When the idea of writing about this album came up, I have to admit I was only familiar with the addictive single “I Love It.” It was a guilty pleasure I blared in the carpool line. For once, my kids and I could agree on not changing the radio station. The song was fresh — in a nostalgic kind of way — and I liked the direct, raw lyrics like “I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs” and “I crashed my car into a bridge, I watched and let it burn.” These were women who weren’t mincing words, and it made me laugh while the infectious track made me dance (to the embarrassment of my kids). My tastes don’t usually veer close to Swedish electro-pop, but Icona Pop, with this one song, had piqued my interest.
To listen to the rest of This Is… with an open mind, I needed some perspective. I needed to return in my mind to the time when Bananarama videos ruled MTV, I wore black rubber bracelets by the dozens like Madonna and my favorite movie was Valley Girl — back to a time when music just had to make me dance and feel good and not necessarily make me think.
“All Night,” “We Got the World” and “Girlfriend” are no doubt destined to be hits and are pushed up to the front of the album for that reason, but my favorites sneak up later in the lineup, including “In the Stars.” I am a sucker for a good, simple melody and a big chorus, and this delivers both. Should there ever be a remake of Breakfast Club, this song, with its synth parts, could easily be a modern replacement for Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” at the end of the movie, which of course is awesome. When “In the Stars” plays, I can imagine dancing in a gym in my own Molly Ringwald movie.
In another life, if I were the clubbing type, “On a Roll” would be my DJ request over and over as I ordered another vodka tonic and talked too loudly with my friends. Although it’s a bit similar to “I Love It,” it’s a great escape song and demands to be played at full volume.
If I had one complaint it would be the overuse of the double lead vocals. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo split apart into harmonies, it is so beautiful and I just wish they did more of it. The first chance I got to hear the true raspy strength of these women’s voices was on “Just Another Night.” Here, they take a break from the simple chant-style vocals, and this straight-ahead Taylor Swift-esque pop ballad is a nice change by this point in the album, eight songs in. It’s also a track where I can hear an actual guitar being strummed. I like that.
Likewise, “Light Me Up” shows that when musicians mix real instrumentation, in this case electric guitar parts, with sampled tracks the combination is so much more satisfying than samples alone. Again, I am a sucker for big choruses and harmony in pop songs and this song has all of that. Why “Light Me Up” is hidden toward the end of this album, I will never know. This should be their next single, as far as I’m concerned.
But my favorite song on this album is still “I Love It.” It could be because it was the lead single and is the one ingrained in my brain, but I don’t think so. Rather, I think it is first because it is truly a great pop song. It took me by surprise.
I’m not sure that This Is… is meant to be listened to like an album, front to back. The catchy songs are adrenaline shots that are perfect for workout playlists and DJ-driven dance parties, for the car ride and, of course, for the radio. I am OK admitting to this guilty pleasure. Actually, I really don’t feel guilty at all.