) Ingenting någonsin; 4) När det blåser på månen; 5) Jag vill inte vara rädd; 6) Vad två öron klarar; 7) Den osynlige mannen; 8) Pojken med hålet i händen; 9) Ingen kommer att tro dig; 10) Stenbrott; 11) Frank

Cookie-cutter novice rock band debut album from the 90s - with all the flaws and charms in its guitar wall melancholy.

As mentioned in the intro section, Kent were quite inarguably one of the biggest success stories the Nordic region has had. They paved their own way to great effect and achieved largely anything a band of their kind could hope for: international hits, constant critical acclaim, no particular flops worth a mention, managing to turn a b-side into a pseudo-hit, going through a full sound reinvention and pulling it off perfectly, and finally settling down by steadily releasing consistently good albums after the radio hits died down - all done with the sort of complete creative independence a lot of bands of their stature have had to fight for. It’s good to mention their future for the sake of context and getting the grasp of just how far they’ve come, because on their debut we’re dealing with none of the above. In 1995 Kent were a group of young guys escaping the mundanity of their small town life by playing music and who had barely just settled on a line-up and a name when they were signed up.

Based on just that, you can see where this is going. Kent is a spirited, impassioned album - and so indebted to the moody, post-grunge British rock scene of the 90s that you’d only need to switch the sung tongue and it’d be right at home. Kent make their entrance with the way and the sound that hundreds of young bands just like them started their journey with during the time period - moody, dour and propelled by quiet/loud dynamics, with echoes of Manic Street Preachers, early Radiohead (The Bends was released almost exactly on the same day as Kent, fun fact) and other contemporaries all running through its songs. The band members were in their mid-twenties when the album was released but it’s a hotbed of all the teenage anxiety they had been bottling for years, and Joakim Berg’s inexperienced voice barely holds itself together. There’s not a lick of originality present, but there is plenty of passion and Berg’s charisma is already starting to bubble through. He's still learning but he's already proving himself able to carry the songs.

And to be blunt, he does have to carry these tracks a fair bit. Like a lot of the albums of this kind, Kent as well is mostly just a launch pad for better things later down the line. I mentioned before that Kent haven’t had any real failures in their lifetime and I stand by that, but it’s really obvious the band were still completely green at this stage despite years of grassroots activity before it. The band play well and the melodies are decent to good, but there's still a lack of depth present and sometimes the songs do fall into the pit of nondescriptivity when it comes down to leaving an impression. The best cuts - “Blåjeans”, “När det blåser på månen”, “Stenbrott” - wouldn’t necessarily be the highlights they are if they were on any other album and even their memorability is partially based on silly little details; “Blåjeans” sticks in your head because of its placement as the first ever Kent track sequentially, “När det blåser på månen” has an almost hilariously (positively!) melodramatic lift-off countdown by its end and the abrupt guitar lick in the chorus of “Stenbrott” is a thoroughly daft but a sharp and well-executed hook. This isn’t meant to sound like a backhanded compliment at the songs, or indeeda dig at any of the other songs because the album does engage with the listener: it gets your foot tapping and your head nodding in enjoyment. Besides the highlights you've got other songs like "Ingenting någonsin" and "Jag vill inte vara rädd" - both perky, noisy rock cuts with plenty of forward momentum - which indicate that these young hopefuls do have potential within them. But the it's undeniable just how much Kent at this stage sound like a Generic 90s Rock Band and rarely do the songs really make you forget about it either - especially as Kent only operate on two modes here between those perky rockers and moody shoe-staring, with basically a ready template both that they barely deviate from song to song.

That said, the best thing that the album has going for it is in fact that typical 90s sound - it’s definitely a whole load of completely subjective and unashamedly personal associations talking, but that little touch of nostalgic warmth that the dry 90s rock sound bears is probably just as, if not even more crucial than the actual songs to the album's overall listenability. It's a mood and Kent are all over it, pleasantly strumming and kicking out with an easily lovable touch of young rock and roll spirit. As far as any "actualy" merit or general importance goes, there isn't much to Kent: it's mainly remembered for being the debut album for a band who'd go on to achieve far greater things and in all likelihood, without that connection it would probably be lost in time completely, filed along with countless others of its kind. There’s no hidden deep cuts or a random hit song equivalent to the “Creep” scenario to retain the album in people's minds, or pulling them back to listen to it. It’s just five guys with guitars and drums and a will to make something more out of life. That gets them somewhere, at least, but Kent’s debut is quite obviously the weakest thing they’ve done. If you don't have the biased fancy towards this particular sound, feel free to drop a point from the score.

Physically: n/a, I never owned this until I got the boxset reviewed later down the line.


VERKLIGEN

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1996 7 "Avtryck", "Kräm (Så närä får ingen gå)", "En timme en minut"

1) Avtryck; 2) Kräm (Så närä får ingen gå); 3) Gravitation; 4) Istället för ljud; 5) 10 minuter (För mig själv); 6) En timme en minut; 7) Indianer; 8) Halka; 9) Thinner; 10) Vi kan väl vänta tils imorgon

Kent discover how to write great songs on the next step of their steady climb to success.

Talking about the first set of Kent albums isn’t particularly thrilling simply because they’re such a steady evolution of the same set of ideas, improving incrementally. The self-titled debut record a year before had a good sound but the band were still inexperienced and hadn’t quite discovered their own voice or a consistent songwriting angle. Verkligen is more or less the same as before in its sound, but Kent have now learned how to write the occasional cracking tune.

That’s a bit of a glib statement admittedly, because despite the loss of rhythm guitarist Martin Roos and the temporary quartet line-up, Kent sound bigger and dare I say more ambitious on Verkligen. The sound and the band's playing are a lot more dynamic and multi-dimensional than on the debut, leading to a more varied set of songs - including the band’s first epic extended jams which would become a traditional appearance on their albums afterwards (“En timme en minut” more honestly by way of a rock-out finale, “Vi kan väl väntä tils imorgon” with a fake-out ending). There’s more additional instrumentation beyond the guitar-bass-drums core of the band, and “Avtryck” starting the album by quickly drowning its opening guitar riff with a string section is almost certainly an intentional message from the band indicating that they’re thinking bigger now. Kent haven’t strayed too far from the gloriously mid-90s britrocking debut, but they’ve built upon it: growth, not change.

By far the biggest difference between one year earlier and now is that Kent have come up with some really good songs under their wing this time. "Kräm (Så närä får ingen gå)" most obviously, starting the band's climb in popularity and it does absolutely sound like a hit single would: punchy and straight to the point, hooks for days and gloriously nineties guitar walls. If "Avtryck" signalled the band was aiming for a wider scale, "Kräm" is the proof that they've started to discover additional dimensions in their actual songwriting, even if the song itself is a relatively straightforward rocker. But compare absolutely anything on the debut to "Kräm" and it's clear the band's approach to melody, dynamics and flow of the song are on an entirely different level from before - and while it may not be so immortal when compared against the wider discography, it's still a great song that gives out a rush of wild energy whenever it plays. Its big anthem hooks are exciting in an almost primal way, hitting that feel-good spot in your brain; and it sounds like a band hungry for world domination, semi-accidentally stumbling onto the launch codes to do so.

Verkligen is generally at its best when it keeps the energy high. "10 minuter (För mig själv)" is basically a "Kräm" reprise but little more leaning towards its relentless energy, "Avtryck" grows subtly in its urgency and its strength as it marches along (and as an opener it's a great starting bang for the record), and the punctuating guitar licks of "Halka" are ridiculous enough to work as genuinely fun hooks (a more cynical mind would say they're repeating the trick from "Stenbrott" off the previous record, but it's done better here). "En timme en minut" is the clear overall highlight, as Kent take their first step towards their big centrepiece songs. Its eight minutes of dynamically building, sustained rock-out are absolutely great, with different arrangement details during the long instrumental sections emerging and disappearing from way of others in a fashion that stops it from being monotonous. The band's performance - and Berg's vocals especially - sounds far more grown up and focused than the rest of the record, with an ear for production and arrangement that shows their growing desire to enrichen their own soundworld in service of their songs. Kent are still taking gentle steps towards being a great band throughout Verkligen, and "En timme en minut" is their first unequivocally great song and the album's real key track - a sign of things to come.

It's where the band retract back to that mid-90s slow and moody guitar angst where Verkligen shows most obviously that it's not too far from the debut. The'res a couple of more meandering songs which are more about their mood and sound than genuinely memorable songwriting, and like on the debut it's a case of too many things being cut from the same cloth that eventually begins to wear a little thin. Thus, while e.g. "Istället för ljud" and "Gravitation" are enjoyable when they appear on the album, their sluggish pace doesn't give room for real excitement even when it's broken by the occasional loud power chord chorus, blending together from one forlorn guitar melody to another - and "Indianer" and "Thinner" later on aren't even trying to stand out by the sounds of them. You can hear what Kent are going for with them but these crawling mood cuts aren't where the band's strengths lie at this stage - even though they seem to think otherwise. But credit where credit is due, they've saved the best for the last and the melancholy but bombastic "Vi kan väl vänta tils imorgon" is a really good closer for the album, especially once it lifts off in preparation for its double ending. Lumping it among the slowburners isn't necessarily all that befitting because there's far more life to it than any of the other songs listed in this paragraph, but that's primarily because it does the right thing of not sticking to a slowcore feel as its sole purpose. Just like "En timme en minut" it feels like a culmination of this particular stage of Kent: both songs are where the band find everything clicking in place.

But on Verkligen, they're still a work in progress. I started this review by mentioning it's hard to talk about the first three Kent albums independently because they all form one very linear line of development, and Verkligen suffers the most from it because it's less Empire Strikes Back and more Two Towers as the trilogy mid-piece: a story with no clear start or end. It's catching a glimpse of the band at the path to greatness, but still figuring out the right fork in the road to take. While it has its strengths and couple of particular Kent classics, there's very rarely a time where I'd opt for Verkligen over Isola if I'm in the mood of listening to Kent at their most 90s. It's not the fault of Verkligen but everything great that occurs on it they'd pull off better elsewhere in the near future - and so even though it's worth underlining that Verkligen is a good album, it can slip through the cracks largely due to its place in Kent's development.

Physically: As with the debut, I only own this through the 1991-2008 box set.


ISOLA

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1997 8 "Livräddären", "Saker man ser", "747"

1) Livräddären; 2) Om du var här; 3) Saker man ser; 4) Oprofessionel; 5) OWC; 6) Celsius; 7) Bianca; 8) Innan allting tar slut; 9) Elvis; 10) Glider; 11) 747

The first real Kent album. Moody guitars, walls of sound and classic anthems.

In the liner notes for the box set Box 1991-2008, frontman Jocke Berg describes Isola as Kent's "first real album". It's an accurate nutshell of a description. Kent's first two records were a decent introduction and Verkligen in particular already had some genuinely great parts to its name, but both were rushed out by a band who were still learning. By the time the Isola sessions started, Kent had the experience to start expanding their horizons and they were more in tune of what worked and what didn't. In a more practical fashion, the surprise success of the last record had granted the band a proper studio budget and their new record ended up being produced by Zed, who'd click with the band so well he'd become a regular fixture with the group for a good while. Those same liner notes also mention that the band’s general line of thought at the time was that it was perfectly fine to be ambitious and to treat the band as something with a real future, instead of sticking to some pre-conceived notion of being a scruffy grassroots indie band forever. So, with the options available to them and with the sense of progress they themselves felt they had made, Kent decided to transform themselves into what they fantasised they could be. It worked.

Kent's sound until now had been indebted to the particularly melancholy strain of 90s Britrock, which itself was in the process of transitioning from the swooping Britpop-era anthems into the anxiety of the OK Computer-driven end years of the decade, and Isola tapped into the sweet Venn diagram spot right between the two: there's strings and there's hope as the band build themselves louder with each chorus, but a tinge of Scandinavian sadness trails underneath it all. That particular concoction clicked with the general public. For the benefit of the non-Nordics in the audience, it's perhaps important to note that Isola was a big album. The lead single "Om du var här" was almost omnipresent in Finland, and I can't even imagine how huge it must have been in Kent's native Sweden - it's a big, dramatic, string-laden angst anthem that sounds custom built for purpose to serve as an introductionary statement, that the scrawny punks of the first two albums had grown up. It lead Isola towards the charts and accolades across Northern Europe - so much so that Kent becoming a true international act could have been a real possibility.

(As a matter of a fact, as mentioned in the intro a re-recorded version of Isola sung entirely in English does exist, in an attempt to break the language barrier and reach the Anglosphere audiences; but the clunkily translated and pronounced attempt didn't quite work, and so Isola remained a Scandinavian success story.)

