Gustav Nilsson’s previous work ‘Like You Never Really Cared’ presented him a singer-songwriter vein, pitching his heavily accented vocals against a semi-acoustic backdrop, kind of like Coyote Shivers playing Bob Dylan covers reimagined by Paul Westerberg. There’s none of that in evidence on his fifth EP ‘Makeup On, Letdowns Off’, which finds Nilsson surrounded by a full band. In Nilsson’s own words, the EP sounds like the work of “Julian Casablancas (circa 2002) meeting Courtney Love (circa 2008) in a bathroom and then being threatened into making music by Phil Spector pointing a loaded gun”. It doesn’t sound like that especially, but compared to his previous works, Nilsson certainly brings a greater musical range to his lyrics this time out. Maybe that’s what he was getting at with the big statement in the title? Or maybe it’s just that the lead track is named after KISS hero Paul Stanley?
As its title suggests, ‘Paul Stanley’ comes loaded with a seventies glam/power pop vibe. The guitars are full of jangly goodness – though none of the jangly rhythms quite match the old school solo which Nilsson throws into the mix. With handclaps a plenty, a strong hook and a stabbing piano, it’s a relatively rousing arrangement, though the general vibe never sounds much like KISS. A little Cheap Trick, maybe, but not really KISS. This track really hammers the point that Nilsson has moved on, musically speaking, since ‘…Never Really Cared’, and the numbers which follow kind of cement such a theory.
‘But Courtney, I’m a Little Bit Younger Than You’ has a simple, pounding approach which should work better than it actually does. It quickly becomes evident that the guitars are a little too simple and as such do not maintain interest for the track’s duration. There’s a reasonable chorus, but the verses are a just flat all round. The single release ‘Down Down Down’ is a little more instant, but as cheesy as hell, with Nilsson attempting something which is clearly modelled on Dion and the Belmonts (more specifically ‘Runaround Sue’). It’s likely to be a skipper after the first couple of plays since it’s just a little too familiar. If you’re someone whose generally excited by music in this particular style, then ‘Down Down Down’ may offer some enjoyment, but for others it’s the sound of seventies party hell, played in a slightly inferior way. Looking briefly at a small positive, though, some of the guitar lines are okay (in a rock ‘n’ roll sense) and the predominant bassline (also played by Nilsson) carries the weight of the work well enough.
Bringing a semi-acoustic vibe to the table ’Paper Cuts’ is the best track here without question. The electric lead guitars sound really great played against the acoustic rhythm guitars and Nilsson’s lead vocal is a little softer. Topped off with glockenspiel percussion, this is a great number, with a tiny hint of Gigolo Aunts. This is clearly what Gustav Nilsson is meant to be doing – a couple more tracks in a similar mood definitely would have improved the EP.
So, letdowns off? Sadly not. Although it’s easy to see what Nilsson was aiming for with each of its six featured songs, this EP falls short of the mark in various places. His heavily accented vocals don’t sit so well with the more power pop style he’s adopted here, while the bigger musical backdrops highlight a somewhat limited budget. In summary, despite flashes of greatness, ‘Makeup On…’ isn’t quite as enjoyable as ‘Like You Never Really Cared’, on which, his ragged vocal is far better suited.