Originally a Swedish-language spin-off from her main band, the wonderful Hello Saferide, Annika Norlin’s Säkert! are venturing into new territory with their third album, På Engelska. Translating literally to “in English”, the twist this time out is that the band have put together a collection of translated and re-recorded versions of nine tracks from last year’s på svenska album Facit and two from their Swedish Grammi-winning, self-titled 2007 debut. Translation, of course, is never a straightforward substitution of one set of words for another. A song or poem draws significance, pace and a part of its character from things like rhyme, the rhythm of a sentence, and the way consecutive words sound when metered next to each other, not simply from the bald semantic ‘meanings’ of the words selected. As a gifted writer whose songs possess an almost supernatural ability to induce tears of recognition and sympathy, Norlin will, of course, already be aware of this, and her approach on På Engelska is an interesting one.
By deciding to translate the lyrics “almost word by word”, Norlin found that it “nearly became a third language, English words used in a Swedish way”, and that in the process “the translated songs pretty much felt like new to us”. The bonus for her non-Swedish-speaking fans is that they now have an opportunity to explore more of her songs, of which the meaning and words have always been the most important element. And for the most part it works. The occasional track can feel a little confused, as if something is being lost in translation or that too many words are being expected to fit with too few bars of music. ‘The Lakes We Skate On’, ‘The Flu’, ‘Dancing, Though’ and ‘Weak Is The Flesh’ all suffer slightly from this, although it’s worth remembering that much of Norlin’s work with Hello Saferide plays similarly with crammed and hurried lyrics, as if she just can’t wait to get all her thoughts out.
Elsewhere, though, there are still those moments where she so perfectly nails a sentiment or emotion that it can almost take your breath away. In the beautifully yearning single ‘Can I’, for example, she repeatedly manages with a single phrase to express something that others could write a whole novel or manifesto around, while ‘Dancing, Though’ contains the flooring observation, “Right where your shoulder meets your neck is where I had all my dreams”, the phrase just unusual enough to ring seemingly autobiographically true. The melancholy of the Swedish archetype is found in both songs, as well as in the elegiac piano ticking away the time in ‘November’ as Norlin asks “Is this all there is?”, and in the tender, touching, downbeat closer ‘Quiet’. Providing some uplift, the guitar lines of ‘Honey’, ‘Frederik’ and ‘You’ll Be On Your Own’ often bring to mind the indie bands of yore, while ‘The Lakes We Skate On’ sounds distinctly Johnny Marr-like in its lilt and jangle.
If På Engelska doesn’t quite scale the heights of Annika Norlin’s very finest works then that is probably due to the nature of the language divide. Nevertheless, it’s a moving, charming collection that has neatly filled a gap for her many English-speaking fans, and a most welcome addition to her consistently impressive body of work.
[Razzia; August 31, 2011]