LIST OF ARABESQUE REVIEWS:
Arabesque: Friday Night (1978) / Arabesque II: City Cats (1979) / Arabesque III: Margiot Bay (1980) / Arabesque IV: Midnight Dancer (1980) / Arabesque V: In For a Penny (1981) / Arabesque VI: Caballero (1981) / Arabesque VII: Why No Reply (1982) / Arabesque VIII: Dance Dance Dance (1983) / Arabesque IX: Time to Say "Goodbye" (1984)
Arabesque: Friday Night (1978)
Confession: I am a douche. Or at least I was eight years ago when I 'discovered' this uber-obscure Euro-disco group and decided to give them a right old scouring on my website. I remember the reason I did this: If I review too much good music without also reviewing bad music, I might cease to appreciate good music! Since then, I've discovered that I'll never stop appreciating good music, and there's always going to be an infinite supply of it. This leaves me to try to correct the sin I made all those years ago when I needlessly bashed Arabesque.
So here it goes: In reality, Arabesque are a perfectly OK Euro-disco group.
Note, however, that this particular album doesn't feature the 'classic' line-up. Michaela Rose is the only classic member here. She would be joined with Jasmin Vetter and Sandra Lauer (later Cretu) for Arabesque II. For now, we have Heike Rimbeau and Mary Ann Nail to complete the trio.
The album begins with “Hello Mr. Monkey,” which did drive me crazy when I first listened to it. These days, I hardly recognize it as a detriment to my ear drums, but its hooks and groove are very stiff. I'm surprised that one turned out to be the big hit in Japan as opposed the others. I also don't understand why, in the chorus, it's stated that Mr. Monkey “should have been a clown” even though they state in the verses that he was formerly a professional clown. Did they mean Mr. Monkey should try to get back into the business? (See what this guilt-trip is doing for me? I have to take this stuff seriously now.)
English is apparently the international language of pop music, and--being an English speaker--I'm cursed with the ability to understand the lyrics. Their fan-base was concentrated mainly in Japan and the USSR, so it's really only a minority of Arabesque listeners who understand what they're saying. Here are some of the lyrics to “The Man with the Gun.” He was caught and in jail / There were tears in his eyes / And I kissed them away / Though he said: It's unwise”. Is that unwise because his tear ducts excrete poison? If so: Awesome.
But who cares about lyrics? The international audience loved these guys because the songs themselves were catchy and danceable. I, in total contrast to the review I wrote eight years ago, even attest to actually liking a few of them. “Fly High, Little Butterfly” is my favorite. The ladies sing the chorus in such a way that it actually seems soaring. I like that they use a saxophone that blares as opposed to sucking like a vacuum, ala Kenny G. Most importantly, John Travolta told me personally that he approves of its disco beat. Granted, the song is nowhere NEAR as soaring as ABBA's “The Eagle,” but I'll count it as a perfectly decent little sister.
Other songs that keep my foot atappin' and have agreeable melodies include “Someone Waiting For You,” “Six Times a Day,” and “Friday Night.” The worst I can say about them is they are more or less forgettable. But at least they're fun, and they're also orchestrated well for disco songs. (I mean, they don't seem sappy or anything... I prefer Arabesque to The Bee Gee's Spirits Having Flown, for instance). “Love is a Game” is a ballad and thus the album's lone non-disco moment. The verses are bland, but there are hooks in the chorus that grab me unexpectedly. ...The cheezoid Euro-pop moment here is "Buggy Boy," which features a cutesy bubble organ that plays very stiffly throughout and kind of makes me gag a little. Otherwise, I notice some nicely executed vocal harmonies in there, so even the most offensive song here isn't a total waste.
Another thing that happened to me since originally reviewing these Arabesque albums is that I sat through Steve Coogan's The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon. I believe this experience has affected me profoundly. 8/15
Arabesque II: City Cats (1979)
Do you know what I mean by ultra-cheezoid Euro-pop? Listen to the first few seconds of “Peppermint Jack,” and you'll know what I mean. It features a verrrrrry cheery and bouncy electric organ, and whoever wrote it sounds like he or she was trying to emulate the dreams of somebody who overdosed on cotton candy and passed out. If you're born 'n' bred on Ted Nugent and Motorhead, listening to a song like “Peppermint Jack” will most likely kill you. I will give the song this, though: After the initial shock of listening to something so godforsakenly cute, I almost start to get caught up in its vibe. It makes me think I should put on a red-and-white striped vest and paper hat and join the cast of a European 1970s children's show as the creepy ice cream man who always smiles.
