Album: Alcazar “Disco Defenders – Then” (2009)

Perhaps I’m going a little bit backwards here. After covering Alcazar’s final studio album Disco Defenders, I still have to go over the bonus disc that came with it. Only that disc is a compilation of their greatest hits. Still, I’ve never been that familiar with their catalogue so it seems like a good introduction to the rest of their recorded catalogue.

Again this has been a lot of fun for my cardio workouts at the gym, plenty of cheesy uptempo numbers at similar BPM. Not that it’s repetitive – for a group who haven’t had many albums, this is a solid selection, and I’m definitely interested to hear the other albums.

08 This is the world we live in – Odd choice for a disco remake, I’m most familiar with the Genesis version (only because my dad likes them). The translation to an uptempo is surprisingly easy, even though the song obviously wasn’t meant to be such a bouncy pop song. Sounds a bit like Upside Down by Diana Ross too, presumably that’s intentional! A solid opening track.

08 Crying at the Discoteque – Now this is the first one I’d heard, way back in 2001 when it broke the UK top 20. Another vaguely familiar sample, though I can’t place it. I think this felt a bit more like a novelty hit at the time: naff video, silver hotpants (and that was the guy). Maybe I’m just overfamiliar with this, but this doesn’t quite hit the spot like it used to. There might be some negative nostalgia at play too, but nothing too major. Still a great pop song, and it was supposed to sound a bit dated at the time, so I guess in that respect it will never be dated itself.

06 Menage à trois – Slowing the tempo a bit now, for a bit of a cringey ode to threesomes. The throwback disco sound is still present (don’t expect that to go away anytime soon). It feels a bit forced really, and they wheel out the usual stuff about being a star, Alcazar etc. They are struggling to rhyme things with ‘trois’ too, even resorting to ‘trois’ again. Just feels like they wanted to write a song to get some attention, but didn’t have any ideas of what to put in it.

08 Sexual Guarantee – The other single I remember from their first album’s success in the UK. Do they always have to shoehorn in their name? I think cardio workouts are great for this album, sitting here typing this up, I’m finding it difficult to get too excited about the music. The chorus is pretty strong and catchy, and that whole modern disco sound is pulled out pretty well. Feels at least like a good pop song in its own right instead of being a pastiche or a novelty song.

09 Don’t you want me? – Time for another cover, this time the amazing Human League hit. Not really much they can do to mess this one, and it’s a pretty straightforward reading of the classic. Sometimes that’s all I want from a cover, just a respectful update of a song I love already. I wouldn’t count this as ruining a classic, it’s not like they taped over the old version. Sure it’s a vehicle for the band to get a bit more established by aligning themselves on an known hit, but if it’s as good as this, I think it’s fine.

07 Start the fire – Another cover then? Another more unexpected one, a Billy Joel cover this time. Again it feels like a bit of a strange adaptation, but at the core it’s a strong pop song, and that’s difficult to ruin (unless you are doing some tedious indie version). The production is pretty samey, that’s the problem I’m having at the moment, it’s like they used the same backing track for most of their songs. It’s fine if you aren’t listening ‘properly’, but it’s a bit wearing if you are just in bed and had a bit of a rubbish day at work (I’d imagine…)

08 Shine on – A ballad? While my brain tries to process that bombshell, it turns out it’s got that early 00s Swedish pop feel to it, like the Max Martin hits of the time. Andreas’s vocals are pretty good, it’s a welcome change of pace from the disco frenzy I’ve been immersed in so far. I think I prefer the verses, just something a bit more subtle than the repetitive choruses. That middle 8 is pretty great too.

10 Not a sinner nor a saint – Now we’re talking, and the first of their attempts in Melodifestivalen. I’ve covered this track with my Schlager compilation reviews, but this is a real win for the group. It might not have won the contest but it’s a brilliantly put-together pop song, flows wonderfully, great drama without laying it on too thickly, and a devastating chorus.

08 Physical – I think we are veering back (even more) into gay club music now. Just because it’s camp doesn’t mean it’s got to be fun, but I think this perhaps succeeds more than some of the tracks we’ve had so far. Apart from that “boo-boo-boo” noise that I don’t know the name from, it’s a pretty straightforward club track, though pinker than most. The spoken-word bit I could have done without though.

08 Ritmo del amor – Oh goodie, another Latin-tinged track, styled in a Europop holiday novelty hit… actually it’s pretty good, that chorus is solid. It’s more like a fun track than going through the motions of a novelty hit (like I imagine Menage à trois was). The verses are a bit much of a muchness, but it all flows well. For some reason I really love the bit where they are saying Alcazar in Spanish (Alcatharrrr) repeatedly.

08 Alcastar – Oh well, if you are going to put your name in every song anyway, why not take that to the next level? Their 2nd Melodifestivalen entry, but I don’t think it quite measures up to Not A Sinner Nor A Saint. That said, that I really love their harmonies and the chorus is pretty instant. The verses are a bit tepid, and the whole idea of the song doesn’t really feel like a good match for a MF (or Eurovision) entry. Another standard issue spoken-word middle 8, then key change, they aren’t re-inventing the wheel here. Still, very listenable.

07 Love Life – A bit more sedate now, with the same sort of tempo. It’s got a nice feel to it, even if it is naff as you like. It feels quite similar to the other Pet Shop Boys-penned track, ‘Baby’, but I think I prefer this one at least. The chorus just hasn’t got a lot to it, it’s not really doing it for me. I do like the inevitable spoken-word middle-8 that reads like a dating ad, but I’m not really feeling this one. Perfectly listenable though, and that’s why there have been so many 7s and 8s in my ratings. I wouldn’t be listening to this CD if there were really terrible songs on it…

09 Someday – Oh now I knew this would have some sort of cause behind it, and it turns out it was written for 2003 Stockholm Pride. So that explains the themes about loving everyone and world peace etc. It’s a bit cloying, especially when the verses are repeated endlessly, but that bridge is really heartwarming, and the chorus is really lovely, the harmonies are glorious. I wonder what this could have sounded like if they’d used it for a ‘normal’ song with their usual lyrical material, it could easily have been a solid gold classic. That key change! Really lovely, if only my heart wasn’t a bitter dried up husk.

So there we have it. Please don’t think I haven’t been objective with those ratings. I guess it was difficult to separate the pack most of the time, as they had more than a little in common. But mostly it’s quite an undemanding pleasant listen, if you need something to perk you up whilst doing some rubbish work, it’s fine. It doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, but as far as Schlager albums go, I think they’ve got plenty of great material.

Keepers for the iPod:
Crying at the discoteque, Don’t you want me, Not a sinner nor a saint, Physical, Ritmo del amor, Alcastar, Someday

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