Peter, Bjorn and John's John Eriksson is: Hortlax Cobra
(Courtesy of the artist)
The first album I acquired -- and obsessed over -- back in 1986, was Slippery When Wet from longtime New Jersey rocker (and now restaurateur) Bon Jovi. It wasn't actually my very first record. That was Strawberry Shortcake And Her Friends, a picture disc which I spun repeatedly on my Fisher Price toy record player. But the Bon Jovi record came into my life at a very young age and did some pretty major things. I gained access to the proper turntable in our family room, and instituted obligatory dance parties with my poor, captive brothers (then ages four and two). I howled along to "Livin' On A Prayer" and "Wanted Dead Or Alive," even making covert tape recordings of myself a capella to listen back to and see how my vocal chops measured up.
All these years later, the record still resonates: I love Slippery When Wet. As we've explored time and again on Soundcheck, almost everyone has this kind of early, obsessive record in their life. And for John Eriksson, that record is Van Halen’s 1984.
Eriksson is perhaps best known for being one third of the Swedish pop band Peter, Bjorn and John. But when he's not crafting impossibly catchy pop gems, Eriksson writes abstract experimental records as his alter ego, Hortlax Cobra. Van Halen's now-classic 1984 was the first album he bought for himself as a kid growing up in Scandinavia. So it's not entirely surprising that he's gone and recorded a few not-so-covert tape recordings of himself playing his beloved album -- sort of. This is 1984 -- and it's also not 1984 at all.
Eriksson says the entire recording is based on the tempos, keys and lengths of songs from the Van Halen original. But the album sounds very little like the hard rock godfathers, even with all their synths. Eriksson's version has more kinship with his other forebears like Kraftwerk, Wendy Carlos, Afrika Bambaataa. Where Van Halen reach out and pull you in towards them, (J.D. Considine, then writing for Rolling Stone, mentioned the "hot licks, growls, screams and seemingly impossible runs to wilder frontiers") Hortlax Cobra creeps out ever so stealthily to draw you in closer.
This new 1984 (out Dec. 12) interacts with Van Halen's in surprising and sensitive ways. The original "Jump," which is probably one of Van Halen's most well-known songs, is reportedly about watching a man contemplate suicide by jumping off a skyscraper. Here, Eriksson, through the vocoder, plays a different role: "I will break your fall," he reassures. Elsewhere, "Panama," is, like its 1980s forebear, the most dance-ready track on the album, and shows hints of Eriksson's day job in his power pop trio. But the song "Hot For Teacher" has none of the bombast of the original; this version's suggestiveness bubbles just under the surface.
Hortlax Cobra's 1984 is a love tribute to Van Halen -- a band that in bridging the gap between hard rock and synth pop set the stage for much of what Eriksson says he's done since. In deconstructing and re-imagining it, he's paid the band and the album a deeply personal tribute.
Gretta joined Soundcheck in 2010, having spent several years as a freelance radio documentary producer. Her stories on birders, fishermen, nurses, performance artists and even the Yale Whiffenpoofs have aired on a variety of outlets, from WNYC's Studio 360 to APM's The Story. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Brown University and studied radio production at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She was a cellist in the rock band Cursive from 2001-2005.