Ace of Base, Happy Nation

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 08.30.11 in Reviews

If you’re seeking Ace of Base’s multi-platinum debut album The Sign, you’ve found it – this is the title it goes by these days. When “All That She Wants” and “The Sign” invaded the global airwaves in 1993, the model for what they were up to was pretty clear: a Swedish group with two songwriting men and two singing women? It’s the new ABBA! (Calling one of their songs “Voulez-Vous Danser” just underscored that.) But Ace of Base – Ulf Ekberg and siblings Jonas, Linn and Jenny Berggren – were actually doing something trickier. There were lots of other bands at the time who’d picked up ideas from the club music of a few years earlier and figured out how to graft pop tunes onto them, and Happy Nation has plenty of house piano, orchestral stabs, acid-house bloops, “Ashley’s Roachclip”-style drums and Latin-disco synths, all zooming around the Berggren sisters’ clear but not-quite-virtuosic voices. The other part of Ace of Base’s formula, though, was a hint of doomy reggae – their off-the-beat synth chords and dub basslines gave their cheerful little melodies a rhythmic and emotional tug, and their best songs constantly shift between major and minor keys (a trick that makes “All That She Wants,” for instance, radically change its mood as it hits the chorus). Fun trivia: the only cover version here, the massive hit “Don’t Turn Around,” first appeared as a Tina Turner B-side in 1986; Ace of Base seem to have taken some cues from Aswad’s version of it, a British hit in 1998.