Aqua – Like A Robot

“Oh my. Well, that’s very… 2010s.”

Tom: Right, let’s have a look at the other half of the double A-side then. This is the out-of-character one, right?

Tom: Oh my. Well, that’s very… 2010s.

Tim: Yeah – less of the universal love thing, more of a, well, Taio Cruz, In The Club, let’s get drunk and have sex thing. Disappointing – I could cope with the style, but Aqua always used to be happy and family-friendly, with a fair helping of cheeky innuendo; here, that’s all gone out of the window and it’s a bit of a shame.

Tom: Wait, hang on! Did she just swear? I didn’t see that coming.

Tim: Exactly. Similar in one very noticeable way to another song we recently covered – this may just be coincidence, or it may be that unexpected obscenity is the new trend in Scandinavia. As a musical style it’s somewhat fun, but in an Aqua track it just seems so wrong.

Tom: I was in France recently, and found that some of their radio stations play English-language tracks entirely uncensored, including some properly obscene rap lyrics. It was a surprising journey, that one.

Tim: In my sister’s car, with my granddad, with a compilation CD she’d made on in the background. Moment of silence in the conversation, out comes a Cee Lo Green track. Yes, that Cee Lo Green track.

Aqua – Playmate to Jesus

“I do hope they tour, because I will be there.”

Tim: Released last Monday, a double A-side single, preceding their new album due out in Denmark two weeks today. One – Playmate to Jesus – is close to know-and-love-them Aqua, the other – Like A Robot – is less so, but still interesting. Let’s start with the first one.

Tom: A third album! The legendary third Aqua album. I don’t mind saying I’m rather looking forward to it, even after the disappointment of their last single.

Tim: It’s not quite Barbie Girl territory, but this will certainly please older fans, I reckon. Calmer melody, family-friendly stuff.

Tom: Well, it’s pleased me. Apollo-mission beeps as part of the intro melody, and a proper full-on chorus. I do hope they tour, because I will be there.

Tim: It seems that Réné’s definitely decided to become a proper singer, though, and I’m not sure if that spoils it a bit. If I have one criticism, I reckon this song could be made about 20% faster and it would sound (a) more Aqua-y, (b) better and (c) less almost-five-minutes-long.

Tom: Not sure about the actual “Playmate to Jesus” lyric, though. Seems a bit needlessly, well, Jesus-y. He wasn’t really one for space exploration, was he?

Tim: No, but he did preach the whole universal love thing (and is perhaps the most notable person to have done so, if you don’t count Cliff Richard), and that’s what the song really comes down in the end. A nice, happy song.

Aqua – How R U Doin?

It’s certainly not the Aqua we know.

Tim: Two years ago, they released a comeback track that didn’t really lead to anything. This morning, they unveiled their new single, which is out worldwide on Monday, and it’s here.

Tom: Oh dear.

Tim: My thoughts after the first few notes? OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE THEY DONE IT’S AWFUL. Later on? More sort of ‘ehh’. It’s…well, it’s certainly not the Aqua we know, which I suppose is understandable as times have changed. They’ve changed their sound, because they need to fit in with modern music. That’s understandable. But there’s a flaw in their logic: they’re Aqua.

Tom: I always liked Aqua, and there was a bit more variety to their sound than most people think (remember ‘Turn Back Time‘)?

Tim: Actually, I’d completely forgotten that one, and I’m not alone. For the vast majority of people, Aqua will always be the group that made several great but very much not mainstream tracks, and they will never be mainstream.

Tom: Ooh, now I disagree there. Barbie Girl and Cartoon Heroes were definitely mainstream – a weird kind of mainstream, to be sure, but still definitely in the public consciousness.

Tim: Alright, replace ‘not mainstream’ with ‘novelty’ – definitely not what big self-respecting dance clubs play. My point is, whatever it sounds like, this will be the same, just by association. “It’s Aqua? Hell no, I’m not playing that.” This will only appeal to Aqua fans, and sounding like it does it might not now do that; a few quotes from the Facebook page: “not really satisfied – sound of today – but not Aqua worthy!” “What is that?? Where is the great Aqua-Sound?? It’s okay, but… ;(” “It’s not bad, quite like it but if it wasn’t written Aqua on top of it, I couldn’t tell it’s from you.

