Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain fate, is the 1997 debut album Aquarium by four-piece group Aqua.
I’m expecting this 11 track album to be a tough listen based on all but one of the singles I remember from their 90s career. Here we go….
The album opens with Happy Boys & Girls, and the suggestion that you should ‘be happy’ and invitations to ‘go get it on’ and ‘have a little fun’. This is a bouncy little pop track. The contrast between the growly vocals of René Dif and Lene Nystrøm.
Hooves come galloping alongside the sound of a harpsichord – both of which lead us into single My Oh My. The hooves sound goes on to form the beat of this dancey fairtale song. The end result is quite a catchy little dance baroque number. This was the fourth charting single in the UK, reaching #6.
Then… yes… that huge single is up next, with Ken offering Barbie Girl a ride in his car. This was the third single, but the first to chart for them in the UK (at #1) and give them international success. This song is fun, undoubtedly catchy, and bouncy, with the personas of Barbie and Ken fitting perfectly with the vocal contrast. Having said that, you’re probably either okay with this song, or it fills you with nauseating dread.
Next up, and taking the tempo down a bit, is Good Morning Sunshine, which opens with beats and a Spanish guitar. Lene’s vocals here are softer, and miles away from the style that you hear in the previous track. René gets a brief outing in a somewhat choppy rap that sounds a bit wooden. This was the fifth and final charting single in the UK, giving them a moderate hit at #18.
This is followed by Aqua’s Indiana Jones-themed #1 UK hit Doctor Jones. Again, the contrast and back-and-forth between René’s gruff vocals and Lene’s higher pitched dance ‘eye-pee-eye-ay‘ vocals really help this track to keep it’s up-tempo pace and catchiness. The track is fun, aided by the duo’s vocal play and caricatures.
We’re back to a Spanish-themes again for Heat Of The Night which sees layers of brass, percussion and acoustic guitar swirl around Lene’s effortlessly delivered vocals. This feels like a slightly more up-beat and more Spanish styled version of Good Morning Sunshine.
Be A Man is up next, and we’re in ballad territory with guitars and strings. There’s a gentle beat and the kind of backing track that would make Celine Dion or Michelle Gayle happy. Lene puts in a great performance here, aided by soft backing vocals. For the first time, a synth gently warbles in the background for a fleeting moment rather than lead a dance number.
We’re back to fast-paced dance, as we’re introduced to ‘I am Candyman, coming from bounty land‘. It’s Lollipop (Candyman) up next, which is laden with pumping beats, and vocal play between René and Lene. Once again René plays the macho-man in the song, with Lene playing his lovestruck lady – ‘you’re my lollipop, my sugar sugar top‘ she sings. It’s quite close to Barbie Girl.
This is followed by the lead single from the album, Roses Are Red, although this didn’t chart in the UK. This song reeks of 90’s dance tracks – a bassy synth, some house piano, over a pumping beat. The track manages to be reasonably catchy, but there’s some odd vocal and empty moments amongst all this.
Penultimate track, is, in my opinion, their career best – it’s the hit Turn Back Time, which was featured on the hit film Sliding Doors (1998). This great song, gave them their third consecutive number one UK single, and gives us a glimpse at what Aqua could do if they weren’t playing caricatures in their strangely novelty dance tracks. Here, Lene shows off her vocal range beautifully, and it’s great to hear her pitched against the soft beats, piano, and gentle synths without some randomly thrown in ‘eye-pee-eye-ohs‘. Perfect.
The album closes with Calling You, which returns us to the familiar Aqua sound with pumping bassline, beats, and dance vocals. Lene has the mic here, and she’s pitched against some great sounding synths, and little else – once again allowing her voice to shine, with seemingly little effort at all.
Over all, the album reminds me a lot of a number of 90s dance tracks and mixes, and there’s echoes of this in the slightly later music of Vengaboys (1999-ish).
The album is undoubtedly catchy, but for some the character style of the vocal leads may be a bit nauseating after a while. Thankfully, Lene’s beautiful vocals do get to shine in a couple of tracks, but it’s likely that their image is synonymous with novelty records and videos.
If you need cheering up, whack it on.
Where are Aqua now?
After the success the group scored from this album, they released their second album Aquarius in 2000, which reached #24 in the UK. This album was lead by #7 UK hit single Cartoon Heroes. Follow-up single Around The World gave them a moderate hit, but further singles failed to repeat commercial success.
A third album, released in 2011 and titled Megalomania, did not chart in the UK.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1997 UK CHART POSITION: #6, certified Platinum.
- POP RESCUE COST: 50p from an RSPCA store.