I don't mean to imply that chart success equals greatness, but sometimes - particularly with albums of this kind in this era of music - it can act as a kind of vindication, that all the hard work finally pays off with good reason. Isola is exactly that: the underdogs snagging the trophy. The reason it took off is because it harnessed all the latent talent Kent had that was almost bursting, and in doing so the band proved what had been hinted at on the first two albums: that Kent were actually a legitimately great band with some serious songwriting talent within, and it was now becoming too obvious to ignore. Isola doesn't stray away from the first two albums as much as it completes the gradual evolution from the beginning to now, perfecting the formula that the band rode on for in their early years - loud guitar walls, a strong sense of melody, and an emotional impact booming through Jocke Berg's slurring voice which has come leaps and bounds since he first got in front of the microhpone. The guitars crunch more, the choruses soar wider and the emotions climb higher - this is what the first two albums promised but didn't quite deliver.

Kent letting go of the fear of ambition also leads to some new winds blowing through Isola's covers, namely in its wider arrangements. Isola marks the moment where Kent begin to introduce new elements to their sound and moving beyond their standard rock band setup; with baby steps, but drawing a clear line nonetheless. The vulnerable late-night ballad “OWC” is dominated by piano rather than the familiar guitars, and the ethereal "Innan allting tar slut" is drowned in soft drum machines and keyboard textures, which fit perfectly into Kent's moody soundscapes; and where the slow songs used to be the band’s weakness, here they’re downright standouts, these two in particular. Elsewhere the expanded sounds can simply mean some additional strings (special mention to the stellar sweeping ending to “Oprofessionel”) or taking full advantage of the once-again quintet’s ability to wield three guitars at once if they want to, leading to the shimmering “Celsius” which has just about as many lead guitar parts as it has players. When they do just want to rock, there’s a dynamic confidence that wasn’t there before, from the driving rhythmic flow of “Bianca” to the incredible opening salvo of the crushingly loud "Livräddären", the timelessly undeniable rock and roll force of “ Om du var här” and the gently wistful 90s alt rock perfection of "Saker man ser". Of these, “Livräddären” and “Saker man ser” are in particular the most perfect examples of what Kent aimed for in the 90s, and why they were so great at it.

While “ Om du var här” was the big calling card, the album’s actual signature song is its closer “747” - not just because of how close the album’s visual side is to the song, but because out of everything on the record nothing exemplifies the band’s new horizons as much as "747" does. It’s the natural climax point that the rest of the album builds up to both musically and through production, with a partly-programmed drum beat shuffling through a dreamy soundscape the likes of which just a year ago would have felt impossible for Kent to achieve. It's when Berg finishes his vocals roughly around a third of th way through when the song truly begins and lifts off towards its sunset ride ending, dovetailing into infinity with skyscraping guitars and textural, carefully introduced synthesized elements. "747" is a lot of things: a fantastic fireworks-accentuated closer which feels like the natural end point for everything that came before, the codification of the now-tradition to close off the album with a long epic, and and enduring classic song and a genuinely legendary piece of Kent’s discography. It's also a foreshadowing of things to come: if Isola is Kent’s first real album, then the synthesis of sounds of “747” is the arrow sign pointing towards the group's future, and even now you can practically feel the pieces magically clicking into place when you listen to it.

Kent would go on to make greater records than Isola as they followed their new ambition and instincts further, growing into a widely talented band while perhaps coincidentally moving away from the straightforward guitar sound that they started with. That doesn't diminish the strengths of Isola and if anything it's a testament to its quality that it still sounds vital for the band. In fact, arguably it's the company that it keeps that highlights its accomplishments. If we are perfectly honest the first two albums aren’t exactly the kind of start that leaves you in awe of a new band, and on their next record Kent would arguably dial their new tones up a little too much - which means that Isola stands as the sole balanced part of this first chapter of Kent’s career. It’s the strongest representative of who they were at this stage: a group of young guys who had started to dream big, who had a love for atmospheric guitars and with an almost romantic penchant for melancholy. They inhabit that space excellently, as Isola proves.

Physically: Jewel case, booklet with lots of band photos and the full set of lyrics. Each page also folds out to cover more ground.


HAGNESTA HILL

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1999 7 "Musik non stop", "Stoppa mig juni (Lilla ego)", "Berg & dalvana"

1) Kungen är död; 2) Revolt III; 3) Musik non stop; 4) Kevlarsjäl; 5) Ett tidsfördriv att dö for; 6) Stoppa mig Juni (Lilla ego); 7) En himmelsk drog; 8) Stanna hos mig; 9) Cowboys; 10) Beskyddaren; 11) Berg & dalvana; 12) Insekter; 13) Visslaren

There's a good album there somewhere, underneath all the padding, layers and extraneous minutes...

Hagnesta Hill follows Kent’s climb to the top. Isola had made them huge in their native Sweden and in the surrounding countries, immediately turning them from small town hopefuls on a steady rise to one of the country’s top artists. How bands handle this kind of ascent to fame and, more concretely, the follow-up album is always a question mark, and you often find that the acts start upscaling their efforts to make a self-consciously Big Album to match that big success they're enjoying.

Hagnesta Hill is a Big Album, in more ways than one. Its thirteen tracks rack up a sizeable 60-odd minute length, and most of those songs veer around the 5-7 minute territory. They’re all immaculately polished in their production and layered with studio magic and additional instruments, with pristinely modern, electronic elements slipping into the stylish guitar sound (in 1999 this was still novel and verging on trendy). It's bold, grand and loud. It’s the kind of record that happens when bands unlock an infinite budget and endless high-end studio time, and somewhere in the back of their minds they’re fully aware that they might lose all of that just as fast.

What separates Hagnesta Hill from other albums of its degree is that Kent aren't just trying to repeat Isola's success. Instead, they're actively making moves towards new sounds and using this big breakthrough as means to an end to hone their new ideas. After three albums of effectively polishing the same building blocks until they became sturdy and great, Hagnesta Hill is Kent’s first real piece of evolution: they had already started to play around with more programmed elements and a slicker sound on parts of Isola, and those initial seeds are now starting to grow. While still characterised by their guitars, Kent are making a point about not being defined by them and Hagnesta Hill starts exploring other ways to lead a song. It sees the band heading both towards wider artistic oceans with atmospheric textures and contemplative valleys of sound (the haunted piano of "Ett tidsfördriv att dö for", the ambient ballad "Cowboys"), as well as flirting with unashamed pop hooks with the bass groove and disco beat of “Musik non stop” and the sharp drum processing of “En himmelsk drog”. The electronically laced later half of their career is quietly being foreshadowed here, even if in the core Kent at this stage are still more in tune with their precious 90s rock bands. They're still testing things around more than leaping right into the unknown, and so Hagnesta Hill is a clear transitional record for the band. Those face challenges on their own already - and then Kent go and drown all that progress underneath so much of everything else.

Hagnesta Hill is a good album that's altogether too much in every single way, and it does suffer for it. There's no reason any of its songs should be as long as they are, with even the best cuts deserving a good minute's worth of shaving, and when it's all piled together the album itself feels like a never-ending marathon. Thirteen tracks doesn't sound like much and there are plenty of almost breezy hour-long records, but Hagnesta Hill feels twice as long not just because of how much the songs meander - and so sometimes it feels it's like they're piling everything else onto the songs to distract from that. Problem is, it doesn't do the material favours: the beautiful dreaminess and gentle dramatic atmosphere of "Cowboys" becomes plodding - almost padding - when it goes on for six minutes, and it's far from the only song that finds itself stuck running still. It's felt at its worst when it's clear the band are just repeating themselves: the dramatic arena guitar walls of "Kevlarsjäl" are something we've already heard from Kent ten times over and though its chorus has some primal power the band sound like they're kind of over it themselves already, and the closing "Visslaren" is such a retread of Isola's iconic "747" that Kent aren't even trying to hide it, with even the length matching the 7:47 of the "original". But you can't repeat the same lightning strike twice with the same strength, and while the primitive "me like big music" part of my brain can get my foot tapping to its needlessly long rock-out finale, it's obvious why "Visslaren" gets forgotten when people talk about Kent's bombastic album closers. But still, I have to admit - the horns in the first half are genuinely rather beautiful and their buried reappearance towards the end is inspired.

That's what makes Hagnesta Hill a little frustrating: it can be such a good album at times but it's constantly its own worst enemy by just being so overstuffed. You generally need to dig deeper into the album's production layers to find the great things, and it does have legitimately great cuts that are real highlights for the band. the muscular and effortlessly cool disco rocker "Musik non stop" is one of Kent's most classic and timeless hits, "Stoppa mig Juni" is that perfect moment where the album's excess is put into great use as the long length and studio heaviness support a brightly gorgeous torchlight ballad (with some more of those wonderful, plaintive horns), and "Berg & dalvana" represents the band's shift forward with a propulsive and stylish rock sound that comes across as the most accomplished example of what Kent were going for with the project. The few lively rockers like "Kungen är död" and "Revolt III" crunch nicely, and Joakim Berg has now effectively perfected his vocal mannerisms and sinks a ton of charisma into every piece of music he fronts even when the songs can't live up to it. All these strengths give Hagnesta Hill some weight. It's not an album you can outright dismiss but sometimes its excess can indeed be too much to stomach, and it's one of the more difficult Kent albums to listen to on a whim because of it.

Hagnesta Hill still managed to achieve what Big Albums are meant to achieve, and it kept Kent's momentum going. On the positive side, Kent learned from their mistakes and aimed to directly avoid the same mistakes on the follow-up album. On the downside, Hagnesta Hill can be difficult despite being - at the end of the day - a reasonably accessible modern rock album. For someone growing up in the Nordics at the time it feels like an integral part of the cultural zeitgeist and I remember vividly just how widespread its presence was, but as time has gone by the imprint it's left doesn't match its juggernaut presence at the time in size. In hindsight the album is more of a representative of Kent's place in the world at the time rather than something that's remembered as an actual piece of work. But if you look behind the bloat, you'll find a great band still writing really good songs - they simply find themselves taking the wrong route home on the way to finish them.

Physically: Standard jewel case - the booklet features a whole load of wonderfully atmospheric photos and the full set of lyrics are crammed to a couple of pages in small handwritten font.


B-SIDOR 95-00

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 7 "Chans", "Långesen vi sågs", "Verkligen"

CD1: 1) Chans; 2) Spökstad; 3) Längtan skala 3:1; 4) Om gyllene år; 5) Noll; 6) Önskar att någon...; 7) Bas riff; 8) Din skugga; 9) Elever; 10) Längesen vi sågs; 11) December; 12) Utan dina andetag; 13) På nära håll
CD2: 1) Livrädd med stil; 2) Verkligen; 3) Gummiband; 4) Att presentera ett svin; 5) En helt ny karriär; 6) Rödljus; 7) Pojken med hålet i handen (Hotbilds version); 8) Kallt kaffe; 9) Den osynlige mannen (Kazoo version); 10) Slutsats; 11) Rödljus II; 12) En helt ny karriär II; 13) Papin jahti [hidden track]

The b-sides for the first four albums; as it often is, uneven but with surprises in unexpected places.

Kent’s b-sides compilation arrives at the time and moment when you would have expected a greatest hits compilation to have happened, and it feels like a bit of a power move. Together with a few new songs, one which got the kind of retrospective clip show music video you normally reserve for promotional singles from best offs, B-sidor 95-00 sees Kent repackaging their career so far in their own terms, by highlighting the songs that rode off on the backs of their hits. And there were a good number of them: the 1990s were the golden period of single bonus tracks, particularly in the UK where they were an art form onto their own and often something bands were prided for: for these bands, a b-sides compilation could easily have been another hits collection. With Kent’s career so far being so very obviously inspired by their British counterparts, they had taken it upon themselves to carry that tradition in their own region.

The two discs of B-sidor 95-00 run in a counter-chronological fashion, so the first disc covers the b-sides to the mainstream hit singles from Hagnesta Hill and Isola, while the second disc features outtakes from the first two albums Verkligen and Kent. With that in mind, disc one is where you’d expect the big hitters to be but it actually feels rather... underwhelming? Or to put it in another way, it's predictable. Not just in how it sounds, i.e. that the songs carry same slick guitar moves as their parent albums, but even in how they're presented: all the singles from Isola and Hagnesta Hill carried two b-sides (apart from "Kevlarsjäl", which was backed solely by "Längtän skala 3:1") and in each case they're a big rock song backed by a quiet, sparse mood piece next. The entirety of disc one after the first few songs (i.e. the new tracks) effectively plays out the same across the board and you end up feeling like you are constantly tracing steps back to where you just came from. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case if the material was strong enough to ignore but a lot of the songs on the first disc, and in particular those fleshed out full-band takes, feel a lot like underdeveloped or overall lesser versions of what Kent were releasing on their albums at the time. There are great songs within the bunch: in particular the beautifully growing "Längesen vi sågs" could have easily had a spotlight moment on an album and represents the kind of quality that you perhaps would have expected, and "Utan dina andetag" has a preciousness to its big 90s rock riffs which goes a long way explaining why it's become a legitimate hit in Sweden (it even got a spot on Kent's career retrospective best of collection - it’s apparently a very popular wedding song in Sweden?). But they’re one of the few that really jump out, and in fact I find myself enjoying those quiet mood pieces like "December" and "Om gyllene år" more than I do the big rock songs because they show something a little bit different in context.