Tom: To me, the Aqua-sound is mostly made up of Lene’s sqeaky bubblegum singing, and René’s growling vocals. Those are here, at least, even if the rest of their style has been pulled grudgingly into the 21st century.

Tim: The singing, yes, but what about the squeaky bubblegum backing track? It sounds to me more like a genre-shifting remix than an Aqua original. As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay, but it sure as hell isn’t Aqua.

Tom: But the good news: a new album means they might go on tour again – and that’ll be a show worth seeing.

Roxette – She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio)

Cleverest Track Title of the Year.

Tim: Last time we met Roxette, their new song kept getting pulled from YouTube so we had to make do with an old (albeit good) track. It’s finally found a permanent place, though, in the form of a proper video, so let’s have a look.

Tom: First of all, I think we’ve already found the award winner for Cleverest Track Title of the Year.

Tom: How are Roxette still good? This somehow manages to have rocky verses, electronic arpeggios in the chorus, and the usual slightly-androgynous vocals, and it’s still bloody good. Incidentally, how ace are those arpeggios? (I think that’s what they’re called, anyway.)

Tim: Agreed, the choruses are good, but the pauses annoy me – singing along (it is very singalongable), it seems as though the ‘but the radio’ should just follow so naturally from ‘she’s got nothing on’ that it feels a bit odd when it doesn’t.

Tom: It’s easy to think Roxette were a one-hit wonder with “It Must Have Been Love” and maybe a couple of others – but they’re not. They’ve been going for years, have a World Music Award, and – no kidding – achievement medals from the King of Sweden.

I’m docking a few points for the terrible call-and-response bit in the first verse (“Really?” “Oh.” “Yeah?” in the right channel) though.

Tim: That’s a thing that’s a bit odd – the intro and verses could come straight from a Pink song (Get This Party Started, perhaps), but the choruses and bridge sound like something entirely different, almost like something the new Pet Shop Boys track could (should?) have been.

Tom: Other than that it’s a pretty solid track. More like this, please.

Same Difference – Shine On Forever (Photo Frame)


Tim: I always get these guys confused with Peter Kay’s 2 Up 2 Down. A full three years since they were on the X Factor, they’re having another go at releasing stuff.

Tom: Who?

Tim: After they failed the first time when they targeted the kiddy market*, they’ve come up with this more grown-up track. Normally you’d only use a brackety bit in the song’s name if the main title wasn’t in the lyrics; here I get the impression that each of them wanted a different title so they had to compromise.

* As in, the market of children buying music, not a market where people can buy… yeah, anyway.

Tom: No, seriously, who?

Tim: It’s not a bad tune, and the vocal bit of the chorus especially is nice; it could be so much better, though, with a decent instrumental bit behind it, and not some dull GarageBand loop**, which is what it sounds like. The chorus could be proper wave-your-hands-in-the-air, instead of yeah-this-is-okay-lets-keep-going.

** Not that stock loops are necessarily any indication of quality one way or the other: compare and contrast the sublime Symphonies with the dire Umbrella.

Tom: Hmm.

Shine on forever
The picture is so clear
I’ve had the greatest moment…

…of your career? About three years ago?

Rick Astley – Lights Out

Play two copies one frame apart next to each other, you get Rick Astley in 3D. No kidding.

Tom: How did we miss this?! Martijn emailed us this, and said “…it’s a Rick Roll. But modern. And awesome.”

Tom: It’s a damn good tune, although it has that ‘in one ear, out the other’ quality; I can’t remember any of the lyrics or even much of the melody even having listened to it a couple of times. Is it listenable? Sure. It is playlistable? Absolutely. Is it a classic? No. Does it need one big ‘oomph’ moment, drums kicking in and ever guitar wailing, when he comes back from the bridge? Yeah, it really does. But never mind: it’s a new Rick Astley single! I wonder if he’d be putting this single out if it hadn’t been for the internet deciding to adore him?

