Decided to have a bit of a retro moment a few weeks ago and ended up going as retro as it’s possibly for me, as Happy Nation was the first ever album I bought! On the back of three massive worldwide hit singles, the album became the third biggest selling debut album of all time (Guns’n’Roses and Linkin Park had the top 2, fact fans). I hadn’t given it a spin for a long while, so let’s see how it has lasted. This is the U.S. version that I had as a kid, by the way.
08 All that she wants – When this was a big single, I was about 12. My friends and I took this all a bit literally and thought it was about this woman who steals babies. We didn’t think too much about what she was doing with the babies, but why would you? It doesn’t really SOUND like a worldwide hit does it? But that chorus is pretty unforgettable. It’s got a slow rhythm, not a lot of production going on … difficult to pin down to a genre too. But somehow it works and has survived pretty well after 18 years.
09 Don’t turn around – Oh this was momentous for me, this came out just as we were leaving middle school. A time of emotional turmoil for any pre-teen, and while I wasn’t leaving any love interests behind, on a superficial level this felt like an appropriate song for the occasion. Musically it follows the lead of All That She Wants, but has a little more to it. After all, this was a cover that had done the rounds, with Aswad taking it to #1 in the UK, and various vocalists having a go with it. I prefer this to the first song, but cheer up guys!
10 The Sign – Now THIS is the one I was waiting for. A bit more upbeat, even if that slightly morose soundbed is still there. But it’s much more melodic and happy, and that chorus really lifts this to classic status for me. Deceptively difficult for karaoke purposes, but it’s still got that magic, especially with that key-change (of sorts) near the end.
08 Young and proud – I forget what a serious-sounding album this is, and now we are into a sulky dance track. I think this has a bit more body to it than the singles, not just sparse drum effects. Still sounds super-90s but that’s part of its enduring charm. This is just the sort of dancey fluff I was looking for. Doesn’t really reach any sort of climax but it’s still pretty good.
08 Living in danger – Now I always remember that intro, has a sort of Egyptian vibe about it doesn’t it? Has a catchy chorus to it, and I love the vocals on this one. That plodding beat is there again, it’s almost a bit of a reggae beat isn’t it? As a whole song this fits together nicely and I’ve heard this loads of times without getting bored of it. Saying that, I can’t say I’d ever hear this on the radio (hypothetically) and go “YEAH!!!”.
07 Voulez-Vous danser – This just has “cheap 90s dance” written through it like a stick of rock, doesn’t it? That weird sample gives this a manic energy that I’m enjoying a lot. But it’s all a bit standard piano-dance fare that there was WAY too much of during this period. Can’t blame them of course, it’s unfair to measure it up to 2012’s tastes without a bit of leeway. She seems to really get into the vocals but my attention is starting to drift a little now.
08 Happy Nation – Probably the last big song on here for me, the title track. Released a few times as a single, it never quite caught on but I’ve got a soft spot for it. That plodding reggae beat with miserable lyrics again, but the sparing use of synths balances the whole lot quite nicely. Love those little chanting monks you hear at the start. That synthy hook that opens the song and re-appears later is just so spooky, really memorable.
08 Hear me calling – Love that intro, more energetic than anything we’ve had so far. God I love this 90s dance crap, I need to put on “Now 29” after this. It’s a nice rounded track, some fun in there too, something quite lacking in this album so far. That pervy rap bit is great, nothing says Eurodance like the ill-advised rap does it?
07 Waiting for magic (Total remix 7-inch) – I don’t know the original, but we are happily onto a bit of a roll of upbeat dance music. OK it’s all a bit generic, but the vocals are really good on the verses. Can’t say I’m too fussed about the chorus, it really falls a bit flat there, but it’s certainly listenable enough.
06 Fashion party – OK losing me now, there’s not really much to this one at all. I like the general vibe of the song, incredibly 90s production but I grew up during that time so of course I have a soft spot for it. But there’s not really much else is there? Hardly any vocals, it’s just a bit of a blank.
07 Wheel of Fortune – It might be tempting to think that “The Sign” was the big followup hit to “All that she wants” in the UK, but in reality there was a semi-flop release of “Wheel of Fortune” after that. Evidently that didn’t quite create the demand, and I can sort of understand that. Musically, it has a lot more vocals than “All that she wants” and that really helps, but it’s just a bit to similar-sounding otherwise. I always remember that intro that kicks right into the vocals, but it was perhaps too safe a choice for a follow-up single.
05 Dancer in a daydream – I’m getting a bit bored of this constant plodding dance music now. It’s decent in its own right, but without the nostalgia factor that props up some tracks, there’s little to come back to. Unfortunately this track doesn’t have that nostalgia for me, and it’s just a bit of a retread of earlier tracks. Not really feeling this at all.
05 My mind (mindless mix) – Will finish off with this, I don’t feel a need to cover the remixes of tracks I’ve done already. Again I don’t know what this sounded like in its original form, but hopefully a lot more interesting. This is more dance mulch that doesn’t really give me enough to grab onto. A bit of a nondescript ending to the album. Not really getting much out of this at all, but I suspect that’s more down to the remix than anything.
Hmm, despite its reasonably brief runtime, Happy Nation never quite hit the heights of the big singles in my opinion. Even more troubling, those singles are starting to lose their lustre. Only as contemporary pop songs I think, as postcards from the mid-90s they are ripe for nostalgia, but I struggled to get much else out of the album.
Still, I haven’t lost all hope. “Flowers” was a much more commercial pop album, and sounded all the better for it. “The Bridge” is a bit of a question-mark for me, so I may well cover that in the near future.
Keepers for the iPod: All that she wants, Don’t turn around, The Sign, Young and proud, Happy Nation, Hear me calling