The Sign

Ace Of Base

Arista Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in 1993, when Ace Of Base invaded American radio with their song "All That She Wants," I made a comment to a friend of mine: "Abba is back and they're pissed."

It's really hard not to make the comparison to the '70s disco supergroup. Both bands are Swedish, both promoted danceable music with a pop flavor, and both groups featured a lineup consisting of two men and two women. (In Ace Of Base's defense, three of the members are siblings - Jonas Berggren and his sisters Jenny and Linn. Ulf "Buddha" Ekberg rounds out the group.)

The difference is that Abba actually utilized live instruments, while Ace Of Base sounds completely electronic - and while their American debut The Sign features one or two good cuts, the sterile sound of the group is eventually its downfall.

The first time I listened to this album (don't ask me why I added it to the Pierce Memorial Archives in the first place; I honestly don't remember), I thought it was a bad reggae dance-hall ripoff. All I kept hearing were the beats with what was supposed to represent a jangling guitar. "All That She Wants," "Living In Danger," "Don't Turn Around" and the title track all feature this. I'll never know why such a rhythm pattern was so endearing to Ace Of Base; they did much better when they abandoned it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When Ace Of Base takes on the guise of a straight-out dance band, things really do click for them. Songs like "Young And Proud" and "My Mind (Mindless Mix)" demonstrate that there was more to this quartet than what many of us were spoon-fed on the radio. To be truthful, I don't know why tracks like these weren't pushed; had they done so, it would have made future singles like "Beautiful Life" (off The Bridge) seem more natural.

Of the songs that most listeners will know, "Don't Turn Around" and "Living In Danger" are still probably the freshest. "The Sign" still is pretty stale (maybe not enough time has passed for this one to sound fresh again), and I'll admit I've never liked "All That She Wants". Maybe part of it is the subject matter, maybe part of it is that the first verse is played in a "D" chord, and the second is dropped to a "D minor". Even if you don't know chords, you will probably hear the difference. (And I can't defend throwing an alternative mix of this song onto the end of the album. One word: "padding".)

Many of the "hidden" songs either are passable or forgettable. Tracks like "Dancer In A Daydream" and "Wheel Of Fortune" aren't that bad, while others like "Voulez-Vous Danser" almost proudly proclaim that Ace Of Base wants to be the next Abba. (I don't think this really could happen; Jenny and Linn's harmonies aren't quite as strong as Agnetha and Frida's - boy, you can't tell I'm a child of the Seventies, can you?)

Granted, part of the problem with The Sign is that it got overplayed in a very short time span; at one point, I don't think you could turn your radio on without hearing "Don't Turn Around" or "The Sign". This actually could have been the worst thing to happen to them; by the time their final hit off this album began its descent off the charts, people were tired of the band. They've never achieved close to the level of success they had with The Sign.

And in a sense, that's too bad. While I was ready to write them off completely in 1993 and 1994, Ace Of Base actually did craft some songs that are memorable and worth checking out. But The Sign is an album that leaves you with the feeling that something was waiting to be completed, and the band never reached that point to fix it. Had they been able to add the missing piece (I'd guess it would be stronger harmonies and less of a reliance on the synthesizer) and had American radio not gored us with their music constantly, they might be fondly remembered, even welcomed when their music were to come on the radio or VH-1. Instead, The Sign is an incomplete work from a band that could do better. Too bad nobody is paying attention anymore to see if they can live up to their expectations.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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