Oh, and this is where we get Arabesque's classic line-up of Sandra Lauer, Michaela Rose and Jasmin Vetter. Sandra Lauer, the new lead singer of the group, is probably most famous for being in the '90s new age group Enigma. But who knew she started out with such humble beginnings? She has a much more difficult time enunciating words in English than whoever it was she replaced, and she also sings like she's slurring or something, as though she could only barely manage to eke her way to the note that she was aiming for.
I once accused Arabesque of stealing the riff from The Beatles' “Get Back” for “Hell Driver,” but there must be at least 10,000 songs that use a similar riff. (It's not a very complicated riff.) ...But wait, are you saying there's a riff in that thing? ...In other words, rock 'n' roll? Yeah! It also has a heavy drum beat, a chorus that can be compared to arena-rock, and some surprisingly gruff electric guitar. With that said, it's far closer to ABBA than it is Aerosmith, but it's not bad!
Maybe the first Arabesque tune a pop-rock fan should hear is “Dancing in the Fire of Love,” which is such a cool song, and I'm not even kidding. It starts with a huge, blaring horn section with some fuzzy guitar injected into it before breaking into an infectious, danceable groove. It's such a shame that the lyrics are such nonsense! I mean, the title alone sounds like it belongs on a Spinal Tap album.
Another good song is titled "Lucifer's Lover" and is perhaps the ultimate proof that they never even tried finding an audience in English speaking countries. I mean, how am I not supposed to think it's about one of Arabesque ladies' aspirations to give birth to the Anti-Christ? ...Well, rest assured, it's far closer to the story of Eve, but anyway, that's another legitimately good song with good hooks and gets a pretty good groove going.
Another song with a bad title is “In the Heat of a Disco Night,” but it's well played and has a toe-tapping groove (that was maybe slightly 'borrowed' from The Bee Gees' “Stayin' Alive”). Unless you have an aversion to disco or something, you'll probably like it. “Don't Kiss a Crocodile” is another song designed for the disco-dancer crowd; it's cutsy for sure but the hooks are infectious (especially the chorus that grabs me), and I like listening to those shooting-star synthesizers someone programmed. “Rock Me After Midnight” actually uses the exact same bridge ABBA used in “Money, Money, Money.” Although it's interesting the more I've gotten used to that song the less that fact has managed to stick out at me like a sore thumb. The album's closing track, “Plastic Heart,” is OK; it sounds like Blondie's “Atomic” except it isn't quite as hooky.
Oh man. Am I really going to do this? While this album is far from perfect, it's entertaining enough. So... er... here you go, Arabesque album: 10/15. My original review dubbed it a 2, so this is the most significant rating increase that has ever occurred in the history of Don Ignacio's Music Reviews. And unless I suddenly decide I love Madonna's American Life or something horrendous like that, it's unlikely that record will ever be surpassed. (Keep this in mind for when my website becomes universally famous and that question pops up on Trivial Pursuit.)
Arabesque III: Margiot Bay (1980)
I don't understand how this could have happened. Did Mr. Monkey hit me over the head with a sturgeon? Did Peppermint Jack slip a mickey in my sweets? Did the Man With the Gun figure out what television channels I watched and infuse them with subliminal messages? I listened to these albums quite a few years ago and just hated them. But now it feels like I'm turning into the weirdest fan these guys have ever had. Oh sure, a lot of these silly bubblegum tunes are too much for even my (bubblegum-immune) system to handle, but wow! Many of these songs are a blast.
But don't be so fast counting this as an undisputed classic of 1980; as is typically the case with silly, bubblegum-type songs, they tend to lose their flavor after just a few listens. For instance, it was only 24 hours ago exactly, I remember thinking that violin part in that disco-dance tune “Bye Bye Love” was utterly melting my heart. (I went for a hike in a local park, and I had that violin part running through my mind and somehow mashed together with the gruffy guitar groove from Prefab Sprout's “Faron Young.) But it has worn off on me already! Like a pop-music sugar crash.
As a whole, I'd say Arabesque improved things from their previous album, if slightly. If nothing else, I hear evidence that our favorite German princess--Sandra Lauer--took some voice lessons and seemed far better enunciating English words. I also find some of this genuinely well written. “High Life” sounds like a Village People song; it has a catchy tune with plenty of spirit and a strong and soaring chorus. “Jingle Jangle Joe” is ABBA-esque featuring some relatively complicated chord changes and some keyboard passages that remind me of “Mamma Mia.”
If you know anything about weird fads from the late '70s and early '80s two things come to my mind: disco and adult roller skating. Well, Arabesque decided to combine both of those things to produce “Roller Star,” my vote for the best song of the album. Oh that chorus is so cutesy that it's ridiculous... But what the heck? Isn't it far more fun to join in the spirit of things than it is to sit on the sidelines and mock things? (Wouldn't it be fun if an indie-pop band released a side album featuring nothing but Arabesque covers? They'd get a whole lotta nerd-cred. At least from me.)
