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Shiny Happy People?

Sweden's Cardigans aren't as warm and fuzzy as they let on

Great, perhaps, but not necessarily a true picture of the band's personality. That's why, with First Band on the Moon, the Cardigans take a half-step away from their cute and cuddly reputation. While it's still unabashedly melodic pop -- enough to have landed them on the U.S. charts and MTV (with the hit "Lovefool") -- Moon is less stylized and much less retro than Life. The pulse of the disc is more insistent, and some of it actually rocks -- in a debonair definition of the term, at least. Moon could be the band's least trendy release to date, its mix-and-match sound refined to a coherent whole.

"On the new album, we decided to have a bit more earthy sound, not as many additional musicians, and to create stronger sounds on bass, guitar, drums and keyboards, instead of having bits of flute or trumpet or whatever," Sveningsson says. "Life was a bit too much sometimes."

As the band has toured the world and tightened as a live unit, they've developed a more traditional rock sound. According to Sveningsson, Svensson and drummer Bengt Lagerberg have taken to performing hard rock again during the band's sound checks -- there's even talk of a metal side project -- and Svensson's songwriting has turned toward the spare alternative-folk sounds of Red House Painters and Palace.

Not that fans of their current sound need worry much; according to Sveningsson, the band will likely continue to create very nice pop songs despite themselves. "We try to sound really, really tough [on First Band on the Moon]," he notes. "We did really wild things with the guitars. But in the end, we just sound like the Cardigans. Quite sweet."

The Cardigans perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, February 14, at Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan. Cover is $6. Papas Fritas opens. For info, call 869-

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