It is surprisingly the second disc which is where the compilation gets really interesting and exciting. I find Kent's first two albums to have been made by a band who were still clearly a work in progress: they're promising but uneven records, with the band still in the process of aligning their vision with their songwriting. And yet, these b-sides are so much more interesting than you would expect from this period in chronology. There's extensions to the band’s rock sound where they break away from the more self-serious approach on the records to something more relaxed, like the rough but big-hearted and beautiful "Verkligen" (one of my favourite things to come out of the second album’s sessions and a shame it never made it to the titular record), the scruffy riffing of "Livrädd med stil" and the stupid fun punk of "Kallt kaffe". Other songs find the band experimenting with electronic production long before it started appearing on the records, leading to excellently atmospheric cuts like "Gummiband" and "Att presentera ett svin", which sound like the works of an entirely different act to the one who recorded the A-sides. Some of the songs are obvious demos without the tag in place, but for example "Rödljus" benefits from the rawer production which lends it a kind of warmth and intimacy that it might not have otherwise had. It’s so intriguing that it’s this earlier period where B-sidor 95-00 really shines, given the parent albums are among the band’s weakest (purely due to their more undeveloped nature) - it shows that Kent were holding back certain aspects of themselves away from the albums, where perhaps they felt they had to act in a more polished manner.

B-sidor 95-00 rounds itself off with a few new tracks as the bookends. “Chans” and “Spökstad" are two brand new songs which effectively bridge between the present and what’s next: slick and stylish production, a more programmed sound and an ear tuned for the hooks, as initially trialled on Hagnesta Hill. The sleepy ballad “Chans” is the better of the two, unfolding into a beautifully understated dramatic rise atop its ethereal keyboard layers. “Spökstad" is a preview of the upcoming Vapen & ammunition in sound and the more hit-oriented of the two songs, and it's a fine song, but perhaps suffers a little from the band effectively doing its shtick better throughout the next album. Meanwhile the end of the second disc sees the band returning to the two most obvious demos of the selection and fleshing them out years later. Kent end up treating the two songs pretty similarly, both climbing up to epic explosive finales with cymbal crashes and soloing guitars, and to be fair, they're a band who do that particular trick really well. "Rödljus" as established before already worked pretty well as a more stripped-down demo, so it's more "En helt ny karriär" that benefits from the re-envisioning as it gets to switch the placeholder drum machine into a full band, equipped to take the song where it was always destined to be.

(There is also technically a fifth new song, the hidden track "Papin jahti" at the end of the second disc which is an improvisational comedy piece and not really worth anyone's time beyond the obvious novelty that it's meant to be - though it is fun for me to hear a Kent piece in Finnish, sung by the Finn-Swede drummer Markus Mustonen)

In the end, I suppose B-sidor 95-00 reflects the period it represents accurately enough. Kent's first four albums are a mixed bag, solely because they're like a live presentation of a band developing themselves: the rough start, the evolution, the realisation of their strengths, and figuring out their own sound bit by bit. For the first two albums Kent hid the fine-tuning of that development behind the scenes and away from the main albums, which this compilation brings out to light; with the next two records those ideas started getting the spotlight so the b-sides simply became more of what the albums offered, just not as well. It caps off one particular period of Kent's journey and empties the table before the next chapter, which is arguably why it feels so much like a curveball alternative for the standard career-so-far summary of a greatest hits compilation. But b-side compilations tend to always be either incredible or uneven, and B-sidor 95-00 is the latter. It warrants to dig deep though: that second disc is some of my favourite early Kent in full disc length.

Physically: The last of the lot I only own through the boxset, and so I can't comment on the actual packaging.


VAPEN & AMMUNITION

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2002 8 "Sundance Kid", "Socker", "FF"

1) Sundance Kid; 2) Pärlor; 3) Dom andra; 4) Duett (feat. Titiyo); 5) Hur jag fick dig att älska mig; 6) Kärleken väntar; 7) Socker; 8) FF; 9) Elite; 10) Sverige

Sharp, polished and straight to the point. Kent weaponise pop hooks and take aim.

My primary complaint with Hagnesta Hill was that it was overstuffed, that Kent were going for excess when they didn’t necessarily have a clear end goal in mind. The band thought the same, which is why when going into the follow-up Vapen & ammunition their plan was to create a record that would be straight to the point. Ten songs with a ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ attitude, written to stand independently with no real album concept in mind, each of which could be a single candidate. In the interest of retaining things economical even the now-traditional epic centrepiece is absent, with the six-minute “Elite” coming closest but still remaining a great distance away from the grand rock-outs of the last three records.

To serve the hits-or-bust approach, Kent have opted for a meticulously polished production for Vapen & ammunition. The incredibly processed sound all over the record is perfectionist in nature, with each filtered drum hit and keyboard layer coming across crystal clear and mechanically precise. It’s closer to the sheen of a multi-million budget pop album rather than the rock aesthetic that even Hagnesta Hill held onto closely even while it went for a heavy studio sound. The songs underneath the mirror glaze get to the point without dawdling around, with every section of each charging ahead with a clear key melody or sticking point. The title (“weapons and ammunition”, derived from scattered lyrics across the record) and the white tiger that graces the liner art are incredibly appropriate for the album: its pop instincts are smart and aggressive like a beast on a prowl and each of its songs has been engineered to deadly perfection, the hooks wielded with weapon-like efficiency. The album even opens up with an air raid siren, effective in its own right but also perhaps a very literal signal that Kent are not playing around with their chosen tools this time around.

It works frighteningly well. It’s not quite the ten hit singles it wants to be, but only because it’s hard to imagine how you could make successful singles out of the densely dreamy atmospheric wonder of “Hur jag fick att älska mig” (production highlight: the kick drum made to sound like a heartbeat for such a directly lovelorn song), or the stripped down acoustic closer “Sverige”; both are clear successes as songs though, and "Sverige" in particular provides a necessary counterpoint to the rest of the album’s hi-fi indulgence. Nothing on Vapen & ammunition is new to Kent and it’s not like they’ve shied away from catchy choruses before, it's simply that the band hone into them this time around. Musically the band are therefore on solid footing and Vapen & ammunition shines the spotlight on some of their more immediate strengths. What helps cut through the richness and sweetness of the album is frontman Jocke Berg, who continues to to branch into new topics lyrically and widening the band's scope in his own part. Many of the songs on the record may act like singalong-ready chart toppers but hide a heavy, worn-out heart underneath, more socially and politically conscious of the world around and hiding the frustration behind a chorus you can belt out.

The three big singles that did end up getting released from the album jump out from the tracklist, though arguably in part because they were such airwave hogs, and they demonstrate the record’s sharply tuned attitude really well. "Dom andra" in particular is still absolutely dominating right from its breath-as-beat intro, riding a blade-sharp electro-rock drive and an iconic whistle hook through a curiously structureless form that's like a free-form rant that became a pop song; even if it has lost some of its glimmer over the years, it's the sort of song where you can absolutely understand why it became the band’s signature song from a popular perspective, especially when it changes gears towards its impassioned finale and Berg breaks the cold and detached tone he’s held onto all song. That said, I have always preferred the slow moody disco of "Kärleken väntar" and the high-speed steamroller hooks of "FF" over their more popular sibling. "Kärleken väntar" is a direct descendant of Hagnesta Hill's slick disco-rock hit "Musik non stop" (which may as well have acted as blueprint for Vapen & ammunition), with a dancefloor-pounding beat and subtly churning guitars that meet somewhere between lovestruck ecstasy and emotional distance that gives it a curious uneasiness which sticks out. Meanwhile "FF" is arguably the best example of how Kent wanted to represent themselves in 2002 in production, mood and tone: 0 to 100 in a split second, an inescapable backbeat tapping straight into the spine and a tour de force double-chorus.

That said, the three singles aren't among the album’s real stand-out songs, and it's the deep cuts of Vapen & ammunition that have eold up the strongest. "Socker" in particular is as classic Kent as it gets and is in fact a firm member of my personal Kent pantheon: there’s a heartwringing ache to its sighing melodies so strong it’s absolutely arresting, it features some of Berg’s most evocative writing (the second verse in particular) and on this album specifically its loud bursts of pure guitar walls shake up the tracklist's flow in a rejuvenating, and necessary, fashion. "Pärlor" is the only other truly guitar-heavy song of the record and is a reliably powerful stormer meant to play at loud volume for maximum effect, but its real secret weapon are the back-and-forth vocals in its verses. The same applies throughout Vapen & ammunition. As Kent have pushed the guitars into a less dominant role, they’ve filled the gaps with textural keyboards and most notably layered vocals and backing harmonies that appear throughout the album in a significant role. "Elite" and its gospel choir take that to its logical conclusion and though the song has always sounded a little too obvious as a big stadium anthem, there's an earnestness and glimmer to it that warms it up. It may be a big, big song but Berg pulls it back towards himself and the listener and retains some of that intimacy that its sentimental lyrics convey. “Sundance Kid”, the opener, is more or less all of the above: its lead guitar line is the first big power hook of the record until the double vocals of the chorus take its place, the loudly mixed drums are designed to capture the attention of anyone who hears their battle cry and there’s thrill to how the song unfolds. I appreciate a bold opener that acts as a statement of intent and “Sundance Kid” is the perfect gateway into Vapen & ammunition.

The one thing Vapen & ammunition slightly stumbles with is cohesiveness, and that's largely down to design. It's an album of loose songs that are playlisted next to one another, and even with years of listening they still feel like a sequence of jarring cuts from one song to the next. This is best highlighted by the mid-album double slow jam whammy of "Duett" (a perfectly nice ballad duet with Titiyo and with another strong chorus, but also clearly the song that leaves the least imprint afterwards) and "Hur jag fick att älska mig", which pulls the otherwise energetic album to a halt for a little too long in one go. As far as the songs go though, even if they're not cohesive they're consistent and excellently so. The batting average is really strong and Kent operating in this sort of high-intensity pop song craftsmanship channel is exciting in its own way, and at ten songs the trick doesn’t wear out. There’s mayhaps less nuance to Vapen & ammunition than to most other Kent albums, but the band pack it with enough strengths in other areas that as far as one-off direction exercises go, it can stand proud and tall as a great collection of songs. The album serves as an appropriate statement of Kent’s commercial imperial phase that the band were enjoying at the time: the “album full of singles” tract is something that few artists can pull off satisfyingly no matter how much they boast, but with Vapen & ammunition Kent took the opportunity to demonstrate why they had become Sweden’s biggest band within the last few years and they backed it up with songs that were fit to defend that title.

Physically: Jewel case with a fold-out booklet with lyrics and plenty of photos of the tiger on the cover; a homage to the band's home city Eskilstuna and its zoo which had white tigers as its signature attraction.


DU & JAG DÖDEN  

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2005 9 "400 slag", "Klåparen", "Mannen i den vita hatten (16 år senare)"

1) 400 slag; 2) Du är ånga; 3) Den dödä vinkeln; 4) Du var min armé; 5) Palace & Main; 6) Järnspöken; 7) Klåparen; 8) Max 500; 9) Romeo återvänder ensam; 10) Rosor & palmblad; 11) Mannen i den vita hatten (16 år senare)

Stark, dramatic, emotional and above all, focused - Kent take note of having become Sweden's biggest rock band and decide to create a record to match their status.

As it’s the first thing you’ll see (in the tangible world), a special mention goes out to how the physical version of Du & jag döden presents itself. To compliment the title ("You and I, death"), Kent dressed the record in an appropriate funeral wear. Not only is the booklet jet black, with the lyrics written in a font so small it's barely visible, but the jewel case itself is tinted black as well which means the artwork in reality looks much darker than on the image up there. The CD follows suite and the front label is completely black, but so is its underside and it's the only time I've seen a CD like it. It’s ultimately a simple trick, but it's done in such an over the top (and perhaps a bit blunt) way that it turns out to be a powerful one. It's dark and dramatic, guiding towards an album that in many ways is exactly that.

