'Bridge' puts Ace of Base on the path to new respect Music review: With "The Bridge," the Swedish band shows it goes far deeper than the catchy lyrics that made its reputation.

November 14, 1995|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Ace of Base gets no respect.

Popularity, sure. That they've got in spades. You don't produce the world's best-selling debut album (1993's "The Sign") without picking up a few fans along the way.

Moreover, it's reasonable to assume that "The Bridge" (Arista 18806, arriving in stores today) will only add to the the band's sales figures.

But respect? Ha! Ace of Base's greatest strength is its gift for catchy choruses, and frankly, serious music fans sneer at the very thought of catchy. Jingles, after all, are catchy, and who takes pride in humming along with "I'm stuck on Band-Aids, and Band-Aid's stuck on me"?

Serious music doesn't need to rely on such crutches. Just look at all those defiantly anti-pop bands on the alterna-rock charts, where hooks are nowhere near as important as angst, attitude and an edge. I mean, you wouldn't find Ace of Base singing lyrics like "I'm a loser, that is a fact for sure" or "I'm not normal, I know it, I don't care," would you?

Well, yes, actually. You would. In fact, you'd find those very lyrics in the second verse to "Never Gonna Say I'm Sorry," the synth-powered second song on "The Bridge."

Granted, the CD booklet renders that first line as "I'm a looser, that is a fact for sure," but hey -- Kurt Cobain made spelling mistakes, too.

Still, the point is that Ace of Base is nowhere near as shallow as people think. Delve deeper than the well-polished surfaces and infectious melodies, and you'll find considerable depth to the songs, from the subtle philosophizing of "Perfect World" to the spiritual metaphor that sustains the saga of loss and redemption in "Ravine."

Of course, it doesn't help that the Aces, being Swedish, don't always frame their thoughts in perfect English.

"Wave Wet Sand," for instance, offers this description of a fickle lover: "You are as reliable as a painting in wave wet sand/You're coming and you're going/Like the water you never end." Clever, eh? Trouble is, that's just the lyric-sheet version; what Jenny actually sings is "You are reliable like a painting " That wording may be easier to sing, but it doesn't exactly make the group seem smarter, does it?

Words, though, play only a minor role in Ace of Base's music (and not just because English isn't their primary language, either). What pushed "The Sign" up the charts was its sound, not its sense, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that "The Bridge" represents any significant change in the band's approach.

But what makes Ace of Base interesting is the basically bittersweet nature of its music. Even the band's catchiest choruses carry a whiff of sadness, a minor-key melancholy that turns even the most buoyant rhythms into something more resonant than mere dance fodder.

That's certainly the case with "The Bridge." First, the technotinged "Beautiful Life" tempers its impetuous pulse and seemingly happy message ("It's a beautiful life, oh-oh-oh-oh!") with a memorably sad melody, then "Never Gonna Say I'm Sorry" tops its "All That She Wants"-style arrangement with a vocal so tinged with regret that it's hard not to wince at the irony in lines like "I will make you happy, make you laugh." By the time it gets to the flamenco guitars and industrial-strength reggae of "My Deja Vu," the heartache implicit in the vaguely Arabic chorus hardly comes as a surprise.

But to borrow a line from that great social philosopher John Mellencamp, Ace of Base's sadness is the kind that hurts so good. If the emotion conveyed by these songs were as simple as just happy and sad, the music would be meaningless. But what "The Bridge" delivers is something more complex -- a sound that speaks simultaneously of heartache and hope, melancholy and joy, despair and release. Even better, it does so in songs that boast all the immediacy and accessibility of great pop music.

Maybe that's not as impressive as writing songs about hating yourself and wanting to die, but c'mon -- shouldn't it warrant at least a little respect?

'The Bridge'

To hear excerpts from the Ace of Base new release, "The Bridge," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6246. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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