Tim: If I was a little less sensible, I would write ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right video?’ Because this is very definitely not ‘Rick Astley off of Never Gonna Give You Up’. This is an actual modern song – hell, in the video he barely looks old enough to have made songs 25 years ago.

Tom: I swear the man has, up in his attic, a painting of himself that’s steadily getting older.

Tim: If he’s planning a comeback, this is a Good Thing To Do*, because it means he’s brought out a song that mum and dad can listen to and think back to the good old days while the teenage kid hears it playing downstairs and thinks, ‘Ooh, I like this.’ He’s popular with the grown-ups, and the teenager has to work out how he can still be cool if he likes his parents’ music.

Anyway, ‘modern’ isn’t much to say about a track, so here’s something else: like you say, it’s not particularly memorable, but the chorus has a good build-up during it. Or at least, I remember thinking it did, but it’s now been ten minutes since I heard it and I actually can’t really remember how the build-up went. Not at all memorable, then, I suppose. I do remember that I liked it, though, and that’s what mostly matters.

* See also Take That: compare 1995’s How Deep Is Your Love with 2006’s Patience.

Tom: As for the video: they have a Steadicam and they’re not afraid to use it. Is it a callback to Never Gonna Give You Up? Who knows. That constant rotation means, though, that if you play two copies of the video one frame apart next to each other, you get Rick Astley in 3D. No kidding. It’s actually a really convincing effect.

Ace of Base – All For You

The good thing about this blog is that we can be all judgmental.

Tim: Following your Vengaboys comeback song, you may be tempted to listen to the single that marks Ace of Base’s return. If so, here it is.

Tom: That is a textbook Ace of Base song, isn’t it? I was expecting a ‘Don’t Turn Around’ somewhere in there.

I think the problem I had with the Vengaboys comeback is the same as the one I have now with this Ace of Base comeback. And the Aqua one, now I think of it. They’re all album tracks. If they’ve been away for this long, they’ve had years and years to come up with something absolutely brilliant. Instead, it just sounds like they’ve taken something from the rejects bin of their last album.

Tim: Now you mention it, that seems to be the same with most comebacks. Aside from Take That (who I think were the first of recent times, and whose success is probably largely to blame for the recent spate), I don’t think I can think of an artist/group that has actually done well.

A lot of them probably think that all their old fans are out there, and that once news gets around they’re coming back the fans will lap up everything they can throw at them. They can therefore put out a vaguely good single with a promise that an album will forthcoming and assume it’ll be fine. The problem is, of course, that it isn’t, and if a vaguely good single doesn’t sell because the fans feel cheated there’s no way an album will.

You might get a few gigs out of it, or a full tour if you’re lucky, but no more.

Tom: Let’s not forget: Take That’s second comeback, this time with a certain Mr. Williams, is on the cards. Admittedly “Greatest Day” was pretty damn good – if they can pull it off twice that it basically means that Gary Barlow is the greatest songwriter of modern times, which is not really something I’m comfortable with saying.

Tim: This Ace of Base one is like so many – no real effort. It’s not particularly bad – catchy enough, with a decent hook – but there’s just nothing to get excited about. The chorus always feels like a not very good post-bridge chorus, and isn’t enough to make me want more. To have a better chance of success, artists should write a whole album (or even just an EP) and then choose the good songs off it to release, because they’d then have a good idea of what the overall quality of the work would be, and we’d have a proper idea of what we could expect.

That’s not particularly realistic, of course, given the much increased time and effort it would involve, but it might help. I don’t know – the good thing about a blog like this is that we can be all judgmental without having to pretend we know anything about the music business at all.

Vengaboys – Rocket to Uranus

Oh hell no. There are so many things wrong with this.

Tom: Oh hell no. There are so many things wrong with this: Perez Hilton. The rip-off of “House of the Rising Sun”. Just the fact that the Vengaboys are attempting a comeback.

