SWEDEN: Look Sharp! - Roxette
Updated: Apr 11
Although impossible to compete with ABBA, Look Sharp! is enough to earn Roxette a worthy number #2 slot on the list of Sweden’s greatest musical exports
When the average Tom, Dick, and Harry think about Sweden, it is likely that IKEA, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and meatballs will soon jump to mind. However, before any of these images are conjured up there is probably one Swedish phenomena that is thought about first – ABBA. Whilst my shameless love for the band is undying, it came as somewhat as a surprise to learn that another pop sensation came from the same nation. Perhaps forever living in the shadow of the reputation of Agnetha, Benny, Björn, and Anni-Frid, the duo that make up Roxette certainly achieved a level of success in the charts that many pop outfits, both past and present, could only dream of.
“Whilst this particularly 80s sound may appear cliché to some who might turn their noses up at it, ultimately the album is just good fun.”
Before listening to Look Sharp! I had assumed that Roxette were simply a two-hit wonder with both It Must Have Been Love and Listen To Your Heart. Truth be told, I also thought Roxette was a female solo artist from the UK who could join the long list of artists from the 80s with ‘two hits and that’s it’, such as the likes of Cutting Crew, A-ha and Men Without Hats. Yet, it came as a genuine shock that the album contained banger after banger, with their most famous song on the album (Listen To Your Heart) not being the most catchy, fun or enjoyable by a long chalk, despite the fact it is still a great tune.
The story behind how Look Sharp! became a commercial success internationally is rather endearing and shows a tremendous amount of serendipity; an American exchange student who purchased the album whilst living in Sweden brought it back home and submitted it to a radio network before its success snowballed. However, despite the seemingly lucky nature of this occurrence, it would never have happened were the album not full of phenomenal tunes that would fall kindly upon the ears of those who discovered it. Furthermore, the album perfectly encapsulates the music of the decade. Whilst this particularly 80s sound may appear cliché to some who might turn their noses up at it, ultimately the album is just good fun.
Songs like The Look, Sleeping Single and Dangerous instantly evoke images of glitterballs and neon dancefloors. As someone who has learnt to appreciate meaningful lyrics and interesting instrumentational choices over the course of this world music odyssey, I cannot pretend that I have completely abandoned my love of feel-good music that makes me want to ‘oh oh oh, dance’ as the late Marie Fredriksson rather simply put it in the funky Dance Away. Nevertheless, I don’t particularly care for the power ballads on the album, such as Cry and The Voice, despite my appreciation of Cry’s great saxophone solo. This style of song can appear to make Roxette sound like a poor man’s Cyndi Lauper or Shania Twain. I am, however, able to forgive this because it shows both ambition as well as a self-awareness behind the fact that an album full of dance hits can be a bit exhausting.
That said, a record that contains so many crackers such as my favourite song on the album Dressed For Success, can hardly be deemed a failure in my mind. I have spent many years feeling like I have to justify why ABBA are a great band, rather than the often-cited criticism that they are 'just a novelty group who should not be given high praise because they are only good at one thing' that many people rather pretentiously claim. Yet, just like their compatriots, even if they are only good at one thing, their capacity to produce uplifting pop songs is second to none. In the early stages of 2019, I would proudly frequent specialist ‘ABBA nights’ that were occasionally hosted in a nightclub in Nottingham. Although Covid has seen a pause on nights out for everybody this year, with recent news that a vaccine is perhaps on the way, I am keen to boastfully defend Sweden’s second greatest pop-outfit and might start a movement that hopefully sees the music of Roxette, return to where it belongs in 2021...