90s Dance Estravaganza With A Brain for a Happy, if not Ecstatic Nation,
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This review is from: Happy Nation (Audio CD)
One of the biggest selling debuts of all time, no mean feat either, not least as, not only where Ace Of Base a European act, but they totally conquered America, seeling as many copies over there as anywhere else. Such an instant and huge success set the bar high, too high perhaps, but looking back, as good as this album is, it's sadly not perfect, and they have actually both equalled it and bettered it since.
But in 1993, when all the synth-driven gems of new wave and other musical styles gave way to dreary grunge pop and aimless, brainless dance-drivel, Ace Of Base appeared to adroitly marry the dancefloor with a clear intelligence barely seen then and since.
Never as strong as Abba, yet arguably mining more styles than Roxette, Ace of Base hit with the unique chart-topping singles 'All That She Wants' and 'The Sign'. Both tunes are perfect, though their version of 'Don't Turn Around' is their weakest single alongside the 1998 motown attempt 'Always Have, Always Will'. The problem is mainly the song-it's typical slushy gush from the pen of Diane Warren, and it could only be made palatable by the powerhouse approach from a set of lungs like Pat Benatar or Laura Branigan. In fact Bonnie Tyler has covered it too, with the best results yet, but it sadly wasn't a single. How Ace Of Base got a hit with it is no mystery-they were on a high in their first year and could have got a hit with a nursery rhyme. Their light musical and vocal approach is just too flimsy to engage on an already unsatisfactory song, though they still beat Aswad's version.
Their other singles have no such problem-the accidentally (?) ambiguous 'Living In Danger', ever-so-slightly eerie Enigma-like title track of the album which showcases their early knack of ingeniously delivering a sombre, even melancholic tune that totally belies the title, and the uniquely standout 'Wheel Of Fortune'. Both these two were pleasingly offbeat, even risky releases over more obviously rapturous, but less flavourable dance-floor fodder like 'Voulez-Vous Danser'-the first of an Abba reference they use on every album, and nice hints of growth to come, and an urge to be known beyond a drug-fuelled dancefloor.
Shades of Adamski's Killer, Haddaway and some other good techno-tunes show up in 'Dancer In A Daydream', exuberant 'Young And Proud' and 'Waiting For Magic', though the version of it on this album is a charmless, pedestrian 90s dancefloor mess with over-hyper vocals that lack the beauty and slight atmosphere of the 1st version on the initial version of their album (and on their 2002 collection). Along with 'Young And Proud',the insistent and delicious 'Hear Me Calling'-complete withcharming police-siren music should have been singles over the irritatingly twee 'Don't Turn Around'.
What weakens this huge-selling album over its less-well known but more artistically pleasing and mature follow-ups are the inclusion of two truly horrible nightmares. The offensively repetitive, pointless 'Fashion Party' is more a continous show-loop of demo-rap you'd warm up a booze-filled bender. "You loser" she sings, and I'd say careful there! As for the rap, even the vocals, is this actually the same group. The horrific dance-dirge of actual losers like 2 Unlimited are brought to mind-not something a clean, tuneful Nordic break-out group should be going for. The other worthlessness is 'My Mind'-another repetitive, directionless ode-to dancing irritation concentrating on the early 90s reliance on drum machines and sampled two-word sentences to get by. She says "everyone, everywhere" one more time...!
Why this album sold how it did was it shot perfectly into the techno-fuelled rave culture of its time, which also led to AOB being seen as little but groove-fodder, and this album does underline that truth in places. But the more lyrical and tuneful approaches do stand the test of time, pointing to a burgeoning songwriting skill that would ditch simple dancefloor gimmicks for artistic integrity and thank God for artistic development for the furture. The 2nd album would be even better, but anyone with a love of 90s techno, and a generous smattering of tuneful twinges among early songwriting promise should own this album, ignoring the two naff tracks mentioned, as it is a hugely worthwhile purchase for anyone that has lost their copy, or missed them in the annals of time. The extra mixes of 'All That She Wants' and 'Happy Nation' are middling at best, and do not challenge the brill originals at all.
All in all, they made the hugely diminishing music scene of 1993 a very Happy Nation. And would contiue to do so till both girls sadly left just a decade later.