One year ago today, a female pop artist released an extremely satisfying album that was somewhat overlooked due to the monumental impact of its first single. This full-length featured a handful of deliriously enjoyable songs that should have been hits in their own right, but unfortunately, had to be measured against the success of its predecessor, which scorched Top 40 radio for most of the summer. New singles were released and generally ignored by casual pop consumers, and now, the full album is considered underrated by those who took the time to explore it, despite the global fame of its creator.
There are many similarities between Icona Pop's new album "This Is… Icona Pop" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Kiss" album, which was released on Sept. 18, 2012 after the single "Call Me Maybe" spent nine weeks atop the Hot 100 chart. Like "Kiss," "This Is… Icona Pop" is a fleshed-out, sumptuous pop experience, but also like "Kiss," "This Is… Icona Pop" will have to live up to the worldwide success of its first single. "I Love It" contains impressive quotability, dazzlingly straightforward hooks and pristine production details; it is one of the best singles of the year, and deserved to be one of the biggest. The Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo will be hard-pressed to recreate that song's immediacy throughout their careers, and do not do so on "This Is… Icona Pop" -- but that doesn't prevent Icona Pop's full-length opus from featuring its fair share of thrills.
Drawing from house, punk, techno and mainstream pop, the duo tries on several different outfits on the album instead of boxing themselves into the songwriting formula that produced "I Love It." "Just Another Night" is a ballad that blooms into its second half, while "Ready For The Weekend" sorts through about a dozen different dance ideas without committing to any of them. Both songs are flawed, but it's nice to hear Icona Pop stretch their sound on an album that could have been a handful of "I Love It" carbon copies. "This Is… Icona Pop," like Carly Rae Jepsen's "Kiss," may someday be viewed as a full-length that included one pop masterpiece, but that underscores the delectability of the treats Icona Pop has sprinkled around that triumph. The magnificent closer, "Then We Kiss," might be worth the price of admission alone.
What are the other standouts on "This Is… Icona Pop"? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of the new album.
1. I Love It (feat. Charli XCX)
The unapologetic shouting match that this summer needed, "I Love It" is still riveting in its celebratory anger. Written at a time when Icona Pop was living in London and didn't have anything, "I Love It" has rightly given the duo everything a pop artist could ask for.
2. All Night
Icona Pop's follow-up U.S. single is much more than a neutered version of "I Love It," despite the similar vocal deliveries and lyrical themes. Here, Hjelt and Jawo allow their bliss to linger over a twinkling keyboard and steady guitars instead of stomping on the gas pedal; the desires to "smash the club" and "makes the wrongs turn right" aren't deep, but they don't need to be.
3. We Got The World - Microwaved synthesizers and lines like "Only you and I, DIY/We found a way to live the dream until we die!" color this abrasively cheerful ditty about embracing life, love and fun. The cliches are in full bloom, and distract from the lush synth-pop arrangement.
4. Ready For The Weekend - Another holdover from the previously released "Iconic" EP, "Ready For The Weekend" overcomes its scatterbrained structure and pummels the listener with twisting hooks. For better or worse, you'll be hard-pressed to find a modern pop track that possesses a more sobering outro, but the album's extended version of the track adds an alluring intro for our listening pleasure.
For the doubters who never thought that Tupac Shakur would be listed as a co-writer on a Swedish pop single, Icona Pop has concocted "Girlfriend," which interpolates the lyrics to the late rapper's "Me and My Girlfriend." Co-produced by Stargate and released as a promotional single overseas, "Girlfriend" banks on a risky re-imagining and scores: from the sneering "Na-na-na-na!" at the opening to the beefed-up percussion during the second chorus, "Girlfriend" treats its concept with care and magnifies the musical cohesion of Hejlt and Jawo.
6. In The Stars - The divine "In The Stars" finally lets Icona Pop transcend the expectation for dance cuts as intense as "I Love It" and make a gorgeous, slightly slower-paced piece of Euro-pop candy. The plinking production and soaring chorus could have belonged to any number of pop divas, but Icona Pop fashion the details around their greatest strengths.
7. On a Roll - A swinging melody and arresting lyrics allow listeners to have as much fun soaking in "On A Roll" as Hjelt and Jawo have performing the track. There's nothing incredibly complicated about the roll Icona Pop are on here -- that roll follows the phrase "rock and," FYI -- but the simple shimmer is bright enough to entertain.
8. Just Another Night - "Stepping over cracks in the pavement, another night of being wasted/Staring at your name, staring at your name…" goes the unexpectedly somber beginning of this wistful breakup track. "Just Another Night" doesn't completely resonate as a self-aware curveball, but the presentation of the solo vocals in the verses is remarkably effective, and turns "Just Another Night" into a ballad worth a revisit.
9. Hold On - The placement on "Hold On" after "Just Another Night" on the album's track list is the song's greatest detriment: after the emotional nakedness of the preceding track, the swelling chorus and straight-faced writing on "Hold On" simply cannot muster up enough weight to become a highlight. This needed a few major changes before being presented as a finished product.
10. Light Me Up - The uptempo grooves and monolithic yelps of the album's first half return on "Light Me Up," and just in time -- after the previous two tracks, the worming bass and chic attitude here is much-needed. One of the album's longer songs at only three minutes and 20 seconds (!), "Light Me Up" deserves an elongated dance remix.
11. Then We Kiss - An absolute stunner with multiple movements, "Then We Kiss" is original and exciting enough to eventually become Icona Pop's follow-up hit to "I Love It." The chant "THEN! WE! KISS!" on the album closer is euphoric enough to remind any listener of the jittery feeling of a first kiss.