If you’re going to call your band Cosmic Overdose, you’re going to have to deal with some preconceptions. The first is that you are a bunch of hippies, sitting in fairy rings and tripping on mushrooms. The second is that your material consists of overblown guitar solos. If your music is actually varied and complex, inspired by dada, punk and experimental electronics, and you are meant to be warming up for New Order, then it might be time to rethink the name.
That’s not the whole story of Twice a Man, but it is how it usually opens. Before the Swedish godfathers of alternative music adopted their current guise – prompted by the promoters of the New Order show they were scheduled to join – they swam in many of the streams that were converging or competing in the second half of the 1970s. Punk was a rebellion against the high-art extremes of prog rock, but Cosmic Overdose found something to appreciate in both. Experimental and industrial music provided an antidote to pop, and the band absorbed the textures and freedom of the former while maintaining the accessibility of the latter.
If there is a surprise in the recently issued Cosmic Overdose box set from Progress Productions, it is just how much groove there is in their material. Over the course of two studio albums, the band belied their name with sets of jaunty, angular material that did as much to shake hips as expand minds. There are passages of smooth, prog-influenced pop, but they are respite between slabs of pure energy generated with a provocative spirit.
If English comparators were sought, then Blurt, Brian Eno and Cabaret Voltaire would figure, but the points of intersection would be limited. Cosmic Overdose defied definition as craftily as those artists, even if they sometimes drew inspiration and confidence from similar sources. The three albums packaged in Koko Total don’t fit a template, nor do they bear direct comparison to others. Cosmic Overdose were true originals.
The first album they shared with the world was Dada Koko. From the opening number, “Investera i Framtida,” with its synthetic waves, it was clear that something new was being born. “Modern Dadaister” isn’t a million miles from XTC’s jerkier sound, when it starts, before growing into something trippier. There is a moment of calm in the arc of the album before “Tanten” explodes with a burst of dark energy. The Arp synth returns on the album closer, “Råttan,” a track tailored for the alternative dancefloor.
The second album, 4668, showed that the Swedes had absorbed something from Joy Division. As the Manchester doom-meisters had done, Cosmic Overdose were starting to push through the punk chrysalis to emerge as something more electronic. Their transformation into Twice a Man would put them at the forefront of the Swedish synth scene and keep them in its top tier for a generation. In the meantime, fans had the brooding “Android,” the well-crafted “Nina Fontanell” and the charming “Liten Storsint” to contemplate.
The third CD in this package collects live recordings, singles and strays from the archives. “Observation Galen” from 1979 is here with its B-side, “Isolatorer.” Then there are live versions of “Suicide Case,” “Ruta Nr 1” and “Läckan” from a show the same year in Kalmar. They reveal a band confident in its presentation with spellbinding material. Further live sessions follow from shows in Oslo, Lund and Stockholm (with an appearance by Lars Falk on “Väx och Njut”) before the album closes with the single, “To Night.”
The quality of the recordings is excellent, and they open a window into the short time when art and punk overlapped with the electronics of the Futurists and the psychedelia of the proggists. Wire unpacked that confluence methodically over four decades, but Cosmic Overdose concentrated it into two albums and two singles and changed their name. What came next is a story for another day.