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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 08:52 GMT
How The Cardigans survived success
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The Cardigans
The band nearly split up after their fourth album
Unlike wine, cheese and Bruce Forsyth, pop stars tend not to improve with age.

Stevie Wonder's legacy will always be overshadowed by the schmaltzy I Just Called To Say I Love You, while the sight of Simon Le Bon puffing through one of Duran Duran's recent live shows has permanently written off the band's sex appeal.

One exception to the rule is Swedish pop group The Cardigans, who have bettered themselves with every album - from their kitschy, lo-fi debut, Emmerdale, to the stately melancholy of 2005's Super Extra Gravity.

Along the way they've notched up a string of hit singles - Sick and Tired, Lovefool, Erase/Rewind - which have just been gathered up for a best-of compilation.

The band have slipped under the radar in the UK in recent years, while still releasing chart-topping albums at home, but they remain philosophical about the situation.

"It's tricky to be flavour of the month for 13 years," says bassist Magnus Sveningsson with an air of worldly wisdom.

Nina Persson
Persson lives in New York with her husband, composer Nathan Larson.
"It's disappointing when records don't sell as much as you'd like," admits glamorous singer Nina Persson, "but it's not really surprising.

"The market sucks these days. It would never allow a band like us to become successful again."

The group started out as leftfield indie darlings, with a retro sound recorded on vintage equipment - "we had a kind of dogme method," says Sveningsson - and developed into an austere power pop band, before mellowing into their latest, acoustic incarnation.

Music fans know them best for the insanely catchy Lovefool, but the band have always had a love-hate relationship with the song, which rarely gets played at their live shows.

Today, however, Persson seems to have made her peace with it.

"Not all music has to be an intellectual masterpiece," she says. "Pop music is brilliant."

"It's quite a cheesy song, but it made our bank managers happy," adds Sveningsson.

'We were messes'

The Cardigans
The band say they will not be touring this year
The ambivalence towards their biggest hit is partly fuelled by the recognition that global success nearly destroyed The Cardigans in the late 1990s.

Sessions for their fourth album, Gran Turismo, were racked with tension as the childhood friends began to squabble.

"We were messes. We shouldn't have done that record," says Persson - but she is proud the clipped, precise recordings "captured the atmosphere" in the studio.

As an example, Sveningsson explains that the hit single My Favourite Game, a driving electro-rock powerhouse built around a two-note guitar riff, was originally supposed to be "a shuffle song".

"It sort of sounded like Old Man from Neil Young's Harvest album," he says.

"When Peter [Svensson, guitarist and chief songwriter] first played it, I thought 'that sounds like crap' and I walked out.

"So there was a lot of tension at that time, and I was grumpy as hell."

We got the offer to record with Tom Jones and we saw the opportunity to impress our mothers
Magnus Sveningsson
Gran Turismo was a huge success, selling more than 2.5 million copies.

But as the band prepared to take it on tour, Sveningsson collapsed and started having panic attacks, leading to a year off work.

Relations between the remaining members barely improved and, with the exception of a collaboration with Tom Jones, they didn't record together again for five years.

"It was hard for us to come up with reasons to continue," says Persson, "but we didn't want to just throw things away".

'Beardy' record

Nina Persson
Persson is currently recording with her side project A Camp
Reconvening in 2002, the band struggled to recapture their spark. Recording sessions lasted nine months, and long-time producer Tore Johansson walked out.

"He thought it was kind of boring," shrugs Sveningsson.

The resulting album, Long Gone Before Daylight, shed the electronic tension of Gran Turismo for a series of acoustic, country-tinged ballads.

The band affectionately call it their "beardy" record, but they all admit it is their favourite.

"After being so close to breaking up, maybe that album wasn't supposed to be, but it ended up being the most beautiful kid in our family," says Sveningsson.

I have more fun when I get to travel out of Sweden and writing lyrics in English is my tool to get to do that
Nina Persson
Disappointingly, the record only sold 500,000 copies, although it was lauded by critics.

The Cardigans insist the best-of album doesn't spell the end of the band - although they are now without a record deal outside Sweden - and they hope it will introduce casual fans to their more recent work.

"If they haven't heard it, they should," says Persson.

But, she admits, the band are happier to be working on a smaller scale after the madness of the 1990s.

"The way people talk about our records is different now. Not as many people may have heard them, but the ones that have adore them.

"You've made a bigger mark and, in a way, that makes me feel better somehow."

The Best Of The Cardigans is out now.

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