One of my many embarrassing musical confessions is that I spent a lot of time intentionally brushing Kent off to the side simply because of their choice to sing in their own tongue. In my early-to-mid teenage years full of musical hubris and preconceptions yet to be knocked down, I didn’t think Kent would ever genuinely resonate with me because I could barely understand the language. But I got better, and in good part thanks to Du & jag döden. Kent have always been the masters of the perfect opener song (I can’t honestly think of a band who rivals them in this department apart from R.E.M.), and “400 slag” was what tipped me over to the fan club. The true kick-off at the end of its lengthy intro, slowly building instrument by instrument atop a stone-cold rumbling bass before flashing into full bloom, was what got me to stop living in denial and start embracing the band on the spot. "400 slag" is the kind of a song that aims to leave an impression and the way it draws open is majestic to behold, as the band command the song’s immense sonic space effortlessly.

Du & jag döden lives by its dramatic flair, painting in grand dynamic strokes and marrying Kent's rock band streak with theatrically grand gestures. Much of it is in the lyrics of course - it's hilarious in hindsight that this became the album that finally got me into Kent after thinking I’d never be able to crack through the language barrier, even though you could argue it's a concept album with the amount of running themes it has going through it. Revising the liner notes with my barebones knowledge of Swedish and online translators in the present day, it’s clear just how much more importance Berg placed in his lyrical work here - the death that lurks around its lyric sheets is moreso the death of youthful innocence rather than literal demise, and it's a theme that repeats over and over again and inches more and more towards biographical as the album progresses. Much of the rest of the songwriting also acts like it highlights and underlines the lyrics, with the general flow of the songs built around Berg’s voice and the narrative and the impact he pushes. It's not a dark album, as much as it looks the part - but it is melancholy and aching, and treats them with grandeur.

But the power of Du & jag döden doesn't lie in its lyrics, but in how vividly the band translate those themes and feelings into the actual musical notes and arrangements. The impetus behind the record was to be a direct reaction against the previous album Vapen & ammunition, the super-slick, hyper-produced pop songs of which had started to grate the band after a few years of repeating them over and over on tour. Going into the follow-up Kent wanted to shake off any formulaic trappings and to write songs that wouldn't always repeat the same verse-chorus structures, to move away from production tricks and to reveal the humanity underneath the sound. Likewise, where Vapen & ammunition was intentionally a selection of disparate songs bound together by the same aesthetic, Kent were looking to write an album again: a set of songs with a common narrative told through chosen aesthetics, flow and tone. The guitars are back with a vengeance too after their relative backstage presence on the previous album, now louder in the mix and intricately layered with Kent taking full advantage of having at best three guitarists on stage where needed. The songs that ended up forming Du & jag döden are still big songs, fit for the large concert venues the band were now accustomed to, but they are being played with the gravitas that’s required to keep them close and personal. Melancholy and anxiety are almost triumphant topics in the world of alternative rock, and Kent embraced the inherent melodrama in that for Du & jag döden: guitar anthems for lost souls searching for something to hold onto.

Which means that while knowing what Berg sings is a great bonus and it helps the overall concept of the album to click, the resonance of the album's music alone is universal in nature. You don’t need to know the language to understand the weight under the emotionally detached maelstrom of "Klåparen" exploding into a rage of guitars, or to hear the personal importance behind "Mannen in den vita hatten" unfurling as the band speeds up past the string-laden bombast of its chorus and towards the finale where Berg begins to spill his guts out with such intensity it practically becomes a rant. It's a record that wears its heart on display on its sleeve exposed and awaiting, its melancholy and vulnerability obvious and immediate. Both of the above mentioned songs are among Kent's finest ("Klåparen" perhaps more personally, but the latter has become the canonical classic of this record and for a very good reason), and they were so long before I started parsing what they really stood for, because of the strength of the arrangements and performance alone. Same with "400 slag" right from the first listen and still on the so-and-so hundredth listen, same with the sweep of "Den döda vinkeln" as it accelerates, same with the exhausted weightiness and deft guitars of "Du var min armé". These are songs where in practice it doesn't matter what the actual meaning is, because the colours the band use are so vivid that the listener has the power to illustrate their own interpretations into the songs with them.

I've tried to come up with a more artful way to say this but the crux of it all is that Du & jag döden is where Kent reach the peak where they'd go on to stay for a while: it's the apex of their rock sound, and among their best albums overall. Every promise made across the last five albums, every classic song, every emotional moment of brilliance - they all pay off here, perfected and delivered with a tight grip to how everything should be presented and how it all should connect. The dramatic peaks of its emotionally intense journey are presented like movie scenes that lead artfully from one revelation to the next, building up the stakes. The songs are great of course, but the flow of the record really is immaculate too, where throughout there's a constant feeling of momentum being built, which is then resolved in the more obvious tracklisting climax points: the restrained quiet of "Järnspöken" leads beautifully into the anguish of "Klåparen" as the mid-album palate cleanser, and the quiet-loud extremes of "Rosor & palmblad" build up the theatrics carefully in preparation for the epic resolution of "Mannen i den vita hatten". And while the band may have turned their backs towards Vapen & ammunition to some extent, they have adapted the more immediate strengths they leaned onto that record into their new guise: the punctual powerhouse energy of "Palace & Main", the fantastic backing vocal action on "Romeo återvänder ensam" and the precise piano hooks and epic stadium lift-offs of "Den dödä vinkeln" aren't too far removed from the previous album, but they're now clad in black and played with the passion of where every note played could be the last. It's a gorgeous, powerful listen and feels instantly personal.

Given Kent's tact change from the next record on, Du & jag döden has in hindsight become the last hoorah for the musical ideas that Kent had built their career so far on, and it honestly feels like an intentional gambit move. The overstuffed Hagnesta Hill and the radio-friendly Vapen & ammunition had landed them wider adoration but perhaps weren't something the band thought deserved that spotlight, and so they went on to create something that did. The detail in the arrangements in tandem with a muscular performance, each song a part of something greater, piecing together a journey through big emotions and the music to match them - Du & jag döden is a model example of a classic record to the point that it sounds like the band were completely aware what they were doing with it, and it sounds bold, inspiring and personal. While I think Kent equaled the quality of Du & jag döden later on down the line with other releases, there's no doubt that this is where Kent perfected what they as a band stood for.

Physically: I went on about this in the body of the review already but it is definitely a statement piece on its own: simple tricks, but all piled together for great effect.


THE HJÄRTÄ & SMÄRTA EP

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2005 6 "Dom som försvann", "Ansgar & Evelyne"

1) Vi mot världen; 2) Dom som försvann; 3) Ansgar & Evelyne; 4) Flen/Paris; 5) Månadens erbjudande

The epilogue for the Du & jag döden chapter - more of the same with diminishing returns.

The phrase “victory lap” originates from racing sports, where the winner of the race drives an extra lap as a form of celebration and to give the audience a chance to congratulate them. In context of music, the connotations for the term tend to be inconsistent - it’s used for referring to releases that follow a successful album without changing things too much, but it differs from person to person whether it’s used in a positive (more of the same great stuff, yay!) or negative (a comfortable if safe and unexciting follow-up) light, and I'm guilty of being just as wishywashy with my usage of it in the past. Released six months after Du & jag döden, The hjärta & smärta EP is without a doubt a victory lap for Kent, basking in the success of the preceding album where Kent perfected their guitar sound as it continues where the album left off. The immediate idea that this is Du & jag döden: The B-Sides is proven wrong by the mere virtue that those b-sides were already released with the actual singles (and they were all great, and honestly worth a check for anyone who loves the album), but the long and short of the EP is that it's five more songs of the same dramatic guitars and bombastic rock twists, pushed out into the world seemingly to give the era an epilogue of sorts.

If there is a difference between the preceding album and The Hjärta & smärta EP, it's that the EP feels a little lighter. As the covers have changed from Du & jag döden’s black to the EP's angelic white, the songs have a little more levity to them. “Vi mot världen” has a glimpse of positive defiance to it, “Ansgar & Evelyne” gets close to euphoric when Berg lets his wordless vocals roam, and “Månadens erbjudande” almost sounds celebratory. But that’s vague at best, and by most parts The Hjärtä & smärta EP feels like a storage clearance for songs the band had in their pockets before moving onto the next record. In other words, as much as Kent were riding high on their imperial phase wave at this stage, the biggest fireworks had already been used up by this point and we're left with consistently enjoyable but not particularly essential material. The "single" of the EP “Dom som försvann” is about the only thing that acts like something that should be brought up when discussing Kent's discography: it’s the closest thing to Du & jag döden that the EP has both in sound with all its impassioned guitars and dark underpinnings, but also in quality. It also makes a terrific use of a children's choir, exchanging betlittlements with Berg's narrator and lending a song a slightly more twisted vibe that makes it a bit more unique within Kent's back catalogue. "Ansgar & Evelyne" is the other highlight of the set, a real beam of light in an otherwise musically melancholy year for Kent, lifting off with a little bit of hope into an effortlessly lovely chorus.

The other three songs inspire fewer ecstatic ramblings: "Vi mot världen" is up to the standards of the period even if not as striking as most of its peers, the speeding "Flen/Paris" doesn't have much to say for itself and is clearly the last thing the band dug out of their drawers for the EP, and "Månadens erbjudande" does have a little something special going on for it with its wedding dance atmosphere but despite a four-minute length it feels like it ends before it actually gets going. As songs they're fine, but run-of-the-mill. More of the same isn't a bad thing, especially in EP length, but The hjärta & smärta EP sees mostly diminishing returns for the style Kent had perfected on the preceding album. Which in reality means that there's no particular reason why I would turn to these five songs instead of Du & jag döden if I were in the mood for this particular era of Kent, given for most parts the songs aren't strong enough. It's a victory lap release: more of what made the previous album so great, but ultimately just there for the show.

Physically: Another one I own as part of the big box set and never bought before it.


TILLBAKA TILL SAMTIDEN

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 8 "Elefanter", "Ingenting", "Columbus"

1) Elefanter; 2) Berlin; 3) Ingenting; 4) Vid din sida; 5) Columbus; 6) Sömnen; 7) Vy från ett luftslott; 8) Våga vara rädd; 9) LSD, någon?; 10) Generation ex; 11) Ensammast i Sverige

Kent embrace synths and accidentally reinvent themselves, confident and atmospheric.

Kent’s discography can be divided between their pre-2007 and post-2007 output, or pre- and post-Tillbaka till samtiden. I imagine Kent themselves didn’t intend their seventh album’s influence to reach so far: the choice to utilise more synthesisers and programmed elements and to de-emphasise guitars was initially a strictly reactionary move, following the excessive (as described by the band) use of guitars on the last record as well as the amicable and coincidental departure of rhythm guitarist Harri Mänty. Unexpectedly to everyone, the album had an impact deep enough that the second half of Kent’s story would follow in its footsteps, with the sound world of Tillbaka till samtiden becoming such an integral part of Kent that the early albums became almost a distant memory.

In retrospect, Tillbaka till samtiden is still a clear transitional phase for Kent. It’s synth pop, but as interpreted by a rock band: the style is new but the songs still follow Kent’s typical songwriting style, the insistent kick beats drill the rhythm right down to the spine like a dance track but they're still live drums even if processed within an inch of their lives, and there's still guitars and the songs that feature them most prominently (“Generation Ex”, “Berlin”, “LSD, någon?”) could have slotted in the previous albums without too many difficulties. Electronic elements and synth sounds were never unfamiliar to Kent either, and Tillbaka till samtiden is perhaps best thought as the logical end point where the band would have journeyed eventually anyway. In other words, it’s not quite the radical departure that it would seem like at a first glance and the biggest contributor to any shock factor is the simple fact that it follows Du & jag döden, the dense and epic guitar climax of their back catalogue - it's the contrast that's unusual, not the actual change.

The big difference instead between Kent as they were and Kent now is how comfortably the band find themselves settling in their new skin. No wonder they shifted their scope after this album because it becomes abundantly clear across Tillbaka till samtiden that Kent have managed to locate their comfort zone, sitting somewhere between the alternative rock ideals they made their name with and a more directly hitting and sleekly produced synth sound they were clearly inspired by, and which they had tested in the past but hadn’t nailed to their own satisfaction. That isn't to say the previous albums weren't truly Kent, but there is a kind of reactionary restlessness to them that in hindsight is identifiable as a band in search of their own place, uncertain about ever standing still. In contrast it's remarkable just how naturally the stylistic decisions made here work with the band's songwriting style and how at ease they sound in this environment; it comes across as beautifully balanced. There's still that sharpness and edge of their guitar days, even during the parts of the album where Kent are fulfilling their fantasy of what they’d do if they were in charge of a Depeche Mode or a Pet Shop Boys record. Something like "Vid din sida” is what happens when the disco drive of the earlier hit “Musik non stop” stumbles onto a cyber goth club, and the new instrumental decisions lend well to such curveballs.

