Friday, January 04, 2008

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #38 - Cartoon Heroes by Aqua

Claire: A desperate and tedious rock critic once, in dismissing the Irish band Ash, claimed the reason he didn't like them was because "bands are forever frozen at the first moment we see them" and when he first saw them, he didn't like them. Of course, this tiresome analogy doesn't apply to darlings of the indie set, such as Bob Dylan, who are allowed to evolve into whatever shapes they feel like, and be called "daring" even if all they've done is twiddle a knob on the guitar pedal. Pop acts seeking to evolve face a much harder time. They know the time in the spotlight is necessarily and generally short, but they have to cling onto the notion that just maybe they might be one of the survivors, that evolution might just see them through and avoid the chicken and scampi in a basket re-union tours of the cabaret circuit.

Aqua, of course, were we to freeze them at the first moment we saw them (in the Western markets - they had been around since 1989 in one way or another in mainland Europe), might have seemed a strange novelty, "Barbie Girl" ostensibly a colourful curio, a song that in 2008 would be a smash hit ringtone. People sneered, they had the critical acclaim of the Crazy Frog (and what was WITH the bald guy?). However, Aqua were far more angular and awkward to label than a dismissive listen might seem (the last time I saw them perform was at Eurovision where Lene delivered a positively ROCK performance full of demented, insane levels of energy), so the rumours started. Was Dr Jones about drugs? Was Lollipop about oral sex? Was future list induction Barbie Girl about sexual submission or stalking? No one seemed to mind as long as the tunes were not only silly and fun, but ridiculously entertaining, but there was always a feeling that just maybe, this band had more to say that anyone might care to admit.

Cartoon Heroes, the lead single off poorly supported second album "Aquarius", is at first glance a song about, well, cartoon heroes, and it's a fantastic tune, sawing off the more overt novelty edges of even the best songs on their first album like Dr Jones, and creating credibly (as in a good way) perfect pop. However, it's the sheer darkness of the song that gets it straight onto the list. Think about it, who are the Cartoon heroes who are "All dots and lines that speak and say/What we do is what you wish to do"? Aqua. Tired, fried out, not going to take being slagged off anymore Aqua. And who do you think "Superman, from never-neverland" is? Why, that would be Aquas producers, pushing them for more novelty hits. This is the sound of pop band rebellion, every line straining with exhaustion and complaint and, yes, angst. In true ABBA style, the second albums recording was made difficult by poor personal relationships and break ups, and the result is pissed off pop. This is one of the darkest, most subersive tunes ever recorded, it's a darkly sarcastic classic. And of course, in true I don't understand the world fahion, it's the best song they ever recorded, and it sold like ice cream in a snow storm, and Aqua collapsed in a mardy huff within 12 months. However, they were a mile away from Barbies party by this point.

So much for first impressions....

Alyson: I REALLY don't like Dr Jones, oddly, out of all the Aqua tunes, and at first I didn't know why. After all, it's catchy kitschy novelty, just as most of the first album was. I think I took it as a compliment towards Aqua after a while, once people started slagging them off, I at least knew not "all the songs sounded the same", every song had a different sense to it. And is Barbie Girl still not the most censor baiting innocently played #1 novelty hit of all time? That takes skill and craft.

It took me a while to get Cartoon Heroes (I preferred the perhaps under-appreciated and unknown Roses Are Red) but I'm to this day amazed at the sheer pissed off undertones of not just the song but the clip. There's not a smile to be found in the whole clip, made more awkward by the cutesy cartoon aliens bouncing around in it. It's an implosion, but a tuneful one at that. It's like biting into the nose of a Bubble O Bill and swallowing a razor blade.

It's absolute black magic...


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