Tim: The first time I heard this, I thought, “Oh God, the Vengaboys are back, doing a rubbish song filled with cheap innuendo, where they want to say ‘Rock It to Your Anus’ but that would be too rude.” Then, however, I watch the video and I’m pleasantly surprised to discover I was wrong – it is actually a song about a real space mission! As their YouTube channel says, ‘it’s about personal freedom and interplanetary travel.’

I don’t think you can mention Perez (who, it seems, used to be the baby in the Teletubbies – who knew?) without also mentioning Pete Burns, who has an army of bikini-clad warriors trying to destroy a dance party but whose one weakness seems to be dance music – go figure.

It’s a slight shame that they resorted to really really tacky innuendo (a cock-shaped rocket? Seriously?) despite the fact that they managed fine without it 10 years ago, because it means a lot of their old fans now have a(nother) reason to distance themselves from it, but for me, this just about manages to fit in the guilty pleasure category.

OMD – If You Want It

…makes me go ‘awww’ and ‘yes’ simultaneously.

Tom: OMD have a new single coming out, called “If You Want It” – and the video’s just leaked.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for OMD, or at least some of their singles, for complicated reasons that aren’t worth going into here. They’re always good at overblown, heartstring-tugging synthesiser pop, and this is no exception. Yes, the lyrics are a bit trite and the new video’s pretentious rubbish, but I don’t give a damn because that aah-aah break three minutes in bypasses all the rational bits of my music-listening brain and just makes me go ‘awww’ and ‘yes’ simultaneously.

Tim: This is great. As you say, the lyrics are slightly banal, and the video would only mean something to a public school A-level Drama student, but that’s not what the track’s there for. It’s about the music, and the music is fantastic. I’ve listened to this on repeat for the past half hour, and I’m still not tired of it. Aside from a slight low point in the first pre-chorus bit, it’s on the perfect level of energetic, and it doesn’t let up. And yes, yes, yes about the aah-aah.

Come to think of it, this is a perfect comeback track, unlike anything we’ve heard lately. It gives the old fans something to get excited about, as demonstrated by your reaction, and gets potential new fans interested and firing up Spotify to check out their back catalogue, as demonstrated by my reaction (I’d heard Enola Gay, but that was all).

Also, listening back to the Villa Nah remix they put online the other week, I really don’t think it does anything to improve the track. The Chariots of Fire-esque bit that comes in occasionally is quite nice, but aside from that I think the original is better.

Tom: I’ve just found out that OMD appeared at the Vintage Computing Festival at Bletchley Park back in June. I am genuinely gutted – like, need-a-hug gutted – that I missed that, because I think it would have been the greatest gig I could ever possibly have attended and it’s almost certainly never going to happen again.

Hanson – Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’

So this is Hanson. All grown up. With a new album. And a video which is basically the Ray Charles bit from the Blues Brothers. With Weird Al on tambourine.

…I have no idea.

So this is Hanson. All grown up. With a new album. And a video which is basically the Ray Charles bit from the Blues Brothers. With Weird Al on tambourine.

…I have no idea.

Every chorus feels like it could be the last chorus. This can be a good thing, but here it leaves me hoping that the current one is the last one.

Weird Al spanking himself with an instrument is something that should never ever have been filmed. The ‘you wanna play my guitar?’ ‘hell yeah jesus, come to me’ ‘well alright then – see if you can catch it’ that occurs 3 minutes in is horrendous. The glasses make the pianist look blind. Impressive if it were true; otherwise it’s just bloody stupid. And finally, self-applauding as a crowd never looks good. People really should know that by now.

You’ve never seen the Blues Brothers doing Twist It, have you?

Okay, so now it makes a bit more sense, although only based on the premise that reproducing a Blues Brothers scene makes sense, which is debatable to say the least. I believe most of my points still stand – although somehow the black guy can pull off the glasses, unlike the Hanson guy. It should also be mentioned that the dancing of the two guys in black makes Jedward look good.

“The black guy” is Ray Goddamn Charles.

Yes, that is his middle name.