It was the Year of the Lord 1992, in the month of January, on the 22nd day, and I was in Heaven. I had left the continent of Europe for the first time and landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in Honolulu. As the doors of the aircraft opened, instead of the smell of kerosene and city, tropical flower scents greeted me.
I stepped off the plane. When I hit the tarmac (how unromantic), a jolt of energy raced through me. “Welcome home,” it said, “this is where you belong.” I later learned that Hawaiians call that energy, mana.
I spent the following week in a routine of bliss. In the morning, I would wake up and walk from my hotel (one of the Waikiki Outriggers) to Ala Moana, swim for an hour, then march back to 1717 Ala Wai. There I’d have breakfast with my hosts and spend the day with them. Around 6p, we’d have dinner. Then I would go out on my own, exploring Waikiki nightlife.
That’s when I found the (now defunct) Hula’s. It billed itself as a “bar and lei stand” and offered the rarest of commodities: an open-air dance floor. Suddenly, I was freed from the then omni-present cigarette smoke and could dance the night away. And I readily did that, dancing for hours, fending off unwanted attention by simply continuing to dance when someone ground too close.
And the song that was playing like the sound track to my days was Crucified, by Army of Lovers. An outrageous band from Sweden, they combined catchy tune, killer beat, and a recognizable reference to my favorite music of the time.
(In case you are wondering, the chorus that starts at 0:24 on the video above is the main theme in the Ouverture to Mozart’s Zauberflöte)
When I got home, I was so dismayed by the end of the trip, I actually recorded the music video to the song and watched it so many times, I must have known the number of tiles on the parquet floor that shows throughout it.
There was much to love about the video, too. Less about the content (it was simply silly), more about the performers. The religious references in the lyrics puzzled me – was this going to be a silly-do-good act masked as dance cult?
None of that: the second image that shows is that of the most blow-up doll looking woman ever existing on this planet (La Camilla) crooning belching out the lyrics. Her ironic smile is followed by the most outrageously flaming queen you’ll ever see in French Baroque costume (Jean-Pierre). Third in the team is the slightly dull Alexander Bard – who is also the musical centerpiece of the group.
Fast-forward 20 years. Army of Lovers is long “forgotten,” as the amazing explosion of dance music of the early 90s. I don’t go dancing anymore, ever since the remixes you hear in clubs became monotonous repetitions of the same riff for as long as required to kick out everyone who is not on drugs.
But Army of Lovers has been successfully milking their ancient successes for the same amount of time. They released a “best of album” in 2001, more than 10 years ago. And now, in a digital twist, Le Grand Docu-Soap became available as a digital download on Amazon. So I bought.
There is something to be said about never being able to leave the music of your youth. I loved the pop of the 80s, when I was in high-school. I loved the dance music of the 90s when I was just out of college. What right do I have to criticize the music of today, when it’s simply the music that will make other people happy?
Well, there is one huge problem: the explosion of pop in the 80s was not simply an issue of tastes. Unlike the disco craze of the 70s and the explosion of music in the 60s, the 80s had a technological enabler: for the first time, it was possible to create music with sounds never heard before in pop. You could do so cheaply. In fact, it was so cheap to make music, a whole new world of sounds appeared. While distribution was unchanged, production dramatically remade itself.
If you have watched the show, Friends, you may have caught an episode or two in which Ross talks about his “sound.” That turns out to be the most pathetic thing imaginable, but someone who heard the 80s remembers the quest for the new sound.
In the 90s, we had run out of sounds. We had also run out of the 80s, all in all a decade we’d rather forget. We had also run out of the Cold War. The world was suddenly a better place. Some philosophers called for the end of history. We wanted to have fun. And we did so in dance clubs.
You have to remember this was before heavy use of drugs. We had no ecstasy, no Special K, no Adderall. Drugs smelled of coke (for yuppies) and heroin (for losers). Most of the people in the clubs were mildly intoxicated on alcohol, some probably on weed. But even to a teetotaller like me, the musical choices of the intoxicated majority were fun.
Of the songs on the CD, many are eminently danceable and fun to listen to. After Crucified, the group’s biggest hit was probably Obsession, a tune with an obsessive beat and ominous undertones set to a slow rhythm (104 bpm – which makes it perfect nowadays for spinning). The video plays with imagery of nurses and mental hospitals.
My personal favorite is another slow song, Supernatural (97 bpm). In particular, the version on this CD is finally the right presentation, with the right mix of beat and lyricism (older versions sound more like a ballad).
Another standout is Let the Sunshine In. Originally part of the musical, Hair, then famous in combination with The Age of Aquarius, this was a protest song, much like the entire musical.
In the Army of Lovers rendition, the original lyrics are retained as a rap/recitativo and the chorus transformed into a disco anthem. It works, as strange as it seems, in an effect that is the reverse of the usual lampooning of sacred words.
There are more songs to discover on this CD: Sexual Revolution is a fast Latin beat; La Plage de Saint Tropez an odd throw-back to glamour in the late 50s; Give my Life a more reggae-influenced song. A few more successful covers (Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime) round out the album, plus the odd series of songs that really don’t do it for me at all. (What’s up with Heterosexuality?)