It's also an incredibly atmospheric and scene-setting album. The entire record sounds like takes place in hazy twilight or in a faintly glowing cold winter's night, and the music is dipped in thick textures conjured by the band's now-favoured synthesizer shifts: it conjures images of foggy deserted streets bathing in moonlight, late night drives staring at the city lights through the passenger window and quiet corners of dark clubs. Some tracks play off it more than others, but the feel is strong enough throughout that it's undoubtedly my favourite aspect of Tillbaka till samtiden. It's thoroughly appropriate to consider it visual album in how vividly its sound paints these associations and images (some imaginary, some based on real life moments); and by the looks of it even Kent thought it so. The booklet is nearly entirely dedicated to various atmospheric and striking photographs, and through the haunting freeze-frame poses in the music video for "Ingenting" and the arresting urban imagery in the one for "Columbus", Kent brushed off their old generic rock band videos and became a visually arresting group with their latter day music videos (though the other two singles didn't fare as well admittedly, with the live-in-studio footage of "Generation ex" and a remix of "Vy från ett luftslott" receiving a compilation of public commons media remixed into a competent Youtube fan video). It's, once again, a sign of growth as a band, taking the steps to form a wider context around the music, developing aesthetic choices to emphasise the music while creating songs that outright invite for strong visual counterparts.

It's particularly on the first half where all these aspects - the synthetic atmosphere, the electronic motion, the rock band strength - are in balance. "Elefanter" continues Kent's streak of classic openers as it cycles through all the album's motions one after another, its sunset horizon gazing of a start shifting into distorted frustration and ultimately a bold and awe-inspiring horn-accentuated finale. It's a beautiful thing to witness and it's an opener that sticks from the very first time you hear it, and it leads onto a real gold streak. The high-speed thrill of "Berlin", the phenomenal lead single "Ingenting" that introduced the album so perfectly and still sounds like the record's purest distillation of its ideals with its foreboding tension and the insistently powerful piano hook, the pounding of "Vid din sida" and the breathtaking dark night of the soul ballad "Columbus" is a hell of power play, one after another. Many of these are instant classics, with "Elefanter", "Ingenting" and especially "Columbus" - exploding in quiet, piercingly human melancholy as its synth walls swell so hauntingly - immediately making the case that Kent have practically levelled up as they've started this new life of theirs.

There's a clear halfway break point to the album, brought by the linked couplet of "Sömnen" and "Vy från ett luftslott": the former's ambient dreamscape takes the atmospheric production to its furthest and also serves as the extended prelude to the latter's lightweight bounciness, from which point the album itself tones down the soundscapes and returns to a more familiarly dynamic Kent territory. It's a great second half too, with the charged and cruising "Våga vara rädd" riding another set of excellent horn section hooks and the impeccably stylish "Generation ex" having the kind muscular liveliness that serves the album well as it nears its end. "LSD, någon?" took the longest to grow and it's still perhaps the album's weak link, as great as it admittedly gets when it goes off the rails towards its end - it's the clearest bridge to Du & jag döden and nearly juts out because of it, but really its issue is just the fact that it takes a long, long time to get to somewhere really exciting. "Ensammast i Sverige" tides the album over towards its break of dawn after the long gloomy night, its knowingly dramatic heartbreak carried by a thudding beat around which guitars, organs and synthesizers swirl over and over as the credits roll and the narrator walks alone into the early hours of the morning. It's a confidently controlled miniature masterpiece - this album's Kent epic but not necessarily in size (even if in length, still), but rather in its emotional vastness. It’s a beautiful closer, and its relative restraint is another example of the confidence and comfort Kent have found while moving to different waters.

Unlike many transitional records, Tillbaka till samtiden is the point when the band found the last puzzle piece they were looking for rather than the awkward in-between phase, and that’s why it’s stood the test of time so brilliantly. Timewarping back to the mid-late 2000s, this was an era where a great number of rock acts discovered that a solid way to break out of a creative rut was to trade guitars to synthesizers and keyboards. Most of the time these resulted in an odd singular album or two at most, which the bands would then turn their backs on afterwards before launching into your usual return-to-roots records - and at the time it felt like Kent too were jumping onto this exact same trend. Tillbaka till samtiden was a great album back then too, but it's really gained a finer side through age and that's because unlike so many of its stylistic peers, Kent integrated those new sounds into their own heart and soul rather than simply treating them as an aesthetic choice. As a transitional record it perhaps loses some of its due attention to its siblings on both sides, but the atmospheric, evocative qualities of Tillbaka till samtiden are unmatched in Kent's discography

Physically: Standard jewel case job, but the album comes with two different booklets - there's one that's slightly more modest which features the lyrics and credits, and is almost hidden away behind the main booklet which contains a plethora of beautifully moody photos and other visuals. Some of these were used as single covers and other promotional artwork, but mostly they're unique to the booklet and they do complement the tone of the music well.


RÖD  

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2009 9 "Vals för Satan (Din vän pessimisten)", "Svarta linjer", "Töntarna"

1) 18:29-4; 2) Taxmannen; 3) Krossa allt; 4) Hjärta; 5) Sjukhus; 6) Vals för Satan (Din vän pessimisten); 7) Idioter; 8) Svarta linjer; 9) Ensamheten; 10) Töntarna; 11) Det finns inga ord

Kent redefine themselves by boldly pushing deeper towards a more electronic sound, with a record that's a deep and awe-inspiring journey.

Kent were frustratingly quiet in media (even the Swedish Wikipedia articles for their works are miniscule, despite how huge they were in their own country) so there's rarely any contextual information available to gain a further understanding on how each album came to be. There is however a particular interview from 2009 which confirms a couple of points behind the process for Röd. One is that Kent were getting increasingly fascinated with the idea of merging a rock band with an electronic act to the point where you couldn't see the seams: 2007's Tillbaka till samtiden had been the first taste of this direction and now the band were hungry for more and eager to take it further. The other tidbit is that during the recording of the album the band actively wanted to ignore their past, not just their own discography but by also refusing to listen to any old favourites that had historically inspired them - the only music they personally consumed during the sessions was music that was being created in the present day by brand new artists. Kent wanted to create a version of themselves who were completely in the moment, free of any prior baggage.

Röd is Kent's moment of epiphany. Tillbaka till samtiden had started out as just another reactionary move in a series of albums defined by such, but its more electronic sound had resonated with the band more than they or anyone anticipated. Everything clicked and Kent found themselves at the start of a whole new path, and so they went all in on it. Röd was recorded in Berlin's Hansa studio which has become synonymous with artists seeking to reinvent themselves in particularly modern ways, and Röd bears all the hallmarks of a so-called "Berlin album": dense production, highly modern or even futuristic soundscapes, the artist diving deep into a new direction in a quest to reconfigure their music. It's somewhat ironic that when seeking nothing but modernity the band ended up seeking inspiration in a place where many others have sought out the exact same as they did, but the magic worked once more. After a lifetime of constant change, Kent finally figured themselves out.

Whether it's because of the ghosts of Hansa or the more battle-minded confidence brought on by the decision to really drill into the electronic soundscapes, Röd acts like it has everything to prove and it has come prepared for it. It's an album in the very sense of the word: a tightly written and cohesively built journey where all the peaks and valleys form a clear narrative, where songs flow carefully into one another and where every twist and turn is meticulously planned. There's even a bonafide intro - Kent's first and only - and its commoner church choir is a beguiling start, leading cunningly into the synth scatter and aggressive disco beat of "Taxmannen". Röd has been designed from the ground up to be a powerful whole, but not at the expense of songs. There are no weaker tracks that only work as the bridges between the heftier cuts, but rather each song is meant to be an individual Moment that continues the the emotional and musical heights of what came immediately before. Each song is a a standout that avoids obvious or conventional pathways towards their climax point, throwing curveballs and revealing new facets of themselves. Each track feels important.

None perhaps more than "Vals för Satan (Din vän pessimisten)". When Kent held the album's launch party and livestreamed the concert, "Vals för Satan" served as the opener and the introduction to the world of Röd despite being the album's literal centerpiece - but it was nothing if not appropriate, because it's the sound of Kent's present and future distilled. It's where the strains of rock and electronic sound embrace most intimately in the way the Kent dreamed, where the deep synthesizer layers combine with the muscle of a band playing in the same room, unfurling into an intricate and exhilirating colossus of a song. It's a phenomenal song that threatens to become gigantic - and for a brief moment becomes so as its second chorus explodes - but which deconstructs and folds into itself in burning tension at the verge of becoming a stadium anthem. That tension, subtly shifting through its synth loops and a steady rhythmic backbone before it can't hide anymore, is its heart and hearing it beat was and still is a something that sends shivers.

Its strengths are emblematic of Röd as a whole. Röd rivals Du & jag döden as Kent's absolute peak and it's so interesting because of how different these two albums are sonically: one drenched in empassioned guitars and the other navigating through cold synthesizers. But both are connected through how determined they are, finding Kent at a time and place where they felt they needed to define themselves as they steered their sound into very specific places. Both are also incredibly emotional albums that climb to incredible heights, but for Röd that emotion is pure and cold ambition and the climaxes are result of a "Vals för Satan" -like tension bubbling until it pours over with vindication and vitality. Röd is the kind of album that you perhaps don't lose yourself in emotionally like you may have done for Du & jag döden, but rather it reveals something surprising and equally awe-striking at every given opportunity. What just happened, how did that just happen, where the hell is it going to go next - and even when you know the answers, Röd still overwhelms by its denseness and, quite frankly, its audacity.

I have a lot of love for the first half of Röd - "Taxmannen" and "Krossa allt" are an inseparable dynamite duo that sets the tone and velocity of the record impressively, "Hjärta" swells and thunders in its heartrending orchestral-adjacent anguish and "Sjukhus" patiently speeds towards its free-fall of an ending in an enviably confident manner. But because the album's flow is a carefully thought out narrative, its first chapters are essentially just the slow introduction of Kent's new style of play and a tease for what's to come. After "Vals för Satan" reveals the hand in full, the rest of Röd keeps laying on the trump cards. "Idioter" and "Svarta linjer" are the closest to classic Kent rock songs the record has to offer but translated into the new language; "Svarta linjer" would have been massive in any form it would have received thanks to its fantastic call-and-answer hook that goes on for the entire song and its stunning launch into its full form, but here it sounds practically pristine as the heavy production lifts for a moment and gives the song the space it needs to spread it wings. And if the flight of "Svarta linjer" is majestic and controlled, the hectic rave cascade that "Ensamheten" breaks down into is a mad dash all over the place, raising a whirlwind.

"Töntarna" was released as the lead single for Röd and it served as a very strong statement of intent- now in full context, in its place hidden away towards the end, it sounds perhaps even weirder than it did all on its own. It's a crooked and twisted pop song, ultimately revolving around a big chorus with some serious groove to it and featuring a series of snappy hooks (that added percussion melody in the second verse is so simple it's kind of ingenius), but it's been turned so inward and shying away from any light that it's barely recognisable as such. The rigid and mechanical rhythms, the distorted textures draping the background and Berg's multi-tracked and processed vocals lend it an air of uneasiness and even when it starts letting its hair down towards the end, the extended finale is more akin to deliriously falling down through a rabbit hole than any kind of sweet release. It's a fascinating song and there's nothing else like it in Kent's catalogue: tucked away as track ten of its parent album, it sees Röd bringing out its demons before they're done away with, the dark undercurrents of the record manifested into a singular weird-ass song.

That makes "Det finns inga ord" the actual exorcism of those demons. I've always viewed the song in parallel to the closer for Tillbaka till samtiden, "Ensammast i Sverige" - they inhabit the same slot in the tracklist and are the longest songs on their respective records, they're both driven by a striking drum loop and they both offer a moment of reflection and peace after the swerves of what came before. The key difference is that where "Ensammast in Sverige" kept its cool throughout its length, "Det finns inga ord" gathers the courage to blossom. It's the most conventionally beautiful song across the entire Röd, with no tension or overwhelming denseness to speak of: it simply blooms from a petite melody into a declaration of love the size of the universe. At the end of such a dizzying album, it offers the serenity to guide the listener to take in everything they have just heard, while covering the dark sky with the most beautiful colours in such a vast scope. It's the most "normal" thing on the entire album but it's at the exact right spot where that makes all the difference, and it ends Röd with grace.

