Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain, is 1988’s Look Sharp! – the second album by Swedish pop duo, Roxette. Will this album have The Look of a hit, or is it like watching Paint dry? Read on…
This 12 track LP bursts opens with titular track and fourth single The Look, although it was the first Roxette single to chart in the UK (where it struck #7). It chugs in with heavy growling guitars and a catchy riff as guitarist Per Gessle takes lead vocals. Shortly after, Marie Frederiksson joins in, giving him a perfect vocal contrasting harmony. This is an excellent rock start, including the rasp in Per’s vocal of ‘got‘ in ‘she’s got the look‘. The track also has a sudden false bottom, teasingly returning just moments for the catchy ‘na na na’ outro. We’re off to an excellent start!
Next up is lead single Dressed For Success opening with a burst of plodding synths and Marie’s ‘Yeah yeah yeah’. This time Marie has the mic, and she’s backed by a more mellow sounding track compared to the previous song. Once again, Per offers up some perfectly placed deeper vocal contrast. At times, the guitar melody makes me think of a lighter version of Transvision Vamp’s later 1989 single Baby I Don’t Care. The track feels bright and effortless in it’s gentle bounce along – a perfect pop song! However, upon its first visit to the UK charts in July 1989 it stumbled at #48, returning in October 1990 where it reached #18.
Percussion and saxophone lead us into next song Sleeping Single. Again, we’re taking a lighter tone, with a gentle beat and guitar that ensures that this song bounces along perfectly, with Marie taking the lead alongside some female backing vocals. The saxophone returns for a solo in the middle of this mellow song.
Paint follows this, fuelled by lots of dramatic synths, and catchy guitars. Per takes the lead initially, with Marie coming in during the chorus in some kind of ABBA-dream sequence. She returns for a heartfelt vocal solo in the middle section, before taking the track to the end. There’s elements here that sound slightly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys, but either way it’s very 1980s pop.
Next is Dance Away, which opens with some nice little synths before a slamming snare arrives, joined by Marie’s rock vocals and Per on growling guitar. Again, it’s a flawless pop song, gently evolving as it flitters between chorus and verse. The repeated ‘oh-oh’ vocals help to keep the song feeling bright and catchy.
This side closes with the eerie soundscapes of Cry, which give us some finger clicks, echoey percussion, a sad tinkling piano, and downbeat lyrics. The track allows Marie to really shine with her vocal range here – we’re not in pop or rock here, and so it’s a wonderful song to show off her skills.
Side Two opens with Chances, and this opens like a thumping dance track, with a thudding beat, a wave of guitars, sampled vocals, and racing bass synth. This track did get a European single release, but it didn’t come to the UK. The track builds up wonderfully, reaching a height with a big guitar solo in the middle. The racing synths and beat continue on, helping to carry this occasional rock sound, and also Marie’s effected vocals. Briefly, she sounds in this song like Sophie Ellis-Bextor. I bet this would have been insane when performed live.
That’s followed by Dangerous, the duo’s fifth single to hit the UK charts (double A-sided with the re-released of Listen To Your Heart in the summer of 1990). The track has some nice rock vocals from both Marie and Per, set against some hard snares and guitars. The melody works effortlessly as it delivers their lyrical warning that ‘she’s a little bit dangerous‘, and allows both to show off their vocal range.
Half A Woman, Half A Shadow is next, and this opens with some more nice ABBA-esque vocal harmonies before the guitar and bass drop in. It starts off sounding like something from the 80’s edition of Belinda Carlisle, who I could easily imagine singing this. The track plods along steadily, building up vocally, giving Marie plenty of space to show off her range and power with some truly heartfelt lyrics.
Then it’s View From A Hill, which opens like some kind of Paula Abdul song. The simple beat, along with brass stabs and synths, gives this track an upbeat pop feeling, and I very much expect a cartoon cat to appear and rap. That doesn’t happen though, and Marie and Per carry this song off well, although the lyrics are a bit mediocre.
Next is Shadow Of A Doubt, and this starts with an racing energy of a thumping bass drum. The funky guitar work and bass would lead the song to be more disco if only there were some handclaps, and if it wasn’t for the emphatic saxophone solo. There’s a nice organ-type sequence that’s repeated throughout the track, and it really helps to add to this galloping song. Marie’s vocals sound fantastic here as the song escalates to the thundering end.
The album closes with the electric piano of love song single Listen To Your Heart. This was the third single to hit the UK charts, failing at #62 in October 1989, but it returned less than a year later to reach #6 as part of a Double-A with Dangerous. This is big 80’s power ballad territory, and the song flows perfectly, with lots of big notes for Per to hit on the guitar, and Marie to hit with her vocals. Get those lighters up in the air and slow wave them left to right. Brilliant!
Over all, this album is a fantastic piece of guitar-led 1980’s pop.
This is also another clear piece of evidence that Swedish pop really does work, and the songs here work wonderfully – brilliant musicianship, and production, and the vocal delivery of Per and Marie is spot on. It’s hard to imagine why the UK singles-buying audience weren’t initially receptive to Roxette, but thankfully they realised their brilliance.
The highlights are hard to pick, as it’s such a great album, but The Look, Dressed For Success, Listen To Your Heart, and Sleeping Single are really fantastic tracks. The weakest point is probably View From A Hill, which doesn’t really feel like it goes very far musically or lyrically, but the criticism is only mild.
If you love 1980’s pop music then this album will be a brilliant one to put in your ears or your collection. The newspaper style artwork of the vinyl’s inner sleeve reads ‘Due to the exceptional length of this record, PLAY LOUD and a splendid time will be guaranteed for all…‘ and to be honest, it’s not wrong.
It is sad that the death of Marie Frederiksson in 2019 brought a premature end to this energetic and exciting pop duo’s career – we were robbed, but thankfully she and Per left us with some wonderful songs, and in this case, a brilliant album.
- POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 5 / 5
- 1988 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #4, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Car Boot Sale.