Nicholas Fonseca
October 20, 2006 AT 11:57 PM EDT

The most inspired moment on last night’s very inspired episode of The Office came when Jim and Andy worked their cute-as-a-button coworker Karen into a fit of annoyed rage by singing the bubbly 1996 pop hit “Lovefool” at a vocal pitch only your dog could love. “Love me/Love me/Sayyyy that you love me!” warbled a bemused Andy, who then turned to the camera and asked, “I wonder what ever happened to those guys?”

Dude! Glad ya asked! Contrary to popular belief, the Cardigans existed before “Lovefool” became a major US hit, and the Cardigans definitely exist ten years later. “Lovefool” may be the most recognizable — okay, the only recognizable — stateside hit from this inventive Swedish quintet, but it’s far from representative of their best work, most of which has been produced since it faded into memory right alongside one-hit wonders from Aqua, OMD, and Robyn. The Cardigans came to attention with their 1996 US debut album Life, a fizzy concoction that conjured up swanky cocktail parties and boozy mimosa brunches. They sealed the deal when “Lovefool” appeared on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack and their strong second album, First Band on the Moon, another solid effort that also featured a beyond-genius cover of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”

But then… they disappeared. Rather, American radio lost its patience, which it’s wont to do when an artist doesn’t slavishly recreate the hit that broke them out. Which was bad news for their bottom line — since 1997, the Cardigans have basically retreated to Europe — but good news for fans who always knew they had some creative tricks up their sleeve. For my money, their best album remains 1998’s Gran Turismo, which flirts with crunchy trip-hop and melancholy melodies. Fans of everything from Morcheeba to Goldfrapp would be wise to check it out. Lead singer Nina Persson — wasn’t she kinda the original Uli, people? — used the band’s brief millennial break to record an underrated, twangy 2001 album of her own under the moniker A Camp, and if you think Cardigan plus country equals disaster, just listen to her cover of Restless Heart’s “The Bluest Eyes In Texas” and tell me it wouldn’t sound lovely pouring from a jukebox in some dusty backwater’s only local bar.

The Cardigans regrouped in 2004 for Long Gone Before Daylight,an unapologetically dour outing that polarized long-standing fans.Either you bought the moody new front (“And Then You Kissed Me”documents a physically abusive relationship) or you went runningstraight for their earlier CDs and tried to forget that Nina and thegang ever had a negative thought in their lives. This one remains atoss-up. And Andy? The Cardigans are still making music, right to thisvery day! Last month’s long-in-coming Super Extra Gravity findsa nice medium between their optimistic earlier tunes and astill-lingering gloominess — and it also features the best-titled trackof the new millennium (so far): “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, YouNeed to Be Nicer.” How awesome is that?

So, there you have it: That silly little band with that silly littleblonde never stopped making music. In fact, I’d say that theirflash-in-the-pan moment here made them all the more inventive as theyproduced another decade’s worth of fantastic songcraft. If only I couldsay the same for the late, great Elastica

What about you? Have you missed the Cardigans? Did you keep up with their career? Would you like to see them make a comeback?

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