In my review for Du & jag döden - Kent's other all-time classic record - I acknowledged it as the record where Kent perfected what they as a band stand for: in tone, in emotion, in resonance. Röd does that again, but more concretely in terms of sound. If Tillbaka till samtiden had left a more ambiguous cliffhanger impression of whether Kent would go electronic again afterwards, Röd clarified that intent. It did it so strongly in fact that from here on in Kent would be a mix of rock band dynamics and tightly programmed backing tracks until their very end, sometimes emphasising one end over the other but always very clearly using the same model. Kent were a band that spent a lot of their first decade of albums constantly shifting shape either by evolving or shedding skin, and Röd finally fixed them in their place. That shouldn't be seen as a slight against Röd because, well, I don't blame them - this particular sound does fit Kent absolutely perfectly no matter how much I love their guitar heydays, and Röd itself is an incredibly impactful album. It's a phoenix at the moment of its rebirth, bursting in glorious flames and showcasing its new self with pride and confidence: it's Kent creating a singular piece of work that accurately reflects how seismic and important its creation felt for the band. Röd is Kent finding that glimmer of perfection once more, with a truly rewarding, deep record

Physically: Jewel case with a big booklet - as is Kent tradition now, the lyrics are packed together in the span of a couple of pages and the rest of the pages are mood-setting artwork; this time suitably dark and sometimes bordering on creepy.


EN PLATS I SOLEN

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2010 7 "Skisser för sommaren", "Ärlighet respekt kärlek", "Gamla Ullevi"

1) Glasäpplen; 2) Ismael; 3) Skisser för sommaren; 4) Ärlighet respekt kärlek; 5) Varje gång du möter min blick; 6) Ensam lång väg hem; 7) Team Building; 8) Gamla Ullevi; 9) Minimalen; 10) Passagerare

No plan or greater concept, just a casually put together set of ten songs with bright sounds.

En plats i solen was released roughly seven months after Röd, with nary a warning or an accompanying fanfare. One day you just had two new songs available online with an announcement that an album would arrive in a week's time, and that's it. Behind the scenes, Kent had been feeling particularly inspired and the band thought to strike while the iron's hot rather than hold off until a full new album cycle, and the intention was to get the new songs they had been writing out while they were still new to the band as well - the album was reportedly finished the very month it was announced to the public. After a series of heavily thematic, cohesively put together records En plats i solen was an intentional break from such affairs - a holiday per the name (“A Place in the Sun”) - by way of simply knocking out some songs together and releasing them out in the wild.

With quick successor albums like En plats i solen you often find yourself viewing them as the b-sides collections for the preceding albums, and there is some truth to that here too as some of the songs were leftovers from the Röd sessions (though I'd be hard pressed to say which, with "Minimalen" being my most obvious guess). That said, viewed in retrospect, En plats i solen is far better described as the first glimpse of Kent's next phase. The electronic soundscape of Röd was here to stay but following its tour, a live band dynamic had started to creep back into the fray to act as the undercurrent pulling the synthesizer textures together and, perhaps coincidentally, the suave gloom around the last few albums had started to move to the side. The follow-up album Jag är inte rädd för mörkret would be the conclusion to the change Kent was undertaking as it would engorge itself in bright and optimistic songs rich in melody, and En plats i solen leans a lot more towards that end goal than it does in Röd's direction, though it's still in the middle of pulling its other foot slowly away from its direct predecessor's shadow. It's a snapshot of the route Kent took from the darkness of Röd towards the sunlight of what was to come.

The ten songs on En plats i solen are unrelated and without a greater concept or plan, and they are more extroverted and openly audience-friendly than Kent had been for a long while, going some way to bridge the gap between the popular rock hits of their past with the guidelines the band was operating on in the present day. They understandable carry lesser stakes, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. All the songs are forced to live on their own merits and for Kent that means going all-in on the hook department, which is extremely entertaining. Their strong melody game had never gone on hold but since Du & jag döden the band had began to treat albums as singular entities where all parts supported one another - now it's each song for itself, and that means Kent let them all explode as big as they can. But, the quick writing and recording process also means that some of the quality control from the previous album runs has loosened up and for the first time in recent memory, there’s a clear gap between the album at its strongest and and weakest, now without a stronger context to perhaps give the slightly lesser songs some non-musical meaning. And there's a number of them. "Varje gång du möter min blick" buries a great chorus with largely meandering verses, “Ensam lång väg hem” has some nifty sonic details but its repetition-heavy build doesn’t work as interestingly as it could, the bouncy synth pop cut “Ismael” used to be a favourite of mine but now sounds like the first draft of future Kent songs in its vein (I still like it - just that I like its successors more) and most damningly, I’ve owned this record since release and I still can’t remember how “Team Building” sounds off the top of my head. If you were to disparage this album as way to cash out on some quick outtakes and leftovers, there’s definitely material here to base that assumption on.

There is a night and day difference though between the more middling moments and the rest. The common thread throughout the album of Kent tackling more hit-oriented material, as if as a way to make up for the more esoteric singles of the previous albums and to throw some good ol’ crowd pleasers out, unexpectedly results in uniformly great songs. The synth fireworks and whistle hooks of "Gamla Ullevi" find Kent interpreting 2010s EDM choruses in their own language, the album stand-out “Skisser för sommaren” makes a crowd-begging la-la-la chorus sound fresh and euphoric (a special mention goes how wonderfully the song picks itself back up after its freak-out breakdown, right back into that undefeatable chorus), the mournful and steadfast "Ärlighet respekt kärlek" shows just how great the band are at stadium-sized torchsong ballads when they're in the mood for one, and “Glasäpplen” utilises disco strings and beats over its emotionally detached delivery with such suave and charm as if it invented them. The album-focused orientation of the past few albums was one of the reasons they make up Kent’s golden period, but it’s actually refreshing to hear the band knock out a number of songs that are effortlessly, refreshingly open and welcoming - in part because they are so excellent at it. It’s the same strength that Vapen & ammunition held with its singles-or-bust approach, but this time the band are less self-aware about it which makes it, in some way, a little more honest and warm.

As far as the rest go, it’s enjoyable standard-tier Kent. The skittering electro of “Minimalen” nods towards Röd the most and it's a welcome change of pace towards the end of the album, and towards the weary prettiness and powerful duet vocals of “Passagerare” which closes the record with a yearning sigh. The album has a slight lean towards being frontloaded but it finishes cosily and comfortably, even if a little unspectacularly. And as it ends, no moment of reflection of what you’ve just listened to ever comes to pass, or any real lingering notion for that matter. I feel bad for saying this - because I do really like En plats i solen - but it’s an album I sometimes forget about, as it's sandwiched between two bigger personalities to the point that its appearance in the chronology is often accompanied by an “oh, that’s right” level of realising it’s there. En plats i solen is - for better or worse - a set of ten songs by Kent, some great and some less so, written and captured on tape as the band was coming off their creative imperial phase. After a discography of albums where each record has had a purpose to play in the story, En plats i solen feels slightly underwhelming as an album that "just" exists. A good album, as I’ve said - but one that is primarily a palate cleanser rather than a notable independent entry.

Physically: Jewel case and booklet, but going in a completely opposite direction from the previous albums: no artwork, only lyrics and credits. Probably another sign of how quickly this was all pulled together, realistically speaking.


JAG ÄR INTE RÄDD FÖR MÖRKRET

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2012 7 "999", "Petroleum", "Jag ser dig"

1) 999; 2) Petroleum; 3) Isis & Bast: 4) Jag ser dig; 5) Tänd på; 6) Beredd på allt; 7) Ruta 1; 8) Färger på natten; 9) Låt dom komma; 10) Hänsyn

Kent fully embrace radio-friendly hit songs after years of avoiding them. Big songs for stadium audiences, though all cut from the same cloth.

As it's become clear all across this page, but re-iterating it again for the benefit of the non-Nordic audience out there, Kent were a big thing. They had the much-quoted reputation of being Sweden’s biggest band during their prime and their impact around the rest of the Nordic region wasn't too shabby either, and that success had come in completely organic terms. The band simply had the luck to make songs which resonated with people, that success provided them with the autonomy to take their career wherever they wanted, and people’s tastes just happened to follow along no matter the style or sound changes, even when Kent themselves liked to act hesitant about embracing their public status (minimal interviews, no traditional compilations, etc). They were a stadium band with stadium hits but it was completely accidental and prior to 2012, the band had been pushing themselves in directions that could have easily seen them get thrown back in the shadows. Jag är inte rädd för mörkret, then, is practically an acknowledgment of their status. It's an honest arena album with an accessibly melodic and hook-driven sound, it's outwardly positive and it dials down the murky electronic aesthetics of the preceding albums in favour of a booming, once again more band-centric sound. It's something you would normally imagine a band of Kent's stature sound like by this point in their career.

Joakim Berg might still be covering familiarly anxiety-driven Kent ground lyrically but the songs on Jag är inte rädd för mörkret hide their meanings behind their upbeat summer radio hit direction. En plats i solen was already hinting at this and in a lot of ways Jag är inte rädd för mörkret is a decided extension of those initial steps, with the same producer Stefan Boman in tow as well: everything sounds clear as crystal and bright like a holiday afternoon. As a fan of all those dark and insular records before this, my natural instinct should probably be to balk at this - but my simple brain is wont to find pleasure in big anthemic choruses just as much as anyone else's, and the fact is that Kent is simply really good at those. The songs on Jag är inte rädd för mörkret do not showcase anything new or unique, and they tiptoe in a kind of Absolute Radio territory to a perhaps dangerous degree, but songs such as "Jag ser dig", "Tänd på", Färger på natten" and "Låt dom komma" are a positive rush, precisely because they aim straight for the jugular. There is strength to a hecking good chorus and Kent are so proud of the ones on Jag är inte rädd för mörkret that many of the songs conclude with an extended repetition of their big central hook, simple and short enough to sing along even if you're not native to the language. They're the type of choruses that you get a little obsessed about as they continue playing in your head: in particular the uninhibited U2-stadium bombast of "Jag ser dig" (the best of this lot in its shameless fist-pump/sing-along theatrics) and the nearly camp and endlessly crowd-pleasing "Låt dom komma" are tracks that shine in this department, quickly pushing away everything that isn’t their chorus. But they are, absolutely, really great choruses.

Really, my complaint here isn't the direction itself because there's so many good and positively instant cuts across Jag är inte rädd för mörkret, but rather that it sticks so strongly to its one chosen element that after a while it all gets rather one note: by halfway point you know exactly where each song is going, because outside minor variation they all share the same structure and flow. It isn't until all the way to the very end that you get something a little different, when the somewhat abruptly moody, loop-driven closer "Hänsyn" ironically sticks out a bit too much, as a washed out rendition of the style the prior albums rode on. As good as the songs are, much of the album's material feels interchangeable with one another, and only a few songs really make a stand on their own merits. That notion is heightened further by how Jag är inte rädd för mörkret sticks its best - and most diverse - songs right in the beginning. "999" is a radio-friendly version of Du & jag döden's landmark finale "Mannen i den vita hatten": across its seven minutes of epic rock bombast and Berg's stream-of-consciousness style introspective ranting, it flips the usual Kent formula of ending an album with a slowly unfolding giant by starting with one and kicking straight into full speed. It's by and far the most "traditional" Kent has sounded in ages, but by way of an old master showing off why he became a legend in the first place. "Petroleum" leans towards the other extreme and more heavily against Kent's more contemporary electronic sound, but it twists it to sound brighter than before, like a dangerously sharp synth pop club hit. It's the most alluring song across the entire record, sinking deeper into its swirl of a chorus and enchantingly detached delivery, somewhat challenging the album's openly warm nature by taking its aesthetics and still moving inwards.

Perhaps the surprise here is that my reaction to the album isn't stronger. Jag är inte rädd för mörkret has such a strong personality and it's such a 180 degree turn from where Kent had been trawling since the mid-2000s that, like similar more audience-friendly endeavours in other artists' catalogues, it would be an obvious candidate for being an album you'd either love or leave behind. That it ends up somewhere in the middle - as a good album that’s neither too exciting or disappointing - can be attributed to its small flaws: how most of it is effectively multiple variations on the same song, and how in a tight 10-song run a few substandard songs ("Hänsyn", the indifferent slog of "Isis & Bast") stand out more than the consistently enjoyable bulk of the record. Part an olive branch to the wider audiences and part letting one’s hair down after a string of heavily conceptual, tightly-knit records, Jag är inte rädd för mörkret is a more interesting album by its nature than perhaps by its songs - my review for this album is shorter than my average Kent review simply because there’s less in these songs to talk about due to their very design. But its charm is in simple pleasures: the beauty of big pop songs delivered by a band who confidently know their way around them

Physically: My copy is the jewel case variant rather than the digipak version that seems to be a bit more popular. Half the booklet is ancient Egyptian imagery, followed by the lyrics. The cover visuals are nicely embossed for a lovely shiny effect.


