Of all the hundreds of microgenres that make pop the funnest kind of butterfly collecting, perhaps the greatest is Swedish Reggae. The first person I heard talk about Swedish Reggae was Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields at the end of the 90s, but by then its heyday was long gone. It was a holiday romance, opposites attracting, never really meant to be – a union of the sun-hardened authenticity of reggae and kitschy Scando popcraft which couldn’t truly produce anything lasting, or could it?
In fact, now I think about it, maybe there only ever was one Swedish Reggae song – this song, “All That She Wants”, so startling that you imagined a whole style around it. The sound of “All That She Wants” is disarmingly simple – high, clear, piping synths over a basic skank – but also quite perfect. It’s a cooling sound, it makes the rest of pop sound busy and overheated. As the song so poetically puts it, “It’s not a day for work – it’s a day for catching time”.
Not just time, though – with its gulf between high and low end the Swedish Reggae sound is all about creating space, and the protagonist of “All That She Wants” demands that space – she’s an utterly autonomous creature, an apex predator of romance, lonely like a polar bear is lonely. She gets all that she wants, and all that she wants is (maybe) you (for the moment). It’s a lovely touch to have her in the song only as a reported presence – her “baby” isn’t singing, nor is she, just an unplaced narrator, a witness to her as an event as much as a person.