Shitty Albums is a series of reviews for, quite possibly, the worst albums on the planet.
Part III: Ace Of Base – Happy Nation
In this the age of unlimited access to more or less every bit of music ever, it’s worth casting a memory back to the days of waiting for albums to come out before you heard them, forcing yourself to put up with inane radio stations broadcasting the same playlist over and over, repeating the drivel of the day, until finally playing the song you’ve been yearning for. Imagine the disappointment you’d have encountered if, on that fateful day in 1993 you’d endured all that radio could chuck at you, to be confronted with ‘Wheel of Fortune‘, the first single on Happy Nation by Ace of Base.
The first thing that gets to me about this album is simply how bad the vocals are. Apparently singing in key is something that people don’t regard as being all that important considering it happens on this record about twice, and I’m not convinced in either case that it wasn’t accidental. Despite this, the record has sold enough copies to have been declared platinum 9 times over in the US since it’s release 21 years go, which I think is a damn fine achievement by any standards, but especially so when you put thought to the fact that the singing sounds like the desperate, yet heart wrenchingly unintelligible mutterings of a stroke victim pleading for someone to pull the plug and be set free.
The phrasing of lyrics throughout this album is also a serious area of contention for me. The way that they try to force as many syllables as possible in to one line is just unnecessary. It’s like watching a morbidly obese person with a mouthful of Big Mac trying to stuff a fat-man’s handful of fries into an already overburdened mouth. Ultimately, for most normal people, both cases lead to that disgusting feeling that overcomes you when you witness something so ultimately wrong that you resent yourself a little for not having done more to stop it.
To lighten the mood a little, or perhaps due to some kind of sound engineering mix up, the vocal harmonies on this record appear to have been switched with the dubbing of a Swedish porn flick. With more atonal screaming and wailing as the result, it is reminiscent of an ageing hooker whose motivation is gone, to the point that she’s given up trying to make it sound like she’s even enjoying herself anymore. I’d sooner see the porn film with the actual vocal harmonies on them, there’s always the mute button and 90’s Swedish porn can’t be so bad, right?
The recording itself seems to be lacking in any real depth, and I find this aspect of it quite disappointing. You would expect an album like this, which was made with the club scene in mind, to have a big sound, but it’s the opposite. Many a fine record was recorded in 1992, even in Gothenburg, which was the city which birthed this monstrosity. Quite simply, there is no excuse for the piss-poor production on this record. Yet somehow, Ace of Base are Sweden’s 3rd largest musical export and this is largely thanks to the popularity of this record. This album is to popular music what Fosters is to an ale connoisseur – watered down piss.
I remember hearing this atrocity being blasted out of the paper thin walls of the houses on my estate as a child and even then, knowing that there were two kinds of people in this world; good people, and people who somehow found something pleasurable in that record. Perhaps it was a way of torturing and intimidating the neighbours. To establish dominance by playing the crappiest record available at the time, in the way that thugs endure physical pain to show their fearlessness.
Usually, when it comes to albums which have generated such a level of commercial interest, I am inclined to go along with the “you can’t argue with that” school of thought, but this album has proved to me once again, that there are exceptions to every rule. If you bought this album, and helped make it into the global force that it is now, you owe it to me, to your friends, your family and your community to apologize. Right now. You did this, and I ought to rub your nose in it to make sure you never, EVER do it again.
Words by Rich Taylor