Ace of Base "Greatest Hits" (Arista)
There was a time once -- I think it was the summer of '93, or perhaps the spring of '94 -- when you couldn't walk through a nightlife district in Europe without hearing the brassy intro to Ace of Base's "All That She Wants" rippling out of a club or two. The hook was physical -- on a dance floor, it ripped into your hips and snaked through your spine; even when overheard, it arched your back and charged up your step for a pace or two. Like most of the tracks on that first album, "The Sign," it was as light as cotton candy, lyrically vague and completely addictive.
At a time when America was still in thrall to Kurt Cobain's dark angst and stroking its collectively goateed chin to such chipper tunes as Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," Ace of Base was living in its own happy nation. The Swedish family act's sugary tracks offered neither pop-culture musings nor profound statements about a generation of disaffected youth -- but they had a good beat, and you could dance all night to them.
A new greatest-hits album (creatively titled "Greatest Hits") puts together a dozen tracks from the band's first eight years. It's a package that ought to have yielded one of the summer's best party CDs: Ace of Base may lack musical heft, but the band has produced track after track of effervescent, enticing pop, overquoted comparisons to Abba notwithstanding. And the new compilation does start out with a promising foursome: "All That She Wants," "The Sign," the seductive, driving "Everytime It Rains" and the compellingly cheerful celebration of "Beautiful Life."
But the album loses steam by its halfway point, trailing off with Motown ripoff "Always Have, Always Will" and ending with rather nondescript alternate mixes of two of the tracks. (The disc also offers two new songs -- the forgettable "Life Is a Flower" and bubble gum "C'est la Vie (Always 21).") In fact, the whole exercise seems both pointless and poorly executed. In what feels like a misguided attempt at impartiality, the album's previously released tracks are divided more or less evenly between the three previous albums -- bypassing the band's reggae-grooved initial European release, "Wheel of Fortune," and generally ignoring the disproportionate success of multiplatinum debut "The Sign," which held the group's best hooks and the most chart hits.
The liner notes, too, offer little more than Oscar speeches from each member. (Jonas: "I'd like to give big credits to my dear father Gvran, who's in heaven now, for always supporting me ... Thanks also to my girlfriend Birthe, my dear mother, band mates.") It's not that I really need liner notes to explicate lyrics like "It's a beautiful life, oh oh oh, I just want to be here beside you" -- but then again, I didn't really need more pouting pics from the vinyl-clad popsters, either.