Mr Popjustice has a pretty good record when it comes to recognising brilliant albums and I’m pleased to say his taste is as good as ever because this album really is the “first great pop album of 2005”. In fact it’s one of the greatest pop albums I’ve heard in a long time and quite possibly the best pure pop album since the 90s. A swooping statement I know, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it to be true.
Most of you should at least have some idea by now of the BWO/Alcazar/Army Of Lovers story, but for those of you to whom those names mean very little, here is a brief history. The whole phemomenon stems back to one ginger-bearded South-African Swede named Alexander Bard. He made several attempts at a pop career, including a drag act named Barbie, and in 1987, the year I too was born, he formed a pop group with his friends Jean-Pierre Barda and La Camilla called Army Of Lovers. They were glamorous, flamboyant and very very camp! Their music was electronic discopop from the start with styles ranging from dance/club songs to ballads. A Swedish 1980s Scissor Sisters, if you like. Sadly as fame arrived the band began to fight. La Camilla left and was replaced by a girl named Michaela and a new female member, Dominika joined, but eventually interest in the Army waned and Alexander began work on other acts.
First came the synthpop group Vacuum, who are still around today releasing singles in Eurpe and beyond and writing for acts such as Rachel Stevens. Then he struck gold with the fabulous Alcazar, who began as a duo and provided Alexander’s biggest UK hit with Crying At The Discotheque. They have released 2 more singles in the UK since and remain one of Sweden’s biggest pop groups, recently gaining a no.1 single with their Melodifestivalen entry Alcastar. Alexander’s next move was to join up with an ex-member of Vacuum, Marina Schiptjenko and Swedish Popstars entrant Martin Rolinski.
BWO released their debut album, Prototype, in their home country last week (it has been out a few months in Russia, where they are most popular) and I finally got hold of a copy. It only took one listen for me realise it was something pretty special. As you will know, I’m a huge fan of Alcazar, but their songs are quite varied in quality, whereas BWO are extremely consistent. Any of the album tracks could have been single releases. It is often difficult to find adjectives to describe the music I love, but there is only one suitable for this album and that is glorious. Europop and electropop are my two favourite genres of music so a combination of the two would be incredible, and BWO prove me right. Imagine the European Scissor Sisters or an electrofied Ace of Base for 2005. Does that sound like your perfect band? It certainly is mine.
Here is a track-by-track review of Prototype:
1. Sixteen Tonnes Of Hardware
This was BWO’s 3rd single and it’s one of their catchiest songs (which makes it very catchy indeed!) with a brilliant racing video. It’s so fitting that the first line sung on this album is vocodered. I challenge you not to be singing along by the final chorus.
2. Conquering America
Alexander called this BWO’s answer to Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and while it sounds very little like Kylie, it’s not undeserving of the comparison. It was their 2nd single and is probably my favourite BWO song. In a story almost as bizarre as my discovery of Scissor Sisters whilst shopping in Topshop, I first heard this song in the freezer department of Swedish supermarket ICA and was so excited that I forgot to get anything for my tea and had to live on an apple and a Plopp bar!
3. Son Of A Gun
This song begins with a piano, but it only takes a few seconds to break into full-force electronica and “woah-oh-oh”s. The chorus is basically “son of a gun” repeated four times but this doesn’t stop it being yet another masterpiece from the organless Swedes. Probably not a good choice for asingle but still definitely fabulous.
4. Open Door
Now for the band’s one and only ballad, but don’t think it’ll be a slushy romantic affair or any less electro-tastic than any of their other songs. It begins a bit like Ant & Dec’s one musical triumph (yes it did exist!), When I Fall In Love, and is very lovely as they struggle not to break into another danceathon. This is going to be their 5th single and I think it could be a big hit. The Swedes love this sort of thing, and so do I. If you’re not so into the electronic sound but still want to get in on the BWO act, this is the track for you.
5. Walking The Night
A bit more Eurodance in style, this would have been huge in the 90s. It also includes my favourite bit of any BWO song, where the music pauses for Martin to profess, “cos passion is the route to my groove!” Who says cheesy can’t be beautiful at the same time? These are truly the happiest sounding songs I’ve heard, especially from a male singer. They’re positively euphoric!