TIGERDROTTNINGEN

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2014 6 "Mirage", "Skogarna", "La belle epoque"

1) Mirage; 2) Var är vi nu?; 3) Skogarna; 4) La belle epoque; 5) Svart snö; 6) Allt har sin tid; 7) Innan himlen fall ner; 8) Din enda vän; 9) Godhet; 10) Simmaren; 11) Den andra sidan

A potentially interesting album left cruising on autopilot.

Kent went from a clear rock band to a hybrid of synth pop and rock all the way back in 2007 and you would reckon that by the time I would talk about their 2014 album, that change wouldn't be something that needs to be mentioned any longer. We get it, they changed sound, and nearly a decade after it happened it's now the norm for the band, no longer anything strange or bewildering. But Kent did keep tweaking that sound, exploring different frontiers that the change had cleared the pathway for, and so while there is a clear split of two halves in the band's discography, Kent had avoided repeating themselves after that halfway point. Even so, it is 2014's Tigerdrottningen where there’s a sense of Kent being plateaued. First hearing the album at its release, it was the first time my main takeaway from a new Kent album was that it sure sounds like a Kent album through and through: no surprises, no revelations, simply exactly what I expected to hear from them at this point and little more. And long story short, and review TL;DR, but that's still the primary take I have on Tigerdrottningen. It's where the comfortable corner the band had established for themselves had started to sound perhaps too tight.

Tigerdrottningen is so close to being a really fascinating album. It's a really charged record, sometimes even angry and even though the music is still predominantly bright, there's a sharper hit to its production that sounds urgent and determinedly pointed. Joakim Berg has clearly reached some kind of a boiling point and there's a heavier political lean to the album’s lyrics, often just as simple off-the-cuff lines absolutely laced with poison. It comes to surface on "La belle epoque", a near-formless rant about the state of modern Sweden and the hypocrisy among its citizens, and "Skogarna" which distills the hollow hopelessness of being stuck somewhere you have no affinity for in a political climate that ensures that hope never grows (and there's a fantastic self-referential line too about hearing your old hit song from the nearby radio, which is given the honour of the final twist of the knife in the gut). Many Kent albums have traded on melancholy, but Tigerdrottningen is fed up about it and sounds like it’s about to take action. But it can’t keep up what it hints at.<

Tigerdrottningen's flaws aren't in how it does nothing new - and if we are honest, it does present some tweaks to Kent's standard formula, most clearly with the backing vocalists who follow and sometimes trade lines with Berg across the record, giving the band's traditional vocal harmonies their own distinct character. Rather, the problems lie in how absurdly frontloaded the album is and how badly it trails off afterwards, with the first four tracks offering a genuinely compelling vision of a record built on angry synth rhythms, which turns out to somehow lead into a disappointingly plain finale that bins Kent’s tradition to always finish on a grand high. The bulk of Tigerdrottningen is decently enjoyable but completely running on creative autopilot and it leaves little trace apart from the occasional obvious catch like the English-language movie sample that starts off "Din enda vän" is by far the song's most memorable part. Few sparks of light guide the way, i.e. the intensifying end of "Allt har sin tid" and the miniature line-trade drama of "Godhet" (both songs where the backing vocals shine), but for most parts Tigerdrottningen lacks in the areas Kent usually shines and doesn’t seem too bothered to try too hard to either. It's not so much unmemorable as it is just transparent: they’re songs you enjoy enough to keep listening to when they come up on shuffle, but there’s a reason why that’s the heaviest exposure they get. This is Kent running through the motions, channelling Kent The Brand rather than the band that would seek to innovate and reinvent with each new move, and the songs stick as much or as little as you'd expect in that regard.

But there is that initial quadruplet of tracks where Tigerdrottningen is on a mission you want to believe in. "Mirage" is a mirrorball that someone has smashed to pieces and now wields one of the shards as a blade; a disco giant that barely holds its bitterness in control, reinterpreting Kent in a way that much of the rest of the album tries to live up to and doesn't reach. "Var är vi nu?" goes for the stadium anthem antics of the previous album but creates a powerful lament out of it, properly introducing the album's backing vocalists and makes a strong business case for keeping them around (and Kent would). "Skogarna" and "La belle epoque" are, as mentioned, Tigerdrottningen's two most obviously angry songs and (perhaps not coincidentally) the record's two greatest moments, yet they interpret that intensity in such different ways. "Skogarna" is bubbling and bouncy, bearing the album's most chart-friendly chorus that's a beautifully pure euphoric rush of fluttering synths, hiding the song's true heart so effectively. Meanwhile "La belle epoque" throws it in the open. It puts Berg's voice right in the center, breathlessly running from one sarcastic and nihilistic line to another, resembling a spoken word poem that someone put over on a steady programmed beat and strings that sound like a mob forming a circle around you, only coming up for air for its brief, dramatic choruses. If Tigerdrottningen is Kent on autopilot, it's unbelievable how they managed to still come up with four songs this strong; and it's downright cruel for the listener they were put right in the beginning, one after another.

A mid-tier, disappointing Kent album is still, overall, a good album - just not one that inspires. Despite its pointed lyrics Tigerdrottningen is ironically an album that has very little to say, from a musical perspective: rather than coming up with something novel it rephrases previous ideas instead, and the few new tricks it does employ are more window dressing than anything substantial. It leaves an impression of Kent either running out of ideas or finding themselves unable to build a whole album out of the ones they did have. For a band on their third decade and album count in double digits, it’s inevitable that a record like this happens and kudos to Kent for making it this far before it happened - but like so many of those records, even though it’s a decent album, even a fan knows deep down in their heart that it just isn’t anything special despite its moments of old brilliance flashing through.

Physically: It's the mid-2010s and Kent have joined the gatefold gang, saying goodbye to their once trusted jewel cases. The booklet contains lyrics only (in a really hard to decipher handwritten font).


DÅ SOM NU FÖR ALLTID

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2016 8 "Vi är för alltid", "Falska profeter", "Den sista sången"

1) Andromeda; 2) Tennsoldater; 3) Vi är för alltid; 4) Den vänstra stranden; 5) Nattpojken & dagflickan (feat. Anna Ternheim); 6) Vi är inte längre där; 7) Förlåtelsen; 8) Skyll inte ifrån dig; 9) Gigi; 10) Falska profeter; 11) Den sista sången

Kent plan their funeral and finish on an album that doesn't dwell on the end, but rather focuses on delivering one last set of great songs.

In March 2016, Kent announced their funeral. The (fantastic) trailer for Då som nu för alltid (link) featured a skeletal drummer marching through familiar iconography from the last three decades - mementos of album covers, music video scenes and logos across the career - and eventually leading a darkly foreboding parade through the deserted streets of Stockholm: the grim reaper visiting moments in history and gathering everyone together for one last time. If it wasn’t clear that something was up from the visuals alone, the stark 1990 ✞ 2016 message at the end of the video made it clear. Last album, last tour, quarter of a century coming to an end. Kent were going to their grave and they were going to celebrate it.<

The announcement to call it a day was a shocker, given only two years earlier Kent had released Tigerdrottningen and had showed no signs of slowing down. Still, in retrospect, it's perhaps not coincidental that Tigerdrottningen was the unexpected harbinger of death. It had been the first album in Kent’s long history where it had felt like they were running out of steam, hiding its moments of brilliance underneath a consistent feeling of the once inspiring band operating on autopilot. It wouldn't be too farfetched to think that maybe the band themselves had realised something was amiss too; with Kent always having had a tight control over their journey, the relative non-event of Tigerdrottningen may as well have been a warning sign that the spark wasn’t there anymore. Rather than trying to correct the course, bowing out gracefully after all this time probably seemed like the right idea lest they risked of becoming a band way past their best-by date.

If you view Då som nu för alltid in that light, it makes a lot more sense on surface level. Despite the theatrics surrounding it (including that hilarious album cover), the album itself is relatively low on the drama and if it is about the end, then it's really subtle about it. Much of the record deals with closure and legacy but mostly in a very specific, character study -like manner that doesn't particularly tie in with the band without a stretch. Instead, Då som nu för alltid sounds like the band is picking things up where they left them the last time like nothing had happened - it’s a direct sequel to Tigerdrottningen, utilising much of its soundworld and aesthetics like it’s just another addition to the back catalogue without any hidden agendas. It’s not exactly what you would expect from a funeral wake and it’s almost bafflingly unconcerned about all that, but on the other hand it’s not like it would make any sense for Kent to back away now from what their sound had evolved to by this point, and when’s the last time you heard an intentional career closing record that experiments or stretches into new directions? The effortless synthesis between electronic programming, synthesizers and a real live rock band was a perfect outfit for Kent and they knew where to go with it and when to emphasise one aspect over another, and Då som nu för alltid flexes that skillset. There aren't too many tweaks from the last album but the sound was never Tigerdrottningen's issue and you could almost say that this second go at it is like Kent wanting to prove they could do justice to the ideas presented on that album.

This isn't a big tearjerking goodbye album; what you mostly have here instead is a really solid, often great album that falls neatly in line with everything else Kent had been doing in the 2010s. The song material is generally top notch, with plenty of peaks and relatively few lows: “Den vänstra stranden” sounds like an excerpt from Tigerdrottningen’s less exciting depths, “Skyll inte ifrån dig" gets buried in the final barrage of songs. There's a duet again, and "Nattpojken & dagflickan" with Anna Ternheim is by a long shot the best duet in Kent's catalogue, smoothly moving close to power ballad territory without actually stepping in it, keeping an element of tension and energy while absorbing the dramatics. The key trait tying the tracks together is that everything sounds grandiose. Every song on Då som nu för alltid is meant to sound at least a little bit epic and something to stir the rumbling emotions within the listener even if they never actually talk about the end directly - each track is a a hand to firmly hold onto during the last journey you'll ever take together, ready to become a lifeline if needed. It's often hopeful and at its heaviest merely bittersweet, but always grand and evocative. When the explosive chorus drums of "Andromeda" colour the stars in the sky in a flash of fireworks and children's choirs, when the extended finale of "Falska profeter" reprises the music played in the album trailer and turns it into a communal huddle moment, when "Vi är inte längre där" grows more and more into a 80s-styled stadium synth showstopper ready to release the stage pyrotechnics with each passing chorus - they all feel larger than life and incredibly important and personal in the moment in time that they inhabit. Even if the album avoids the obvious emotional checkpoints, it still aims to be something resonant and warm with every step and for the most part it succeeds.

The title drop track "Vi är för alltid" is the perfect representation of what Då som nu för alltid aims for, and it serves not as just Kent's last classic single before the end but also as the album's early anchor point for its themes. It's an archetypical Kent pop song the likes of which they had been dropping across the past handful of albums, but it's one that learned lessons along the way and strives to aim higher. To put it simply, it's a banger, a hot badger, it slaps - it’s an alluring verse which grows into a magnificent chorus that sounds even more titanic after it rises from the ashes of the the brief breakdown. There are many others like it on Då som nu för alltid, songs where Kent deliver a hell of a good pop song as they rely on the instincts they had built over the past few, more direct albums - "Tennsoldater"'s electronic twitch and the hard-hitting take-no-prisoners energy of "Förlåtelsen" especially (that final run!) - but none of them feel so vital as "Vi är för alltid". I'm a fan of subtle lyric changes and a special shoutout goes to the shift between its choruses, breakdown and the last chorus that is pure genius in how it hits entirely new emotional reaches with just little tweaks, moving from hopeful ("they will sing songs / make films / write books about us") to defeated ("just kidding, no one is going to sing songs..."), until it eventually morphs into pure desperation ("please make films about us, you must sing songs about us..."), and it sounds so magnificently anthemic the further it trails towards its worries about being forgotten. It's a multifaceted triumph, and the perfect title track (even if indirectly).

But if there is a key song here, it's obviously going to be "Den sista sången" - literally "The Last Song". Like most of the album it slyly dances around the elephant in the room as it describes a transatlantic moment of two destinies moving apart, and it takes it all the way until the very end and the very last lyrics for the subtext to finally become text: "This is the last moment we see / This is the last song I give to you”. As it does, the music swells in that exact wistful, melancholy yet beautiful manner that is how in your heart you always wanted this journey to end. There's that cliché about not being sad that it's over but glad that it happened, and that exact emotional note is what "Den sista sången" nails down, carrying a blue haze throughout its calm guitar riff, the inexplicably English-language middle-eight where the children's choir and echoing drums from "Andromeda" make their longing return back to earth and the appropriately sizeable finale that stays just short of becoming the kind of an epic ending that the song felt like it was building up towards. And I'm not going to lie, I would have loved for it to have had the big waterworks credits roll that the occasion calls for and the abrupt end feels downright cheeky: the last wink from the band, stubbornly making their own way as they always have done and denying even the smallest bit of obvious fan service. But I've made my peace with it and if anything, the swift closure brings, well, closure. It doesn't linger on, this chapter has finished and life moves on. It hits a different kind of emotional beat. "Den sista sången" is brilliant, and the perfect song to end a career with.

