When Denmark’s perky sextet Aphabeat burst onto the music scene with the delicious Fascination in 2008 their genre of choice seemed to be the music of 1980s films directed by John Hughes. Fascination, and its follow-up 10,000 Nights, showcased a keen ear for a gold-plated melody; the former has since moved from ‘guilty pleasure’ to ‘pop classic’ on lists of songs it’s OK now to like.
Despite some solid success in the UK – debut album This Is Alphabeat reached the Top 10 – the band parted ways with their previous label and, for various reasons, their follow-up has been delayed for over four months (it was released in their native Denmark under a different title, The Spell, and with a different tracklisting). Factor in that the band have looked to early ’90s dance-pop for their inspiration, and you have a slightly underwhelming proposition.
Things start promisingly, however, with the first four songs zipping by in a blaze of joyfully cheesy beats (The Spell), ’90s rave piano (Hole In My Heart) and neat vocal interplay between singers Anders SG and Stine Bramsen (DJ). Elsewhere such musical thoroughbreds as 2Unlimited and Black Box are recalled by the hands-in-the-air rave-up that is Always Up With You and The Right Thing’s stuttered vocal loops. The spectre of Ace Of Base is apparent in the way Q&A seems to resemble a slowed down dance track, complete with repetitive chorus and synth blasts.
So far, so deliriously cheesy. Unfortunately, the remainder of The Beat Is… lacks any sparkle or panache, with the band falling foul of a very current musical disease; the Auto-Tune obsession. Bramsen’s voice is part of what makes the Alphabeat sound, so to cloak it in distortion as on the woeful Til I Get Round and the depressingly listless Chess is a curious decision to say the least.
The remainder of the album is by no means a disaster – Heat Wave and Heart Failure would make great Girls Aloud singles – it’s just that much of the joie de vivre that carried you through the first album has been sucked out by the production. Too much here relies on the same formula of simple piano motif, cheap beats and a big build up to a chorus that isn’t always worth waiting for. It’s a shame because when they get it right – as they do towards the end of Hole In My Heart where the beat builds and builds, morphing into a short blast of jungle – it’s genuinely exciting.
So, as the nostalgia vacuum sucks us back towards the ’90s (what’s next, recapturing the sound of 2004?), is this the start of a slew of pop albums referencing such luminaries as N-Trance and SNAP? Based on The Beat Is…, one hopes not, but if it is then we’re going to need to see slightly more invention and a lot more enthusiasm if this is going to work out. Fingers crossed shell suits are kept firmly where they belong, though.