Despite Denmark band Aqua’s cheeky, cheap pop Barbie girl sound they’ve come to garnish a reputation of, they’ve produced a catalog of slower, adult contemporary sounding songs throughout their career that have been criminally underrated and shoved to the side as to not taint their uptempo, campy image. I’m sure quite a few of you are scratching your heads, so before we review the single “Playmate to Jesus” off their upcoming Megalomania album, let’s do a small back story on some of Aqua’s more shining moments.
Trust me, you’re going to want to read on..
In 1998, the band released the song “Turn Back Time,” a wonderfully crafted downtempo-industrial influenced song from the movie Sliding Doors and their debut album Aquarium. “Be A Man” from the same record also displays a sense of maturity among the group. Unfortunately, that maturity vanished through their second release Aquarius, with the only inklings we have on that record coming from “Good Guys,” which doesn’t hold a candle to the previous candidates mentioned.
Thankfully, lead singer Lene Nystrom went off on her own and ensured she was more than a one trick pony by releasing Play With Me in 2003, which spawned the pop single “It’s Your Duty“. While the record was a bit more pop than what we’re talking here, songs like “Bad Coffee Day” and the Depeche Mode tinged “Scream” slightly lifted the blinds again to display a darker side to the music that sits nicely along Aqua’s discography.
Unforunately, Lene & Co. came back in May of 2011 trying to reinvent the Aqua style with a sythpop/dance style song “How R U Doin’?” but utilized a synth similar to the Thor – SH Square Bass featured in Reason 4’s virtual instruments, which is one of the synth sounds present on Far East Movement’s breakout single “G6”. As a result, Aqua flopped.
Now, they’re back and picking up the serious side of things again with a slower, 21st century downtempo-pop masterpiece entitled “Playmate to Jesus” and our ears couldn’t be more pleased than to hear the band trying once more to produce a track of a more serious caliber. It’s quite possibly one of their finest productions to date.
They’ve traded in their cartoon filled production for a more serious synthesizer sound, string samples (Or perhaps a very good sounding virtual instrument, but we’re going to go with samples judging by how they’re programmed, they don’t change too much and when they do, it’s small note changes), wonderful synth bass and a distorted snare drum make their way into the extremely pop oriented mix, almost everything sounds to be at the forefront of the mix, but then again, we have a 192kbps version of the song, as it’s not available in the U.S. iTunes store yet, so the sound quality and dynamic range has been degraded quite a bit from it’s source.
One thing is for certain though, the vocal production, as with most pop productions featured on this forum, is ace. There’s slight delay throughout the entirety of the track and a small bit of reverb is present to give depth to the moody track.
“Forgive me, please forgive the things I’ve done, every little matters here, life keeps moving on. Everlasting energy shining all over me, falling into gravity, silence and emptiness.” Lene sings over the track and while we’re unsure of who has written the track, Wikipedia lists all four members of the band, and if it’s them alone, they deserve a round of applause. While there are several moments of camp still entangled within certain parts of the lyrics (“Take my hand and follow me, it’s magical, so here we go”) it’s a more toned down and becoming version of their former selves and a change that should be celebrated.
Lyrically, it’s very good, but melodically, the chorus sometimes sounds like it’s heading in a direction Lady Antebellum took on their mega hit “Need You Now” or Taylor Swift‘s “Love Story”. It’s not a direct melodic reference, so while it’s a downfall and one that could hinder the pop group the way their “How R U Doin?” synth did, it still stands on it’s own and separates Aqua from the direct-dance/pop ripoffs that are scrambling around the industry today (Cascada, we’re looking at you).
The only other complaint with this track is that the single version cuts off an entire section of the track, Rene Dif’s more spacious bridge and while it’s an understandable cut for radio time (the album version of the song clocks in at almost 5 minutes compared to the 3.5 single edit) it’s quite a different sounding track without him. More radio friendly, with the beat never giving up is what the edit sounds like – but that’s what they’re going for, right?
Still don’t believe us that this track is a good return for the group and for Pop music? Take a listen to the track below, notice the gorgeous Vocoder synth that comes in through Lene’s voice through certain sections of the song and leave us a comment below telling us what you think of the track! And follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on your faves.
Megalomania will be released October 3rd, 2011.
Track Rating: 4/5