That difficult second album, eh? For Ace of Base it was made all the more difficult by the massive sales of their debut “Happy Nation“, which had become one of the biggest selling debut albums of all time worldwide, shifting 26 million copies. So it was almost inevitable that they would struggled to measure up to this success. It managed 7 million copies which is still nothing to be sniffed at, but it seemed that their best was already behind them.
For me, “Happy Nation” was one of the first albums I owned, and while I still don’t quite view it as a solid classic, it showed their talent for great pop music without the cheese. “The Bridge” saw them crashing down to Earth even more in the UK, where it didn’t even reach the top 50, after their debut went double-platinum only two years prior. As a result, it was never a very visible album for me, and it’s only now that I have thought to really listen to it.
09 Beautiful Life – The big single I remember, and a decent balls-out 90s dance pop track. It’s got a great tempo, and feels like a natural extension from the dour and sometimes a bit ploddy “Happy Nation”. The chorus is a bit basic, and the song feels like it’s over before it’s really started, but it’s a big and brassy intro.
07 Never gonna say I’m sorry – Once the beat kicks in, is that the riff from “All that she wants”? Shameless! I wasn’t really aware of this as a single, but here we are. The vocalist is a bit down on herself here (still can’t tell between Jenny & Lin), she’s a clown, a loser, but I guess she’s a loyal one, super. I never quite get over that “All that she wants” melody, and as a whole the song doesn’t do a lot for me. It’s decent enough but just a bit flimsy.
09 Lucky Love – I thought this was a bit of a crap single at the time but these days I think it’s really quite lovely. Maybe it’s because it’s AoB in sentimental reminiscent mode, open to get swept off their feet by love, but conscious that it’s a bit of a teenage dream. It’s got a nice buoyant feel to it, and the the chorus is cute as a button. I’ve just realised Max Martin co-produced these first three songs, was he big then?
08 Edge of Heaven – Bleak intro, what a downer. It reminds me of “Happy Nation” a bit more, some sultry and slow burners with even a little Latin tinge to it. That’s a nice chorus too, not too intense, and I suspect it’s about orgasms, so there’s that. Less is more I think, and this track knows it.
07 Strange Ways – Perhaps for an English audience this raised an eyebrow, as Strangeways is a maximum security prison. I like the sound of this one though, and that subtle beepy soundbed is memorable. Those verses are a bit unsettling, and the chorus doesn’t quite get going.
08 Ravine – One of the more intriguing tracks of the album, taking metaphor to the point of a narrative about a flower depicting a woman in a difficult relationship. Or maybe it’s just about a flower. The sparse clattering rhythm of the backing track is often all the song has against the vocal, so it’s a pretty minimal track. The chorus is strong and I find the whole track quite spooky and engaging.
07 Perfect World – More “Happy Nation” bonus tracks here, or they sound like them at least. I’m not sure I really get on board with this one, I don’t think much to the chorus and feel like I’ve heard this all before. The bridge (lol) is quite nice though, but I haven’t got much more to say.
07 Angel Eyes – Isn’t this sweet? A sickly 80s love song is nice enough in its way, but it’s just not very weighty. I just feel like the powerful songs have all been used up in the first 10 minutes of the album, and there’s not much energy left. It’s a sweet little song, very old-school but again it feels like it doesn’t quite get there.
06 Whispers in Blindness – More sparse acapella intros with just vocal and the beat. It would be much improved if it really felt like it went anywhere. I’m not even sure where the chorus is, they seem to have a few choices. I like her voice and everything, but I’ve forgotten the song almost as soon as it’s finished.
08 My Deja Vu – This is more like it, a melodic hook at the start, and some little bits of Latin guitar. It’s a bit naff 20 years on (wait til you get to the “Flowers” album!) but it finally feels like a song with a bit of substance. Sure they only seem to have one rhythm, the “summer dance hit” setting on their keyboard, but it’s a bit of action finally.
07 Wave wet sand – I like that creeping keyboard rhythm, it’s got a weird sinister edge to it. I end up concentrating on that a little more than the actual vocals, what IS this about? Heh…
07 Que Sera – I really didn’t need 15 tracks on this album, I’m feeling the burn and I’m sure their keyboard riff recycler probably is too. More Latin influences too, and I quite like the verses on this one. Again I feel like it’s quite similar to the “Happy Nation” stuff. I think this album is in trouble, the only songs I’ve been liking outside of the singles have been ones that sound like their previous album. Is this a creative crisis?
08 Just ‘n’ image – Is that short for “Just and image”? I think that’s a bit wrong. Either way we’ve got the beat back, and something finally befitting a 90s dance track, and doesn’t even feel like it was just a “Happy Nation” bonus track. The bad news though is that the melody doesn’t really do it for me this time. The middle-eight is pretty hot though, that’s good, bonus point.
08 Experience pearls – I feel this is a little lost in translation, maybe it’s just the grotty connotations we have with pearls these days. the pearls are solidified tears apparently. SCIENCE! The vocals are in a very high key, it takes a little while but ends up quite a nice engaging ballad. There ARE a lot of ballads aren’t there?
07 Blooming 18 – Finally there, 15 tracks in under an hour, where do they get the energy? After all these ballads they’ve decided the close the track with a pretty bouncy uptempo, again with that shade of “All that she wants” in the backing. It’s a cousin of “Lucky Love”, talking about the impatience of youth (or something). Reality is always such a drag for barely-blooming 18s… Clunky English but it’s a nice pop moment to finish us off.
There we go then. A bit disappointing I think, although it was almost certainly a more personal effort from the band. It’s just long and light on hits, light on action even, weighed down by all manner of gloomy ballads. I don’t think I’ve really missed out on much all these years, but at least I know there was a bit of lightness around the corner with 1998’s frothy “Flowers”.
Keepers for the iPod: Beautiful Life, Lucky Love, Ravine, Just ‘n’ Image