Album Review: Aqua – “Aquarium”

Aqua released their first album, Aquarium, in 1997.  I first heard about the band when Seattle-area radio station KNHC was giving the song “Barbie Girl” heavy rotation a couple of months before the song gained attention at pop radio.  I fell in love with this song the instant I heard it, and was very pleased when “Barbie Girl” started receiving Top 40 airplay after being such a big success on KNHC.  While the band is best known for the song “Barbie Girl,” another song on the album also had some good radio success: “Turn Back Time,” which was released as a single for the film, Sliding Doors.

The album opens with “Happy Boys & Happy Girls.”  This is a very upbeat and poppy song, and one you would expect to hear from a European group doing dance-pop music.  The next song on the album is “My Oh My,” which was released as a single overseas, but not in the United States.  I really appreciated how musically, elements that sound like they came from music of the Renaissance period are included, especially since the lyrics of the song makes a lot of references to princesses and castles.  Adding these elements adds a dimension to the song, so it doesn’t sound like “just another dance-pop track from Europe.”

The third song is the notorious “Barbie Girl.”  While many may now mock and scoff at the song, I think it has a simplistic charm to it; I still listen to the song today and don’t feel embarrassed by it.  It was good to see that Aqua was able to prevail after Mattel sued the band over the song, and I liked how a judge concluded his ruling for this case by saying, “The parties are advised to chill.”  This is followed by “Good Morning Sunshine,” which was released as a single overseas, but not in America.  This is one of the “slower” songs on the album; however, it’s more of a midtempo song than a ballad.  This is the first song on the album to show that Aqua was capable of more than just typical upbeat and fun dance-pop material.

The next song on Aquarium is “Doctor Jones,” which was released as a single overseas, but not in America.  “Doctor Jones” returns to the more upbeat sound associated with Aqua. This is followed by “Heat of the Night,” which incorporates more a Spanish sound to the music; this ties in to a line in the chorus, “In the heat of the night, we are having a fiesta.”

“Be a Man” is next, and it’s the first true ballad to appear on Aquarium.  It’s also the first song on the album to only feature Lene Nystrom on vocals; all of the songs prior to this on the album featured both Lene Nystrom and Rene Dif.  This song shows that Lene has the vocal ability to sing more than just the upbeat dance-pop numbers.  This is followed by “Lollipop (Candyman),” which was the second single to be released from Aquarium in the United States.  This is another upbeat dance-pop song; unfortunately, it didn’t really fare well as the follow-up single to “Barbie Girl.”  It’s a good song, but I think that, for the American public, it just didn’t have the appeal and novelty that “Barbie Girl” had.

The next song on Aquarium is “Roses Are Red,” which was released as a single overseas, but not in America.  One of the most notable things in this song is that during parts of the song, you can hear the chorus vocals (“dum de dum de dum”) backwards; this touch helps to make this song stand out from being simply just another standard dance-pop song.  “Turn Back Time,” the third single from Aquarium in the United   States, is next on the album, and it’s the only other true ballad to appear on the album.  While “Barbie Girl” was so successful due to sales and airplay, “Turn Back Time” actually charted a little higher on the airplay charts than “Barbie Girl” did.  Just like “Be a Man,” the song “Turn Back Time” proved that Aqua was capable of writing songs with more depth than the average dance-pop song.  “Turn Back Time” is still one of my all-time favorite Aqua songs.  Aquarium closes with “Calling You,” which is another upbeat dance-pop number.

While some people may scoff at Aquarium or feel embarrassed to admit they own the album, I have to admit that I think that this is a very strong dance-pop album.  Sure, it may not be deep, but not all music has to be deep and thought-provoking.  Aquarium is a very strong album for what it is: a fun dance-pop album that is well-written and well-produced.  If you enjoy music from the mid-to-late 1990s, or have an appreciation for dance-pop music, then I would recommend giving Aquarium a chance.

I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Aquarium that my husband and I purchased.

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