Roxette - Charm School Album Review
Charm School is Roxette's eighth album, but more significantly the first for Swedish duo Per Gessle and Marie Fredrikssen since the latter fought a successful battle with cancer in the middle of the last decade. It was therefore a less than routine release to approach; having more or less span out into a completely different musical orbit since being heavily exposed to their breakthrough album Look Sharp more than twenty years ago, it was difficult to have much by way of expectation.
In many ways, Look Sharp was very much a quintessential late eighties musical and to some extent cultural archetype, full of yuppie-friendly aspirations to perfection, delivered via the kind of cheesy disco and white-collar rock hybrid which we'd been used to hearing on our Spanish holidays for nearly a decade previously. The fact that Gessle and Fredrikssen added a little finesse to the package and had a way with a major key ballad didn't hurt either.
Two decades on from the kitchen sinks of the never knowingly undersold ballad Listen To Your Heart, the reformed Roxette you feel have little left to prove, as despite fading Trans-Atlantically they've remained fixtures in Northern Europe and the likes of South America. This freedom from creative boundaries once again brings to mind the question of progress, but despite some obvious concessions to the twenty first century, Charm School represents very much a case of evolution as opposed to revolution.
For those like me for whom Roxette dived off the radar the minute Nevermind was released, the first minor revelation is that Gessle takes on far more of the vocal duties now, even leading out the album on Way Out, although musically it's the kind of Bierkeller clap along which brings back unpleasant memories of both shaggy perms and Scorpion lager. The more reassuring presence of Fredrikssen on No One Makes It On Her Own may be cause for a small celebration, but the familiar Roxette way - approaching everything like it was a Top Gun soundtrack - is again very much in evidence.
The rest feels more than a little conflicted, single She's Got Nothing On (But The Radio) relocating us again to familiar ground with a smattering of vintage synths and an apres-ski rousing chorus, whilst by contrast I'm Glad You Called is so knuckle-bitingly awful it needs a muzzle. A similar effect on the syrupy Heart-isms of Speak To Me is narrowly avoided, mainly due to Fredrikssen's expert ability to convey sincerity to the most banal of raw materials.
To the duo's credit, there are still a couple of slightly off-message surprises, most notably on the more restrained classic pop of Happy On The Outside and the understated closer Sitting On Top of The World. That Gessle and Fredrikssen were ready to have a little fun with their legacy is undoubtedly laudable, but Charm School remains by and large an exercise for the converted, which given the experiences which you guess their journey has surely thrown up in the last few years would seem very much like a missed creative opportunity.