Monday, January 31, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You on #26 - Aqua – Aquarium (1997 – MCA Records)

“Hiya Barbie
Hi Ken!
You wanna go for a ride?
Sure, Ken!
Jump in!”
Aqua's Aquarium is, for many, one of the defining albums of late 90's pop. From the instant (and over played) classic “Barbie Girl” to the anthem-esque “Roses are Red” or the bouncy, beat-dropping “Lollipop (Candyman)” this album is filled to the brim with classic late 90's dance production that can be considered on first listen as “cheesy,” but given the right volume setting and enough room to dance, one can enjoy this album as 90's pop at its very best!
Aqua's roots go back to 1989 when they were called Joyspeed. By 1994 they had their first record deal and were renamed as Aqua. After a failed single, and much disappointment, they were finally able to get a major record deal with Universal Denmark in 1996. By February 1997 they released their first complete album, Aquarium. The album was a huge success for the band. It made number one in the United Kingdom for four weeks, in Australia for three weeks, and even managed to make the top ten of the Billboard Top 100 - something rarely achieved at the time by European pop acts.
The best-known song on this album is, of course, “Barbie Girl.” The song's success was due not only to its melody and drum machine driven beats, but also to its controversial content. The track, while suggesting that it’s about a child's toy, offers sexual undertones such as "You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere," "You can touch, you can play," and "Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky-panky.” The association of sexuality with a toy and the blatant social commentary immediately put the band under a great deal of international criticism; so much so that Barbie manufacturer Mattel decided to file a lawsuit against Aqua in 2002 claiming that the song had “damaged the reputation of the Barbie brand.” Luckily, the lawsuit was later thrown out of court.
Aquarium, however, goes far beyond just “Barbie Girl.” The album is, for the most part, fast-paced and full of electric pop energy that only the Danish can provide. It also takes breaks for some slower, silly pop hits like “Be a Man,” a “serious” pop ballad, or “Turn Back Time,” a contemplative look at the passing of years, as only 90's pop can tell. The rest of the album, however, is full of synthesizers and drum machines, nasal, happy vocals and a sense of hyper pop energy that can only be matched by its own exaggerated, cute and at times melodramatic lyrics, that were not always what they seemed at be at first listen.
Aquarium is a classic pop album that just gets better with time. It may be the increasing level of “cheese” it collects over the years that makes it fun, or it may be that it's nice to listen to a pop album from a time when pop seemed to be a bit more simple and didn't take itself so seriously. Or maybe it's just that Aqua really knew how to make a truly amazing pop album true to the genre's characteristics. Regardless of why, this album is amazing.
If you're willing to step out of your shell for an hour and take yourself a little less seriously, try taking a listen to this album. It's sure to have you smiling, laughing and dancing around like a fool. A definite for a small dance party with friends. I dare you to grab this album, blare it in your car, or while you're cleaning your house and try not to sing along or bounce around!
- Chris Berstler

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