6. Voodoo Magic
The verses remind me of some of the darker Alcazar songs but the chorus is as warm and bright as ever. There are plenty more “woah-oh-oh”s on show here and although it’s not quite as much of a sing-along as some of the others you can’t help but try! This is definitely the track I’d recommend to Alcazar fans – in fact if I didn’t know better I’d think it was the lovely Andreas and Magnus on vocals.
7. Sunshine In The Rain
This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It’s the most typical Europop with the cutest lyrics and melody, making me smile til my face hurts. The “woah-oh-oh”s are replaced with “ooh-la-lala”s and it namechecks London. Hurrah! This will definitely be making an appearace as the first track on any summer compilation CD I make this year.
8. Riding Through The Night
This song begins with a stage-whispered “bodies without organs” namecheck, which is always fun. It has more long notes that Open Door but a nice upbeat backing. The “woah-oh-oh”s are back with a vengeance. This is another one that I absolutely loved from first listen. Again, not a sing-along but you’re going to try your hardest anyway!
9. Say I Love You
As the title suggests, this is a love song and the lyrics are quite slushy, but the music is still dramatic and exciting. Lots of violins. There is a great music break just after 2:40, followed by a quiet version of the chorus before breaking back into the chorus again full-force for final minute of the song. Yet another triumph, although perhaps not of the levels of the songs surrounding it.
10. Rhythm Divine
I read another review which said that this reggae-styled track was the let-down of the album but that reviewer was clearly lying. No Europop album is complete without it’s token reggae song and this is one of the best, especially as it includes the words “looks like a martian invasion” and a No Doubt reference (possibly) with “the beat goes rocksteady”. This is probably my favourite song on the album after Conquering America. I just can’t help but sing, dance and clap along. This is a song of infinite aceness!
11. European Psycho
As with all great songs about psychos (see Vanilla Ninja), this begins with spooky synths and a racing, pulsing beat. The songs doesn’t actually have the title in it, which shows that BWO are cool as well as ace. It doesn’t have a proper chorus, but several sections which repeat. It’s more unusual but still excellent and very 80s.
12. Living In A Fantasy
This was the very first BWO single, and it’s a bit more laid-back than the others, but very intricate and surprisingly catchy. It shows off Alexander’s talent better than ever. It’s hard to review a song I’ve listened to so many times, but if you’re a serious electronica fan then this is the BWO song for you.
BWO’s Melodifestivalen entry and 4th Swedish single was this mid-tempo number. I’m not quite as keen on it as their other singles but it grows on me with every listen. I watched the performance (available for download here) and it was very exciting to see the trio in real moving life. Martin is scarily tall and absolutely beautiful, Alexander does a fine job of jumping up and down behind the computer/keyboard thing in his horrible jumper and Marina looked lovely, elegantly playing what my little musical instrument knowledge suggests is an electric piano in a fantastic purple dress.
14. Open Door (Disco Version)
A band like this couldn’t do a ballad without making a disco version and it’s just as good in both forms. I know I’ll be singing “heavens got an open door tonight”, which makes up most of the chorus, for weeks to come.
15. Sixteen Tonnes Of Hardware (Johan S. Remix)
Even when remixes are deemed good enough to take up album space, I rarely like them enough not to rewind back to the start of the album to hear the originals instead, but these 2 are as good as, if not better than, the originals. Whoever Johan S. is, I’m a fan!
16. Conquering America (Johan S. Remix)
If the aim of this mix was to make me feel like I’m caught up in a disco gunfight, it has been very successful. And I have to say the result is pretty incredible, but of course that’s what we’ve come to expect by now! Anyone who says pop’s glory days are over is wrong. Have a listen to Bodies Without Organs and you’ll be a positive as me that pop will be back on top soon. If we got through the good music drought of the early 90s we can definitely get through this!
Click here for a brilliant BWO website.
Click here to get your copy of Prototype.