Thursday, 24 January 2008

Album Review: Aqua – Pseudepigraphical Laodicean Epistle

Scandinavian poppets Aqua were last heard several years ago, when they topped the charts with a series of catchy bubblegum pop songs. Most famous was ‘Barbie Girl’, their tribute to the eponymous doll and her boyfriend, Ken. After several chart topping hits, including ‘Turn Back Time’ (used in the soundtrack to the film Sliding Doors) the band disappeared from the radar, and the music press assumed that Aqua had gone the way of all those other disposable pop artists.

The truth was far different. The group have spent the last seven years working on their new album, Pseudepigraphical Laodicean Epistle. Citing a new range of influences, from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to writer Robert Anton Wilson, they have created a vast, sprawling musical landscape in which the casual listener will probably lose themselves.

The main reason for the delay in releasing this album is the first track, ‘Dogs are Rarer as God’. Six years in the making from initial idea to finished work, the track is a five-minute musical palindrome. If you play the song backwards, it sounds exactly the same as when it is played normally. Bald songwriter René Dif managed to make this effect with painstaking sound recording techniques, sampling noises that sound the same when played both ways. The lyrics to the song – dealing with the subject of astronauts’ bodies turning to jelly after their return from the weightlessness of space – sound identical in each direction. Dif has said that his ultimate goal is to write a song that also sounds the same when turned inside out.

While ‘Dogs are Rarer as God’ is the standout track on the album, other songs give the recording a multi-layered structure that has rarely been seen outside the literary works of Umberto Eco. The title track of the album somehow manages to cover subjects as varied as apocryphal books of the Bible, Mayan fertility rituals, the paintings of Bridget Riley and TV show Deadwood, all in under four minutes. That it manages to touch on all of these subjects, form a cohesive whole and engage the listener (without overwhelming them), certainly says a lot for Dif’s skill as a songwriter.

And there are playful touches, too, which take this album in further Russian Doll territory. ‘La Dernier Chiffre Part 1’ is an homage to the Marquis de Sade sung in a mixture of Latin and English. Part 2 of the same song features Lene Nystrøm singing words that are formed by every other letter from the lyrics in Part 1. Under these conditions, the words form an entirely new subject, that of the Mexican feminist movement in the 1980s.

All this is, let’s not forget, from the same band who sang ‘We Are the Cartoon Heroes’.

The rest of the album is as detailed as a Heath Robinson illustration and as playful as a baby tiger. The only sour note on the entire recording is forthcoming single ‘I’m a Tiny Bee (Look at Me)’, which features on the soundtrack to the summer’s new Disney/Pixar movie, Insects in Space. But let’s not dwell on this, when the rest of the album is so very enjoyable, rich and totally unlike anything that any other toy-fixated Eurodance pop group has created.

Eight stars out of a possible nine.


Anonymous said...

so is this real or made-up??

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Apologies for not seeing your comment sooner, friend! I'm afraid this is entirely made up, the product of my overworking imagination. Or is it?

Yes, it is.