Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate unknown is the 1998 third album Flowers by Swedish pop group Ace Of Base. Will this album be a fragrant bloom, or will it lead to a Cruel Summer? Read on…
This 14 track CD opens with the gentle summery warmth of strummed acoustic guitars of titular track Life Is A Flower. Whilst starting off sounding like Gary Barlow is about to turn up, he thankfully doesn’t. Instead, the track switches and flows effortlessly along from verse to chorus and back again, ably delivered by Linn and Jenny Berggren. This results in an uplifting song (thanks also to the lyrics), and gives it a great singalong value. The track was the lead single – returning the group to the UK top 10 – reaching a deserved #5 in the summer of 1998.
That leads on to Always Have, Always Will, which instantly screams 60’s Motown, thanks to samples of The Supremes Where Did Our Love Go, and the Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch). This instantly makes the song sound like a cover version, and affords it a wonderfully bouncy vintage sound. Thinking this is the group to deliver All That She Wants is odd, as this track is very different and utterly catchy. The track was slightly robbed when it was the UK’s third single (fourth in all), reaching #12.
Then it’s a cover of Bananarama’s hit Cruel Summer, and this bursts open like some kind of early Billie Piper single. That said, Jenny and Linn vocals do give us a very close match to Keren and Sarah from Bananarama. The synths are great here, as is the bass line, and it remains pretty faithful. The sleeve notes reveal how they were excited to be asked to cover it, so it feels more like a respectful nod rather than a take over. That aside, it gave them a #8 hit when released as the second UK single.
Next is Travel To Romantis, a third single in Germany and Scandinavia. Unfortunately, the vocals are a bit weaker and meandering here over the thumping euro beat, making it feel a bit of a filler track, or something low-NRG that the Vengaboys turned down. There is a nice haunting ‘ooh’ vocal that appears repeatedly in the background, although it doesn’t really fit with the rest of this song.
Adventures In Paradise follows this, and it’s a nice plodding mid-tempo track. The verses are sung in a fairly flat low register by Jenny and Linn, but the chorus lifts the song nicely. It kind of aimlessly wanders around, but absolutely sounds like it belongs to Ace Of Base. I wouldn’t call this paradise, it just needs a bit of an injection of energy first.
That’s followed by Dr. Sun which opens with an almost-siren line and a soft beat. Then we’re dropped in to a mid-tempo reggae-pop song, which the group found earlier success with in the 90s. As the sleeve notes, the song has three meanings – one about seeking the benefits of sunshine. The other two are clearly sexual and the sleeve notes decide not to elaborate. ‘I share it with the cream of the girls‘ the ladies sing, flanked by a deeper male vocals. It’s an easy song to listen to, and doesn’t really stray far from its initial path, apart from in the lyrics.
Cecilia follows, opening with ‘this is a song about a well known girl’, which turns out to be the Cecilia that Simon & Garfunkel sung about. The track was a single in Italy and Spain, but thankfully didn’t bother the UK charts. The track sounds like a bizarre 80’s party song that you could possibly squint and imagine the likes of Russ Abbot singing. The strings are nice though, but it’s mostly just a nonsense attempt at a credible sequel.
Next up is He Decides returning us again to the familiar reggae-pop sound. This is where Ace Of Base continue to work well, and they sound good in the verse, but the track feels weak in the chorus. The sleeve notes from Jenny reveal ‘the song was written in twenty minutes’. It kind of tells. Musically it works well though, and fits in well with the group’s sound. It just lacks that interesting moment/energy.
I Pray follows this, opening with a whoosh and some eeiry synths over a nice bass. As suggested, the song has a religious undertone, and mixes a simple pop beat with some gospel-style vocals. It works fairly well, but lacks that hook like a few of the tracks here do.
Then it’s Tokyo Girl, with dreamy vocals and wafting piano before a hard and fast dance beat drops in. There are moments where i’ve forgotten whether i’m listening to Robert Miles or DJ Sakin, given the stabby synths, galloping beat, and repetitive use of the song title. It’s musical simplicity and repetitive predictability works in its favour, resulting in a catchy track.
That’s followed by Don’t Go Away, a slower love song, slightly reminiscent of earlier hit Don’t Turn Around but with a kind of 18th century tinge courtesy of the string section. The acoustic guitars and shuffling percussion work well with Jenny’s lead vocals – and finally she gets the chance to show off the vocal power and range – and it is wonderful if not brief. This song works really well, and should have been given the single treatment. There’s a moment in the closing bars where Please Don’t Go gets lyrically nodded to. I suspect this was unintentional.
Captain Nemo follows that, and we’re staying in a slow song, this time with a nautical theme. Amongst the deep sea submarine sound effects, there’s also a flash of Jenny and Linn sounding like ABBA in the chorus harmonies. There’s some nice low heavy piano notes here and it works well.
Then it’s time for Donnie, which has a stink of 1970’s disco pop, and as the sleeve notes state ‘a Grease fabrication about summertime romancing‘. It’s a nauseating nod to a musical niche. The strings and guitar are great though, but prepare for a little bit of sick to turn up in your mouth.
This edition of the album closes with Cruel Summer (Big Bonus Mix), in what is a more of a carnival sound to it. Again, as with the other version, it bounces along effortlessly, and vocally remains loyal to the Bananarama version. There’s a load of piano thrown in as the track seems to embrace a latin music sound for a few moments, allowing the mix to build up its party feeling. It’s a lively end to this album, and one that compliments the summer feeling of the opening track.
Over all, this album is a nice collection of feel good songs, book-ended with some great tracks.
Late-90’s Ace Of Base had found a great sound – they’d carved it out from their early reggae styled pop and navigated carefully around the thumping euro dance sound. What you get here is an album with high points like Life Is A Flower, Cruel Summer (especially the mix), Don’t Go Away, Captain Nemo, and the brilliance of blending not one but two recognisable 60’s hits in Always Have, Always Will and making a new song out of them. That’s genius.
There are though, tucked in the middle, some really quite uninspiring songs too – Travel To Romantis feels lazy, and like it belongs to another dance act that aren’t as mature as AOB. Cecilia is somewhat cringeworthy – and it’s strange to think that they needed to write a sequel song for such a recognisable hit by another artist. Donnie just feels nauseatingly stylised – and a style I don’t enjoy.
Still, as a fairly long 90’s album at 14 tracks, it’s inevitable that there will be something to dislike or to find as a bit weaker. Ultimately it’s a warm continuation of their sound with bright and uplifting lyrics, and that always helps things along nicely.
- POP RESCUE 2022 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5
- 1998 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #15, certified Silver by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.49 from a British Heart Foundation store.