Review: “Casino” by Alcazar (CD, 2001)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is the 2001 edition of Casino, the debut album by Swedish nu-disco act Alcazar. Will this album be a lucky gamble, or will it leave you Crying At The Discoteque? Read on…

Alcazar - Casino (2001) album
Alcazar – Casino (2001) album

This 15 track CD bursts open with Sexual Guarantee, and this track sets the tone for quite a few of Alcazar’s songs – laden in Chic-like disco (courtesy of the Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers sample use of Chic’s disco hit My Forbidden Lover), catchy sexy pop lyrics and vocals, all mixed up with a dance beat and slick production of the late 90’s and early 2000’s that dominated the UK chart. The song is really catchy, and effortlessly bounces from verse to chorus. Despite this catchiness, its similarity to the next song on this album (but previous single), may have caused it to wrongly languish at #30 on the UK singles chart.

That’s followed by Crying At The Discoteque, which continues the infectious disco sound. This again takes influence from Edwards and Rodgers, and is aided by the core part of the song – the sample of Sheila and B.Devotion’s disco hit Spacer from 1979. Like the preceding track, this track is as catchy as hell, and easily sung too, complete with a line about Richard Gere. The track gave the trio a huge international break-through when released as the second single, and a #13 hit in the UK.

A racing beat continues in Don’t Leave Me Alone, which comes complete with some wonderful stabby lower key piano stabs. Synthpads swirl, gurgle and brood in the background, as the trio deliver this nice little pop song. The vocal harmonies between Annika, Andreas Lundstedt, and Tess work really well here, and the end result is something that sounds like a Steps album track, or a Deuce single.

Next is Almost Famous, which returns us to the nu-disco sound. Andreas once again takes the lead vocals, and he’s sounds quite comfortable with these simply delivered pop-lite lyrics. Then Annika and Tess join him for the chorus and this lifts the song up enough to keep the track bouncing along.

Paradise is next, and whilst it starts off well, Andreas’ verse feels a bit musically out of place here. The ladies get the best deal with a lighter verse and the chorus as they sing over a swirl of instruments and an incredibly funky bass guitar. There’s quite a lot going on here, but it’s a nice up-beat track.

We’re seemingly off to some kind of spacial place in Transmetropolis, which gives us waves of vocodered vocals over numerous gurgling and sweeping synths and a strong bass synth. At times, Andreas’ near-shouted vocals sound like those of Phil Oakey of The Human League. Tess and Annikafiore get some wonderfully spacey vocal harmonies. It sounds quite nice, although I reckon you can sing What Is Love? by Haddaway neatly over the top.

Stars Come Out At Night is next, a growly synth and ‘ooh’, ‘aah’, and ‘do you wanna?’ set of vocal harmonies lure us into the first verse. Again, we’re back to a Steps kind of vocal sound, but the synths are a joy here. There’s even a mysterious James Bond Theme-esque little riff at times, which gives all a great sound. The track is slightly let down by each member delivering some whispery sexy vocals of ‘it hurts to go to the discoteque‘ as we head to the end – I’m not sure what that’s about.

Next up is Paris In The Rain, and we’re safely back into what sounds like disco classic sample territory, but I can’t see the credit in the sleeve notes. In truth, it’s The Glow Of Love by Change that lends itself to this track, and it works a treat, and really sets the tone. This is a laid-back soulful song – slower in pace (think Fastlove by George Michael) that some of the earlier ones, and this allows Andreas’ vocals to really shine wonderfully. Perfect!

That’s followed by Baby Come Back, and it’s not the track covered in the 1990’s by Pato Banton (as interesting as that would have been). Instead, it’s a stomping, autotune-laden dance track. Sadly, it’s a weaker song – musically and lyrically, and the vocal effects are distracting. Definitely filler material.

Breaking Free follows this, and once again we’re in the is-that-a-disco-classic territority. At times, I swear I can hear brief nods to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive in the chorus, whilst the vocals of Tess and Annikafiore remind me at times of Baccara. When the vocals come together in this little dance song, it sounds again like Steps, Deuce, or Scooch. It’s a nice little bit of pop fluff.

The familiar vocal line of Don’t You Want Me is next, and yes, that’s a cover of The Human League’s hit. Andreas’ vocals in earlier track Transmetropolis now make sense, as the trio deliver this with great ease. It’s hard to go anywhere new with this song, so it’s a thumping dance version with a load of synth effects instead. It works pretty well, but for some bizarre reason, didn’t go anywhere near the UK chart.

Lead single Shine On follows this, and this opens with some wonderful vocals from Andreas pitched only against a piano. The ladies soon join him in some wonderfully warm harmonies as a beat drops in. We’re then a slightly downbeat set of synths over a simple beat. It’s a really nice song despite this slightly miserable start, but a bit of an odd place to begin a run of singles – this sounds like a final album single. The track lets Andreas shine perfectly.

Third single Ritmo Del Amor (translated as Rhythm Of Love, from Spanish) is next, which gives us an excuse to throw in some wonderfully bright and energetic piano, percussion, and vocals to suit. The track is pretty catchy, even if you’re not fluent in Spanish. It’s a nice little track.

Tears Of A Clone follows this. No, that’s not a typo. This is a slower, mysterious, and downbeat sound – like it’s another example of a song meant for a film soundtrack. The result is a really nice song, and the spooky sounding synths and sound effects work really well. Again Andreas’ vocals shine here, with Tess and Annika picking up some occasional backing vocals. The track is really nice, just weirdly placed on this album.

A thudding bass drum, gurgling synths, and a fast dance beat acts as a high contrast in album closer The Bells Of Alcazar. This is a song about pride and unity, and it’s hard to not want to tap your foot with the huge bass drum pounding throughout. It’s a simple track, that you could almost expect to find on a Vengaboys album, but it’s message is simple – celebration ‘just be proud of who you are’.

Then… after a false bottom…

Blues In G-Minor arrives at the 6m 57s mark. A piano and shuffling beat plays as Andreas takes the mic. The bass and synths are a bit over-powering here. This feels like a big heartfelt ballad, with some spooky piano chord sequences. The track builds wonderfully though, and Andreas gets to show off some almost rock vocals, before the song comes to its climax.

Alcazar’s lead single ‘Shine On’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is mostly a date night with disco. When the nods aren’t blatantly there with the use of Chic, Change, or Sheila B samples that stand as the core of some clever dance tracks, then the tracks are gleefully laden with nods to the genre instead. That’s all complete with the sounds of nu-disco that dominated the charts (including the UK) in the late 1990s and early 2000’s where dance beats and effects re-kindled disco once more.

Crying At The Discoteque is by far the high-point here, but Sexual Guarantee, Don’t You Want Me, and Paris In The Rain are all wonderful too. There’s two types of wonderful here though, and that might be a problem for some. Disco and some kind of downbeat shuffling cinematic sound – both are done well (Blues In G-Minor, and Stars Come Out Tonight particularly) but their juxtaposition might jar with some listeners.

There’s only a few fillers here – it’s essentially a 16 track album, so it’s inevitable really – but those were Almost Famous, Baby Come Back (which I’d have cut), and Breaking Free – they just lacked enough substance in comparison to the other tracks here.

This album might be called Casino, but it’s not much of a gamble. Get it in your ears.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 2001 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £3.19 from an eBay seller.

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