Army of Lovers – Obsession
Considering we invented flamboyant pop – or as I like to call it, men with more eyeshadow than is strictly necessary – it’s a curious thing that when it’s fed back to us by our European cousins we tend to come over all “this will not stand” and dismiss it as if it’s somehow more naff than our own efforts. Splendid isolation is all well and good, but by gosh does it mean we miss out on some fantastic pop records.
Of course the word flamboyant really doesn’t do justice to Sweden’s Army of Lovers, who seemed to take the court of Louis XIV as their sartorial inspiration and a large bottle of amyl nitrite as their musical. They came to minor UK prominence in 1991 with Crucified, which admirably clawed its way to no.47 during a period when the chart was about as eclectic as it’s ever been, with Right Said Fred, Metallica, R.E.M, Color Me Badd, Dannii Minogue and Blur all jostling for attention beneath the benign dictatorship of Bryan Adams. Forced to beat a retreat at this time, it would eventually make no.31 when it was reissued six months later.
In between these twin crucifixions came a sublime curiosity in the form of the delightfully creepy Obsession. This was a song that came with a certain amount of instant familiarity, mainly due to pop’s own obsession during the very late eighties and very early nineties with the drum pattern from Soul II Soul‘s Back to Life – it cropped up all over the place in various speeds and permutations, most notably on Enigma‘s Sadeness Pt.1 and once again here. You can even spot its influence on the hilarious 1989 Stock/Aitken/Waterman re-swizz of Do They Know It’s Christmas? But Obsession, while being emphatically of its time, was a glorious achievement all by itself.
Songs about being unhealthily infatuated with someone are a mainstay of pop music – see also The Police‘s Every Breath You Take, Eminem‘s Stan and Garbage‘s #1 Crush – but Army of Lovers added a peeping-tom quality to the genre that somehow makes it endearing while still making your skin crawl ever so slightly. This is largely down to Alexander Bard‘s impish, almost child-like delivery of the lyrics (“I could wait night and day / Sigh your name when I pray / In my heart night and day / ’til you come my way” that offsets the more sinister aspects of the production – menacing, rippling strings and big old kettle drums. That the whole thing is utterly danceable just adds to its brilliance.
The video is another matter entirely – given that Sweden was the birthplace of the permissive society (though you’d never guess that from Abba would you?), perhaps we shouldn’t be too shocked that it’s set in a ward for the sexy disturbed – but within twenty seconds you’re open mouthed in disbelief – is Alexander Bard…touching himself? Well no, as it turns out; as the camera pans out it reveals he is merely pulling on a cord that controls the movements of his bandmate Jean-Pierre Barda, who is pinned to the wall in a clown suit. Phew! Thankfully third Lover La Camilla is on hand to slap some sense into him. I don’t know about you, but I would check into this hospital without hesitation.
Obsession was a big hit all over Europe, proving once and for all that we Brits really need to loosen up a little and stop being so ruddy superior. Of course what didn’t help is that it was released the week after Christmas 1991 – normally quite a clever strategy for sneaking a record into the top 40, what with a lack of competition and lots of people possessing gift tokens from unimaginative relatives – but perhaps not the best time for a faintly disturbing anthem of perv-pop. Thankfully Army of Lovers didn’t need the UK to prop them up, and they continued to delight much of Europe for the next few years. Frontman Alexander Bard remains an enormous presence in Swedish culture, going on to further huge success with Bodies Without Organs as well as masterminding the first two Alcazar albums. He’s also a noted philosopher, lecturer and judge on Swedish Idol – something, perhaps, for Rita Ora to mull over in her quest for ubiquity.
N.B. If you happen to be “spinning” Obsession at a 90s night (and I really hope that you are) it mixes perfectly into Madonna‘s Erotica. I made my own version at home, named it Erotic Obsession and play it regularly to this day. Guaranteed pop thrill.
Entered chart: 28/12/1991
Chart peak: 67
Weeks on chart: 1
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Considering he gets jealous quite easily, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Nick Jonas singing this from a padded cell.