Aqua – Aquarium (1997)

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Since I was struggling to get motivated to write a 2012 review (although I should have one later this week) and how I missed my Sunday Night Ambient, I asked Twitter to give me an album, any album, for review. My first reply was this abomination, but true to my word here is Aqua’s debut Britpop/Europop/Dance monster Aquarium.

Most people will know Aqua for their infamous hit “Barbie Girl”, which also makes an appearance on this album, luckily for us. I can’t recall having ever listening to this album before, nor anything else by this band besides the obvious, but I wasn’t optimistic. Rightly so, as it turns out.

I know we all have fond memories of the 90’s, I know I do, but behind those rose-tinted glasses of ours it’s pretty apparent that the music and tv were goddamn awful. This album honestly is the perfect ambassador for that abysmal side of pop culture at the time, and on behalf of the UK I sincerely apologise for Britpop, by and large.

Content wise, it’s pretty poor. Plenty of electronic drum sequences, stupidly overdone synths and corny lyrics, frequently processed with some godawful auto-tuning. That’s not to mention the “rapping” so exquisitely interwoven by the affectionately labelled “Baldy”. Actually, every track is spoilt by his inclusion; when the female vocals are a bit more serious (in the latter half, where the cheesiness is dialled back) they are actually half-decent, it’s obvious she has an ok singing voice, but Jesus Christ it sounds like a 14 year old putting on a deep voice trying to spit some of the most half-assed lines ever.

Honestly, the first few tracks are more or less unlistenable. Seriously, they’re awful. Once “Barbie Girl” has passed and cleared the system, it does get a little better; “Good Morning Sunshine” is a bit more downtempo with some nice Spanish guitars, for example (but that rapping though). Frustratingly, some of the tracks are actually pretty catchy in a corny way; “Doctor Jones” is sooo quintessentially 90’s it’s painful, but it does actually have a really infectious rhythm that I just can’t help but enjoy, dammit. Feeling bad about enjoying a piece of music is not a good thing.

As the album progresses, I feel I understand Aqua less and less. How can a band that produces tracks as bad as “Barbie Girl”, the Mexican themed “Heat Of The Night” and the bubblegum themed Bubblegum Pop of “Lollipop” make music like the soft melancholy of “Be A Man” and “Turn Back Time”? This album swings wildly from the cheesiest, shittiest music ever made to mildly competent, introspective pop. These late album gems don’t really have the capability to save it from itself though, and the wild inconsistency only cements its failures; the problems start with the lyrics and just escalate from there. Even when there are decent electronic beats (finally! “Roses Are Red” giving us something the 90’s are so affectionately remembered for!), Aqua just manage to find a way to ruin everything for themselves by piling terrible lyrics and even worse rapping on top in a tangle of textures.

Fuck you Hubble, you actually made me enjoy some of these tracks and now I feel dirty. I’m going for a shower.

3.5/10

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