In some ways, The Tough Alliance are Gothenburg's Pet Shop Boys; a savvy, tune-heavy synth-pop duo who enjoy dabbling in irony, detachment and giving their elegant danceteria a twist of sadness. Though in the Alliance's case, they like to mime on stage to songs such as First Class Riot and Neo-Violence while swinging baseball bats. Go figure.
Three albums in, singer Eric Berglund has broken off to record White Magic, which is even better - sleeker, darker, harder, crazier. Check the press release: "ceo is the photosynthesis and an aria, it is silence and virginity lost in a gang bang… ceo is the ashanti and ceo is seinfeld. it is eucalyptus, neon and a smile." Whatever you say, Eric. If the game's name is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, at least the melodies on this debut are direct hitters, sporting Balearic-style hooklines that Swedes appear duty-bound to churn out with nonchalant ease. Come With Me is one of 2010's great singles, like a slowed-down cousin of a-ha's Take On Me (yes, that good) with a 21st century rhythm chassis. Though you might not have seen it on daytime TV, given the fact Berglund takes a knife to his arm at one point.
No Mercy even deploys the scrape of one knife against another as its percussive hook, though the tune is as carefree as a summer's day. The implied violence and dread that stains White Magic suggests a kinship with The Knife, as do Love and Do What You Will's twitchy, queasy synths and Illuminata's similar uneasy choral arrangement, though in a great act of pop schizophrenia, both tunes emerge from their aural nightmare with equally summery moods. In fact, the sun could be the key to White Magic, which ends with a straightfaced (church organ and all) cover of Christian anthem Den Blomsterdtid no Kommer that Swedish children traditionally sing at the onset of summer.
Berglund - who won't do face-to-face, or even phone interviews, only by email - says ceo is all about "leaving the fantasy about reality that The Tough Alliance was and facing myself and my fears," and alludes to White Magic as representing some personal breakthrough. Given TTA have never made an indent on the UK, perhaps this new chapter (he's even promised to sing on stage this time! How daring) will mean ceo might reap what this great pop record deserves.