“Hey Catch On” has a slight '50s pop flavor and gets some energy going, but it does tend to run out of momentum by the end. “Margiot Bay” reminds me a little too much of “Chiquitita,” but it's a perfectly harmless pop ballad with a sweet chorus. “Parties in a Penthouse” and “Once in a Blue Moon” are perfectly passable Euro-disco tunes even though neither really sticks to me after they're through playing. “Take Me, Don't Break Me” was an attempt at some Kenny-Loggins-ish new wave with some heavier drums, growling pop guitar and a bubbly electric organ... But when it comes to this band, hooks are everything, and they're just not that strong in that song. I almost always prefer new wave to disco, so their weak lone attempt at it here disappoints me profoundly. “The Only Night Was a Lonely Night” is a slow, 'uplifting' ballad (with one of the band's legendary 'perplexing' titles), but it unfortunately never catches fire and thus bores me.
As a whole, this is an enjoyable album, but let's make sure we call it for what it is: Disposable. Most albums I've reviewed from this era have managed to endure through time, and moreover it seems that they were intended to endure through time. Arabesque hasn't; they were a group that merely capitalized on the trends of the era. As soon as the next new thing rolled around, they were just as quickly forgotten. (That is, apart from people who have generated a nostalgic attachment to them, and weirdos like me who seek out these sorts of leftover bits of moldy cheese left in the back of pop-music's refrigerator.) But anyway. Let us enjoy life while we still can. Let us embrace Arabesque. 10/15
Arabesque IV: Midnight Dancer (1980)
I've had “Make Love Whenever You Can” stuck in my head all week, and it's been on the verge of driving me nuts. So even though I'm giving this album a fairly high rating, I'm going to urge you very strongly to stay away from this band like the plague unless you're prepared to get bubble-gum Euro-disco songs stuck in your head.
However, if you like the musical equivalent of pure sugar cane from Euro-disco bands who were popular in Japan, then I highly recommend this album! This is also hands-down their best album for several reasons. First, and most importantly, it has their best album cover of all time. I mean, in all their other covers, they look like mannequins (at best) or blow-up toys (at worst) who were sporting the most ridiculous fashions of the era. But here, they're wearing elegant brown dresses and lounging about, looking utterly classy. The other reason why this is their best album is the pop songs are remarkably good. However, don't take that to mean Arabesque did anything different. Arabesques I through VII are very similar to one another. It's just that IV happens to have the higher concentration of good songs. (Spoiler alert: They would abandon disco in favor of synth-pop in Arabesque VIII.)
If you're a male Arabesque fan from 1980, I hope you didn't take Arabesque's very blatant promotion of male promiscuity too close to heart in “Make Love Whenever You Can.” (Make love whenever you can / Believe me baby / Not every now and again / I tell you baby / Make love whenever you can / You'll be a newborn man) ...That's right; I'm suggesting Arabesque gave a few of their fans AIDS. But at least they got an infectious Euro-disco song to go along with their infectious disease. I also find that song kind of amazing, because it has two choruses. It starts right away with its most infectious one in which the girls sing “Make love!,” which is followed by the cutest synthesizer line I think I've ever heard in pop music. The second (and probably the real chorus) is far more boisterous and rather cabaret-ish. But that one's also catchy.
Sandra Lauer wasn't an especially great lead singer, but maybe saying so isn't being fair, because the only other singers I have to compare are the incomparable Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog. I will say, however, I like that growl she brings to her voice throughout “Keep the Wolf From the Door.” I mean, hearing that rrrrr coming out of her mouth is the cutest thing imaginable. That combined with an especially driven Euro-disco beat makes that by far my favorite song of the album. Also, the melody is infectious, but not infectious enough to eat away at my braincells like some of these other songs, and I appreciate that.
“Nights in the Harbor” is another brilliant ABBA rip-off. Listen to all those excellent chord-changes throughout the song--there's even a harmonically complicated and rather dramatic build-up to the chorus, which is very reminiscent of the structure of “Mamma Mia!” “Midnight Dancer” is rather odd because it has a VERY heavy synth-intro that reminds me of an early '80s news station's identification theme, and that becomes incorporated into a typical Euro-disco groove. And this groove is just about the most infectious thing I've ever heard.
“Hi Hi Highway” blatantly rip offs Chic, but like their ABBA rip-offs before it, it's a very good rip-off. Also, by default, that song wins as the most danceable (and classy?) Arabesque song ever released. I'm also surprised I enjoyed “Born to Reggae,” even though something tells me that three disco singers with thick German accents weren't actually born to reggae. No matter: The hooks are solid, it's instrumented well, and--most shocking of them all--it's not cheesy in the slightest.
