Secretly Canadian is throwing young Jens Lekman a coming-out party, and all your old friends are invited. Modern Lover Jonathan Richman will be there, strumming his acoustic in the corner for a huddled, hushed group of attentive coeds; Stephin Merritt too, feigning boredom and bitching about the dearth of cute boys. You'd heard Morrissey? Moz RSVP'd, but, then again, he usually does.
Here, on this proper debut that amounts to nothing less than a debutant ball,
Lekman channels each in announcing his sizable presence to the music world outside
of Stockholm: There's the boyish Richman on the opening track, "Tram #7 to Heaven," joyously
counting his way up to the titular train ("Tram #3 has misery/ Tram #4 knocks
at your door"), and again lamenting his unrequited love for a girl who made him
chili on "The Cold Swedish Winter" ("I met her in a snowstorm/ I was outdoors
plowing/ She just walked up to me and said/ 'Hey, boy, how's it going?'"). Morrissey's
masochistic romantic appears momentarily on the piano piece "If You Ever Need
a Stranger (To Sing at Your Wedding)," Lekman offering, after a wink-less whistle
solo, "I'd cut off my right arm to be someone's lover."
And Merritt's famously disaffected baritone is all over the place, crooning lovelorn lyrics that lament, over idiosyncratic arrangements, Lekman's many failed pursuits: to the girl he brought to a political protest, recalling a cappella on "Do You Remember the Riots" his realization, in the midst of breaking bedlam, that the fire was gone; to his sweetheart "Julie," singing over a bright, "Cecilia"-like mandolin figure an ode to youthful love that wasn't meant to last; even to Her Majesty Silvia Sommerlath, the Swedish "Dancing Queen," whom Lekman honors with a dubious mid-tempo tribute, beginning with the quirky couplet, "Oh Silvia/ I was dancing to Michael Jackson, oh Silvia/ When I heard your German accent," and including along the way allusions to her being stupid, inbred, shallow and callow.
That's the slippery Swede in cross-section, a hopelessly romantic, otherwise
elusive chap whose eccentricities mask his massive emerging talents. While the
anthem "You Are the Light (By Which I Travel Into This and That)" rocketed to
#2 on Sweden's pop charts, stateside it's the underground crowd who'll likely
take to his odd lyrical solecisms and found-sound compositional skills, his sampling
of everything from steel drums on the delicious calypso romp "Happy Birthday,
Dear Friend Lisa" to a symphony of strings on the soaring closer "A Higher Power," recalling
the anything-goes arrangements of The Avalanches' smash Since I Left You.
Thanks to his champions at Secretly Canadian blitzing the singer with their small onslaught of indie-label PR instruments the secret is slowly getting out: Lekman's a North Star on the rise, and the disarmingly charming When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog is one party you won't wanna miss.