And then it's over, the funeral march has finished, but Då som nu för alltid barely lets that little fact define it as an album. I still don't really know which way I swing here - the sentimental side of me would have loved an album that milked the hell out of everything coming to an end, but not doing so and largely presenting itself as just an album among others has in some ways let it build a life beyond that reputation. It's easier to pick it up for a listen and simply treat it as the great album it is without that extra emotional weight behind it. There was always going to be bias around this album by way of simply knowing it is the end and that the band deliberately considered it as such, but by letting these songs breathe outside that context ensures the listener hears them primarily on their musical merits, and it's a great album just on that basis alone. Not within Kent's top tier perhaps, but a steadily consistent example of their talents in songwriting, arrangement and performance. For their last album, Kent decided to simply showcase the reasons they endured for 26 years and with which they built a grand discography worth exploring, focusing on delivering one last set of excellent songs over dwelling on their own funeral. It results in an album that stands up to the old highlights, and it’s something they can proudly close their story with.

Physically: Gatefold packaging with a very glossy booklet featuring just the lyrics.


OTHER RELEASES


BOX 1991 - 2008

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2008 9 Of the bonus material, "Håll i mig", "Nålens öga", "Det kanske kommer en förändring"

CD1: Kent (1995) + Bonus tracks: 12) Döda dagar; 13) Håll i mig (Jones och Giftet); 14) Ögon (Jones och giftet); 15) Klocka (Havsänglar); 16) Cirkel (Havsänglar)
CD2: Verkligen (1996) + Bonus tracks: 11) Saker man ser (Demo); 12) Alpha (Demo); 13) Din skugga (Demo)
CD3: Isola (1997) + Bonus tracks: 12) OWC (Live); 13) Celsius (Live)
CD4: Hagnesta Hill (1999) + Bonus tracks: 14) Inhale/Exhale (Demo)
CD5/6: B-Sidor 95-00 (2000)
CD7: Vapen & ammunition (2002) + Bonus tracks: 11) Vintervila; 12) Lämnar; 13) VinterNoll2; 14) Socker (Demo); 15) Love Undone (Demo)
CD8: Du & jag döden (2005) + Bonus tracks: 12) M; 13) Välgärninger & illdad; 14) Nihilisten; 15) Alla mot alla
CD9: The hjärta & smärta EP (2005) + Bonus tracks: 6) Nålens öga
CD10: Tillbaka till samtiden (2007) + Bonus tracks: 12) Min värld; 13) Tick tack; 14) Det kanske kommer en förändring; 15) Ingenting (Demo); 16) Håll dit huvudt högt (Live Eskilstuna 2008)

A great career (so far) retrospective box set for a great band, with enough treats for the fans too.

Following the closure of one chapter and the start of a new one in their career, Kent continued to avoid releasing any kind of a standard greatest hits package, and instead celebrated the milestone with a box set collecting together the first decade and a half of their career: the evolution from scrappy angst-rock wannabes to stadium-sized hit makers and stylistic chameleons stubbornly doing exactly what their instincts told. I managed to score this suspiciously cheap in nearly brand new condition, and I still consider that as one of the best music deals I’ve come across when it comes to getting your money’s worth.

I've reviewed the albums separately so there’s little point in repeating myself - the gist is, by 2008 Kent had become a great band who had been responsible of plenty of great albums and classic songs, with a few wobbles along the way. Thus, from a fan perspective the main hook here will be the bonus material, and it's much better than some of the tracklist initially might read as. The b-sides for the first four albums were already collected in B-Sidor 95-00 which is included here anyway, and so the first half’s somewhat scarce bonus material mainly focuses on demos and live cuts - but don't let that think they're not something worthwhile. The big snag are the handful of recordings from Kent’s early incarnations Jones och Giftet and Havsänglar, and they are shockingly good - the recording quality is shoddy but the early 90s alternative/indie sound is great and as songs they are more interesting from an arrangement and melodic perspective than most of the 1995 debut album. It's actually weird how the band almost regressed from their initial versions when they started recording their proper debut album (based on these carefully selected excerpts), and if the debut had more songs like "Håll i mig" I'd be singing a different tune about it.

The other demos have been selected carefully to show aspects that haven’t been heard in public before, and they aren't just scruffy versions of familiar songs as one might expect. A handful of Isola era songs look to have been originally conceived much earlier and so the demo for "Saker man ser" sounds far more intimate when featuring just Joakim Berg and his drum machine, and the demo for “Din skugga” has none of the studio version's guitar walls and instead has an (synth-)orchestral backing that echoes the 2009 single "Hjärta". The later demos follow suite, with "Socker" being similarly intimate to "Saker man ser" but now with an entire section of lyrics that were scrapped from the final version (we finally a get title drop!) and "Ingenting" driving in the style change as even the home demo goes all in on the electronic flourishes. The rest of the bonus material for the first four albums revolves around the band’s ill-advised attempt at cracking the English market: the live recordings of "OWC" and "Celsius" are the English versions of the songs, and you also have demos for the previously unreleased “Inhale/Exhale” and later on “Love Undone” (an English version of Vapen & ammunition’s “Duett”). The new songs recorded for the English version of Hagnesta Hill haven’t been included (one of the box set’s very few exclusions), but the English material that is presented proves really strongly how much Berg struggles with singing in English with his practically incomprehensible enunciation, and I genuinely do not think we are missing anything from hearing less of it. If anyone ever wishes Kent would sing in English so they could understand it, just point them to these songs as a counter-point.

Nonetheless, the albums from Vapen & ammunition onwards get inarguably more rewarding with the bonus material as the box set acts as a chance to compile all the b-sides and non-album singles from these periods together. There are some great songs among those: all four of the Du & jag döden b-sides are practically essential to any fan of the album as they retain both the sound and the quality of the record, and the beautifully deep and atmospheric "Det kanske kommer en förändring" is a stunningly good scene-setter, lush in rich keyboards that coat Berg's voice in distant dreaminess. The non-album singles, the Rock Band favourite "VinterNoll2" with its urgent guitar energy and the wistfully ethereal "Nålens öga", would have been real album highlights had they ever appeared on any, and this is the only release outside the actual singles where you can find them. There's also one brand new song in form of a live version of "Håll dit huvudt högt", which was never recorded in studio and so this is the only time it ever appears in Kent's discography. Given how Kent-by-numbers it is that's no real surprise and making it one of the box set's selling points feels rather rough, but it's still a thoroughly enjoyable song: a dictionary example of a song that introduces literally nothing new to the band who wrote it (some of the melodies are so familiar I had to check they weren't circulated to other songs), but the familiar ingredients create an enjoyable, if a very safe, tune.

The long and short of this is that if you're still stuck in the CD era, Box 1991 - 2008 is a great way to get hold of a little over the first half of Kent's back catalogue (if you're even able to easily find this anymore). If you're a big enough fan to consider getting the box even if you own everything already, then the bonus material is worth it for the latter day b-sides alone, alongside the genuinely interesting demos. Kent have always done their utmost best to avoid cheap retrospectives (even the compilation that did arrive after they called it a day is so irrational that it feels like intentionally flipping the bird), and the box set reflects that well, with clear care to attention in place and not just chucking any old recordings as blatant fan grabs to listen to once and forget immediately. I don't think my average rating for the albums will quite match the rating for this box, but that extra boost is for the full package and the value it has. It acts like a real history tour, told in music - and so, I give my eternal kudos to whoever priced this at around €30 within months from release at my then-local record shop.

Physically: Part of the box set experience is the physical wonder, and the Kent box ticks this pretty well. The overall design is minimalistally sleek and stylish rather than lavish and glamorous: the ten CDs are stored a sleek, compact box within a slipcase, and the discs have their own slipcases that feature minor re-designs of the original cover art to create a shared aesthetic within the box. It's not a box set that may not particularly wow in presentation, but it looks and feels just right for the band and their general restraint. The obligatory companion booklet is pleasantly thick and informative: you’ll need to brush up on your Swedish to read through the band’s chronological and often irreverent take on their own career path as each era gets a quick behind-the-scenes glance, and given Kent aren't exactly reknown for talking to the press, the information here is fan gold. Together with other interesting trivia e.g. setlist samples across the band's history, it's a solid retrospective and a great backdrop for what matters the most, i.e. the music.


SIDE PROJECTS


Joakim Berg

Years active: Genres:
2022 - Synth Pop

Berg hasn't really ever launched a solo career and I don't think he'll ever intend to either, but there is the pandemic solo album he randomly released.


JAG FORTSÄTTER GLÖMMA

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2022 5 "Barn åv var tid", "4"

1) Barn av vår tid; 2) Begravningsbål; 3) Aniara; 4) Låtsasvärlden; 5) Legender; 6) Ingenmansland; 7) Var vi kom ifrån; 8) Då var allt; 9) 4; 10) Mer än ingenting; 11) Rubicon

Berg spends his lockdown much like a lot of us did, in his own project. Monotonous, but pleasant enough.

Following Kent's dissolution in 2016, its members have not just kept true to their words about ending the band but they've all but vanished altogether themselves, enjoying lives with their families and moving onto working in background roles. It took a whole global pandemic to change that and Berg's surprise solo album largely came to life simply because he was stuck in his house and found himself returning to his old songwriting habits. Jag fortsätter glömma is a full-on COVID-era bedroom solo project with Berg writing, performing, programming and producing the entire album on his own: the only other credits on the album are for mixing and mastering, and a co-writing credit on "Mer än ingenting" with ex-Kent colleague Martin Sköld. Berg always seemed particularly reluctant to return to music after enjoying the wild ride for so long and so this doesn't feel like a comeback, but rather it has the air of an one-off, an old itch that was too strong to ignore when the calling came.

Berg was Kent's primary songwriter and ideas man so it's not a big surprise that Jag fortsätter glömma sounds like latter-day Kent material, and that's also probably the selling point for many. Solo albums from band lead figures tend to give a pretty good indicator how much the other members contribute and in Kent's case, without the rest of the band fleshing out the arrangements around his songs, Berg finds himself covering the same territory over and over again. Jag fortsätter glömma is one wistful mid-tempo affair after another, the gently booming programmed drums steadily backing sparse guitar parts and synthetic textures, with Berg's layered vocals radiating melancholy and longing: like a lot of us during the lockdowns, Berg also found himself drifting in his memories and the album's title ("I Keep Forgetting") seems downright ironic, with so many of the lyrics finding the narrators and Berg himself getting lost in hazy memories and bittersweet nostalgia that the soft synth melodies underline. A lot of it is reminiscent of the mid-to-late album slowburners that you could find in Kent's albums, particularly once they'd become a more synth-driven act. Those songs often held a key role in the album's sequencing and found their strength in their more muted approach in-between the louder and bolder songs, but here it's eleven of them all in a row and they're all cut from the same cloth. Berg never takes a left turn to something different, no sudden stylistic curves or even just slightly more acknowledgeable tempo shifts. Once you've heard the opener "Barn av vår tid" you know how the rest of the next 47 minutes will unfold; that's also the best song on the album, but I'm seriously having to think whether it's because it's the strongest melodically (with some of those trademark Kent call-and-answer backing vocals) or because it's queued up first.

So, just like the pandemic times that inspired it, it's monotonous. Never quite flawed and if anything, Berg proves just what a compelling frontman he is because it's his voice that frequently gets you to sit still and pay attention. The songs themselves are all enjoyable to listen to and I wouldn't be able to really pinpoint any that stumble - but I also couldn't pinpoint really any of them beyond "Barn av vår tid". "Legender" has a slightly perkier step and "4" begins with a sparse late night ambient atmosphere that always works for me, but I am also stretching to find something else to list than one song. The one-note tapestry Berg weaves is often a pretty listen thanks to the combination of the gentle production and his melodies (even if he's not at his sharpest he's still pretty good), but rarely does it offer a compelling reason why this is the album you should pick to listen to over anything else; certainly not over any Kent albums, and that unfair comparison is difficult not to think about because let's face it, these are polished versions of what Berg likely would have recorded as demos back in the band days. At the time of writing, a few years after the lockdowns, we're starting to find new ways to describe, connect and contextualise COVID and post-COVID era albums and they're roughly categorised in two groups: those created by artists who pushed through the baffling times, came back changed and documented the process, and those who lingered in the understandable ennui of the times and wrote songs to pass the time and stay sane. Jag fortsätter glömma is the latter through and through and like many of its ilk, it sounds like a personal project we're just in witnessing in happenstance. Squint and you can call it meditative, but how much it feels substantive likely depends on how much you are Joakim Berg himself.

Physically: A jewel case with a sparsely illustrated booklet, largely just the lyrics and credits on beige canvas.


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