Life Is Aching In My Heart
Tram #1 is full of fun

I first heard Jens Lekman in Sweden, appropriately enough. Gothenburg, 3 a.m., the sky lightening as we drank green tea and our hosts told us that Tram #7 came to this part of the city and Jens’s gentle voice calmed me into post-gig comedown and then sleep.

Tram #2 is coochie coo

Back home in England, I discovered that Mr Lekman was more than a man of late night somnambulist conversations. He is a whirl of contradictions: a one man acoustic show with a full band on recordings, a sweet swirl of subdued winter songs (“the cold Swedish winter is right outside and I just want somebody to hold me through the night”) and then big full-on poppy songs for summer. packed with massive horns and sweet strings and Spector hand claps:

“Oh!, I still remember 'Regulate' with Warren G
Could I be back in the sweet summer of 1993?
It was a sweet summer’s night on Hammer Hill.
Oh! The sound of distant carnival drums
The Spanish guitar someone strums
It’s a sweet summer’s night on Hammer Hill”.

Tram #3 is misery

He has the voice of Nick Drake, the arrangements of the Divine Comedy and the quirkiness of Belle and Sebastian but without the misery, pretentiousness or obsession with seediness that these artists portray. He is a massive pop star in Sweden but in England he does gigs on the north London pub circuit. He’s a drippy indie boy, but phew, the video with him wearing a suit of armour… His alter-ego was called Rocky Dennis, but it turns out that that was all a big mistake.

Tram #4 knocks at your door

His fist language is Swedish but he has a witty command of English: “Yeah I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio”, he tells us in “You are the light”. The girl who is the light leads him, not into paradise, but into “this and that” ­ making me wonder if bathos is after all a Swedish and not an English notion.

Tram #5 I’m still alive

He uses samples ­ but of Blueboy, Beat Happening, people at parties and the Shangri-las. He is incredibly literate but then his descriptions of his songs are oneverylongsentencewithout syntax.

Tram#6 I think I’m fixed

He writes endless love songs about gurls but also about demonstrations, dodgy black cabs, the changing of the seasons, shoes, cats, psychology, and any other weird stuff. He is young but asks questions that an older person might ponder ­ is love still a mystery? Are birthdays happy? He sums up his life, not of someone who wants to be in 1979 New York or 1987 Bristol. He writes about Cliff Richard and Lou Reed’s perceptions of Sweden (porn, gonorrhoea, scary) but also of his home town of Gothenburg. The 2001 Gothenburg anti-EU demo-cum-riot leads him to contemplate not just the relationship with the woman he’s with, but whether he could burn down the avenue (“I don’t even have a cigarette lighter, but I just wanted to see that fire”). Those Volvos just had to go. The song is both a swanky orchestral number and an acoustic doo-wop song.

Tram# 7 to heaven….

Essentially, Jens reminds me of the Lucksmiths whose sense of place both grounds them in a specific location and time but whose tales of suburban train lines and small town lives make them strangely universal. The Swedish and the Candle/Melbourne scenes happily exist, occasionally bringing their music over to the UK or the US but without needing the approval of the English or the Americans. They are the light by which we travel into different, but similar worlds.

© 2005 Rachel Stevenson