Tummel, Payback Time (Tummel, 2009)

Think about the band playing on while the Titanic goes down. Think of some of Joel Gray's bitchier numbers in Cabaret. Think of Josephine Baker at her most outrageous taking Paris by storm. Think of a bunch of crazy Swedes with no inhibitions whatsoever getting together and letting everyone have it, right between the eyes. That might give an inkling of the tone of Tummel's Payback Time. (Be advised that this disc does not in any way fall under the category of Nordic roots. No chance. This collection is very much "anything goes.")

I think Pär Moberg is responsible for this disc crossing my desk. It came with a cheery note saying that since I reviewed Grannar's Sofiagatan so positively, I might like this one. I do, very much, even though nothing Grannar did prepared me for this: it's an entirely different order of beast. Moberg has joined a new group of musicians, and everything's different -- which may be the biggest understatement I've ever made here. (Actually, going back through my files, it seems Moberg is a very busy guy: head of the Folk Music department at the Academy of Music in Malmö, he is also involved in several different bands.)

It seems that most readers are willing to give a book thirty to fifty pages to grab them, and most listeners will allow a track or two for a CD to do the same. By the time I was eight bars into "This Ship Is Sinking," the first cut on Payback Time, I was, as they say, ROFLMAO. It's somewhere between tango and klezmer, but it could be straight out of some Paris bistro ca. 1927, and it's no holds barred. Jens Friis-Hansen's vocals are right on the edge, a position they maintain pretty much throughout what follows, and the instrumentalists keep right up there with him. (Friis-Hansen is also responsible for most of the lyrics and a good portion of the music, and I might add that he reveals himself as a very talented and versatile singer.)

I don't know why this disc gives me such an overwhelming sense of the 1920s, but it does. It might be Edin Bahtijaragic's accordion in combination with Moberg's saxophone under those hysterical vocals. It does periodically break into an entirely different feel, from world beat to good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll -- Andreas Rudenâ's violin seems able to make the transition to any mode, as does Jonatan Aisen's drumming, and Jonatan Ahlbom on helicon and the multifaceted Tobias Allvin (guitars, saw, and moog) are right there, too -- but the overwhelming sense is of "make merry while we may."

And then you start listening to the lyrics (the disc is mostly in English, with "Weiß Trash" and "Razer Tod" in a bastard English/German hybrid). It's dark. It's really dark. "Cyanide," for example, presents us with a lively dance tune supporting some really bitter lyrics. The refrain starts "'cause I've put cyanide in your coffee/And powdered arsenic on your toffee . . ." and goes on from there. Get the idea? It's honky-tonk that bites.

There's a strong element of surreality in this collection, as well. "Kiss Me If You Can" makes three or four different kinds of sense, depending on your mood. The final cut, "Give Me You," is just that -- those are the lyrics, for three-and-a-half minutes, and it's marvelous. It becomes a touching and earnest love song -- except that I can't quite shake the feeling that Friis-Hansen is laughing at me.

I'm looking back at my attempts to describe this album -- that's what I do here, after all, try to translate music into words -- and they all somehow miss the mark. You have to listen to this one to get an idea of what it's about, and it's going to take more than one listening. Brace yourself.

Tummel are ably supported by Göran Abelli (trombone, "Loosers Parade"), Martin Eriksson (double bass, "Give Me You" and "Razer Tod"), Daniel Pergament Persson (percussion, "Banghri-La"), and Per Tidstrand (cello, "Kiss Me If You Can").

[Robert M. Tilendis]

The fold-out insert that accompanies the disc contains the lyrics, a personnel roster, and on the reverse, a game board for "Banghri-La." You can get the rules at Tummel's Web site.