The purpose of my Album Spotlights is to bring lesser-known albums to your attention with backstories you’ll find interesting and music you’ll find enjoyable.
A few days ago, it hit me that it’s been a year and a half since my last Album Spotlight. I was way overdue for another, so I’m kicking off the new year with a new Album Spotlight. In fact, I’ll probably post another next month to make up for the long absence.
Before you change channels on me, this is not about the soundtrack to Alien the sci-fi/horror film. That said, I imagine the band Alien is indeed alien to you. If so, you’re forgiven considering the group hails from Gothenburg, Sweden and formed almost 40 years ago. However, their songs aren’t sung in Swedish and their music doesn’t sound Swedish. In fact, if I hadn’t told you Alien was from Sweden and I played this CD for you, you’d swear they were an American hard rock band.
AC/DC & Deep Purple
That makes sense because the lead singer and co-founder, Jim Jidhed, was influenced by AC/DC. The guitarist and other co-founder, Tony Borg, was influenced by Deep Purple and Eric Clapton. They might be Swedish, but they have roots in American rock ‘n roll. They also recorded Alien, their self-titled debut album, in Van Nuys, California, not Sweden.
Frankly, I’ve never been a hard rock kind of a guy. I generally don’t go for records that should come with a free coupon for Tylenol. Yet Alien the album (Virgin 259 198) won’t give you a migraine. In fact, the album produced 3 singles. One of the singles, a cover of Only One Woman, a beautiful ballad written by the Bee Gees, made it to #1 in Sweden.
Alien did a great job of turning Only One Woman into a rock power ballad, but my favorite track off of Alien is Brave New Love. I became acquainted with the song thanks to my interest in horror films. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming. The song was used in the end credits of the 1988 remake of The Blob.
Throughout Alien, Jidhed’s vocals are forceful while Borg’s guitar is tight and hard rocking. You won’t be able to get through the album without playing air guitar, especially on Feel My Love. Besides Brave New Love and Only One Woman, other standout tracks include Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire, Jaimie Remember, and Touch My Fire. It’s a great listen from start to finish.
Alien has so far released 7 albums altogether though not all under the same personnel. Co-founder and lead singer Jim Jidhed departed the group in 1988 to pursue a solo career. The band carried on with a new lead singer but he left a few years later. The other musicians weren’t much better in the stability department. Jidhead returned as lead singer in 2005, left again, and reunited with band yet again in 2010. He’s still with the band today along with two other original members, Tony Borg on guitar and Toby Tarrach on drums.
“If I hadn’t told you Alien was from Sweden and I played this CD for you, you’d swear they were an American hard rock band.”
The composition of the band might be confusing, but that’s nothing compared to the album that’s the subject of this Spotlight. Alien came out in 1988 in Sweden. The following year, the record company remixed 5 songs from the original record, cut out 4 of the 12 songs, and tacked on 2 new songs that were recorded by the new singer who had replaced Jidhad. They also replaced the album artwork with something much stranger, yet retained the album’s original title. This Frankenstein album was the version that was released in the USA and some other countries. But hang on, it gets even better.
If you decide to buy Alien, you’ll not only have the choice of the original release from 1988 and the remixed version from 1989, but also a rare 2012 re-issue from Greece of the original album limited to 1,000 copies. Then there’s the 25th Anniversary 2 CD set from 2013 that included both the original and the remixed version. This same set was re-issued on a different label in 2019. Are you still with me? Then, of course, there’s the various vinyl record and cassette iterations.
Depending on which variant and format you’re looking for, prices on eBay start at around $29 and go up from there. The fact that most of the product exists outside the USA doesn’t do anything to help the cost. If you’re into 80s hard rock bands, I think it’s worth the investment. I bought my original Alien CD from a seller in Italy. On the other hand, you can listen to the entire remastered album for free on YouTube (link at the end).
I reached out to the group to ask some questions about Alien the band and the album and received a response from band co-founder and guitarist Tony Borg.
Peter: What led you to start “Alien” in 1986?
Tony: “I had been in many bands with great success in the 1970s and 1980s, but had never started a band myself. My goal before Alien started was to work as a session musician. I got to play with many Swedish but also American artists. When I played with the famous artist Lill-Babs, I understood that it would not be my thing, therefore, I started Alien.”
Peter: Was there anything memorable about the “Alien” recording sessions?
Tony: “There absolutely was. What became our first hit song was an instrumental song called Somewhere Out There that Jim and I wrote at 4:00 a.m. after midnight. It was recorded one night in the studio as a filler song and [B side] for Only One Woman but became a big hit in Sweden. Jim and I would often sit at night, drink coffee, have a cigarette and create many of the band’s songs.”
Peter: Why didn’t “Somewhere Out There” make the “Alien” album?
Tony: “During that time, bands used to put remix songs on the back so as not to waste good songs on B-sides. We rather wanted to show that we were a real rock band that could write good songs without vocals. That’s why we wrote that song to be a B-side.”
Peter: Why did you decide to record a cover of “Only One Woman”? Were you surprised that it was a hit?
Tony: “We collaborated with Anders Hjelmtorp on the record label Virgin. Anders had been an old disc jockey so he had some song suggestions for us. We thought the song was good but when Jim and I changed the time from 6/8 to 2/4 time, the song felt perfect for us.”
Peter: Were you surprised that “Brave New Love” made it into the credits of “The Blob” movie remake?
Tony: “How come? Because we recorded the record at ‘Sound City’ in L.A. so we were so close to the film industry and they needed that kind of song right then. It was a chance like it can be when you are in the right place at the right time.”
Peter: What’s your favorite song on “Alien”?
Tony: “My favorite song is I´ve Been Waiting. The music has the right suffering and the right expression and the lyrics are true to my story.”
Peter: Is there a story behind the original “Alien” album art?
Tony: “I have a friend called Anders Holmberg who had just started painting pictures with cool landscapes so I asked him if he wanted to do our covers. I have our cover for the Swedish album in my possession, but the rest of the paintings have been sold and are probably adorning the walls of some fans’ homes.”
Peter: Why did you release a different version of the album “Alien” for the US including a completely different album cover?
Tony: “It was the record company that wanted to adapt the record to the American market. We agreed because we thought it was possible to mix the record even better.”
Peter: What do you think of the remastered “Alien” from 2013? Did you have any involvement in that?
Tony: “No, this is something that the record companies do without asking the artists. This is what the record industry looks like.”
Peter: How do you think the music on “Alien” holds up 36 years later?
Tony: “I think it’s a good record, a bit timeless. I’m proud that the band got to make such a good debut album.”
Alien’s latest recording, Into The Future, saw the band turn into a more heavy metal direction which has met with mixed reviews. Frankly, I don’t know the band’s body of work well enough to categorically state that Alien is their best album, but few bands release such a strong debut record. If you enjoy hard rock, classic rock, melodic rock, metal, album oriented rock (AOR) radio, or classic 80s music, seek out Alien. Despite the album turning 36 years old this year, the music doesn’t sound dated or…alien.
Trivia (from Tony Borg): “When we went to L.A. to record [Alien], we stayed throughout the spring in L.A. What we didn’t know was that every week we climbed all the sales and pop charts, so when we got home to Sweden, we had become a very popular band without our knowing it. We just had time to pack our bags to embark on a tour with 70 gigs booked while doing videos, television and a ton of interviews so it’s been a very hysterical career for the band.”