Johanna and Klara Söderberg certainly know how to write a song. The first half of The Lion’s Roar is pretty close to perfection in my eyes. Ears? And for all I know the second half might be just as good. I never seem to get there because the first five songs send me somewhere I don’t want to come down from and I find myself going right back to the start to hear them again. And again. And again.
Those who know me will know that I’m a bit of a John Prine fan. I don’t like to harp on about it though, and once I’ve told you I’m into his music I won’t labour the point. Total lies. Everyone I know has to endure an almost daily barrage of gushing praise, and the inevitable claim that ‘seriously, he’s the most underrated songwriter there’s ever been. On a par with Dylan’. Kris Kristofferson famously said of Prine ‘he writes songs so good we’ll have to break his thumbs’. But you already knew that didn’t you? Because I’ve told you every time we’ve met. And if we haven’t yet met, I was probably planning on using it within the first couple of minutes of our first conversation.
Anyway. I am trying to make a point about the songwriting abilities of the aforementioned Söderbergs here. This Old Routine, the fifth offering on The Lion’s Roar (and the point after which I inevitably find myself going back to the beginning of the album) is absolutely stunningly written. And given what you now know about my love of John Prine, my comparison of this song to some of Prine’s most brilliant writing should go some way towards demonstrating how highly I regard it.
Have a listen to Far From Me and Hello In There on Prine’s 1971 debut. That’s about as good as songwriting gets. Simplicity, tenderness, humour. Then have a listen to This Old Routine. If you told me Prine had inhaled a couple of balloons of helium, moved to Scandinavia, and rediscovered the very best of his writing, I might actually believe you.
The structure of the song is unavoidably Prine-like, as is the subject matter. They’ve achieved what so many find so difficult – beautiful simplicity combined with total complexity. Prine often wrote about couples, and in particular couples who had grown old together. His songs are often sung from the perspective of an aging man, recalling the events that have shaped their lives. The similarities between some of these songs and This Old Routine are striking.
In the second verse of Hello In There, Prine sings;
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,
She sits and stares through the back door screen.
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.
He’s watching his wife staring aimlessly out of the back door, while the same news repeats itself over and over, as it has done all their lives.
Now have a look at the opening verse from This Old Routine;
So you come on home, walk through the door.
She’s in the kitchen searching through the drawers.
So you stop and watch her and ask what she’s looking for.
She says she’s not sure.
I’d surely be patronising you by pointing out the similarities.
Both writers talk of sons who have gone away to fight in meaningless wars, Prine singing ‘we lost Davy in the Korean war, and I still don’t know what for, don’t matter any more’, and Söderberg echoes this with ‘and your youngest is out fighting a war, but he won’t say what he’s fighting for’.
Either Klara Söderberg is a huge fan of John Prine’s music, and has taken inspiration from his style of writing and subject matter, or she’s accidentally stumbled upon songwriting gold. I’d put a significant sum of money on it being the former. Either way, in an age of disgusting, image-obsessed ‘talent’ shows vomiting out one-hit-wonders, and lining the pockets of Simon Cowell, at least we can take reassurance from the fact that there’s a Swedish girl out there capable of writing songs that rival the very greatest.