But one thing these girls really hadn't been doing well in their albums was '50s rock throwbacks and new wave. There are three of these types of songs here, and they're horrendous. “You Win, Hands Down” has the most ridiculously irritating intro of any pop song I've ever heard. I mean, I think I'm hearing a kazoo there. “Hey What a Magic Night” isn't a whole lot worse, but at least they use annoying saxophones there instead of annoying kazoos. “Black Out” is more tolerable, but I still find its '50s rock overtones far more limp than energetic. Oh, why must Arabesque make songs like these?
But anyway, this Arabesque album isn't perfect. It wouldn't even have been perfect if it didn't have those three songs on it. What else is new? 11/15.
Arabesque V: In For a Penny (1981)
Wow, this is disappointing! (That's right: I've come so far in my ability to appreciate this second-tier Euro-pop band that I can actually conjure disappointment from one of their records.) I mean, where on earth did all those cheeky and insanely catchy Euro-dance numbers from their previous album go? There's nothing on here that I find even remotely as addictive or as delightfully cheeky as “Make Love Whenever You Can,” or “Midnight Dancer,” or “Nights in the Harbour” or “Hi Hi Highway.” ...It is also for that reason, I'm positive there would be quite a few listeners who'd prefer Arabesque V to any of their previous: It's not quite so obnoxious.
That's relatively speaking of course. And anyone who would describe Arabesque's previous records as obnoxious probably wouldn't bother even dabbling in their other albums. I also can't so conveniently ignore this album has the upbeat Vaudeville-styled number “The Doctor Likes Music” and the ridiculously silly Euro-pop/Tropicana hybrid “Billy's Barbeque.” So even their least obnoxious album still wouldn't let you off too easy.
I might also add that the blatant disco numbers are starting to fizzle out here; as a whole, this album is far closer in style to ABBA's The Album than it is to Voulez-Vous. I suppose disco wasn't as hot in 1981 so they were veering away from it. But it was still far too soon for these guys (i.e., pop music's least innovative musical group) to go synth-pop, which still had a year or so before it was mainstream. There are nevertheless a few disco tunes in here. One is called “Let's Make a Night of It,” which is buried as the penultimate track and has a beat you can tap your foot to and an OK chorus, but it's relatively underwhelming. The lead single for the album was the disco-ish “In For a Penny, In For a Pound,” which reminds me a little too much of “Hello Mr. Monkey” in that the melody isn't too interesting and its main groove is quite stiff.
The fact I can listen to these songs without having the wrenching feeling of wanting to upchuck my breakfast proves these guys have successfully whittled down my hard exterior and have exposed the mushy pulp inside. As I've been saying all along, Arabesque are a band best suited for people with cultural ties to Japan. If you've ever seen the opening or closing credits to one of Japan's 80,000,000 anime shows, you probably know what many of their other songs sound like. “The Rebels of the Bounty” for instance has a cute melody, tightly harmonized vocals, and bright instrumentation. All they need to do is shorten it (not a bad idea), re-record the lyrics in Japanese, and they'd have another theme song to one of their one-billion programs.
“Indio Boy” is basically a clone of ABBA's “The Piper.” Although interestingly, I believe that one is far closer to genuine European folk than ABBA's version, which was only pretending. Maybe the lamest song of the bunch is the closer “I Stand By You.” It's not a poorly written song per-se, but it tries its hardest to be an uplifting, life-affirming ballad, but it's completely flaccid. Come on, if you want to change my life with your songs, you have to give them more umph!
Anyway, speaking as a newly converted Arabesque fan, I'm not too excited about this album. If they aren't being ridiculously cheeky and catchy and instilling the bizarre desire to get out a feather boa and start dancing to their songs, then I miss the point of listening to them. I'll give these songs credit all the way till Sunday for being well-written pop songs. But I'm pretty sure I'd say the same thing about The Bay City Rollers. 9/15
Arabesque VI: Caballero (1981)
This is a similar story to Arabesque V. It ranks as one of their most consistent efforts, if not most consistent effort, but lacks an especially addictive single. Don't you know how much I want there to be more songs in the world like “Make Love Whenever You Can?” That song makes me want to put on a leisure suit, a feathered wig, and join a dance party with similarly dressed European dudes. I might even let a few of them peck me on the mouth before I start slapping them on the cheek. (...Sorry, that's a very inappropriate pop culture reference to Will Smith that I'm not deleting for some reason.)
I took this album with me for a walk yesterday afternoon, and—while I note there isn't anything remotely annoying here—the experience of it just bored me. For sure, this is hardly the first time I've been bored with an album. But this is Arabesque: If I don't get their stuff the first time, I never will. It's not like these songs will ever grow on you with repeated listens. (Well, I wrote an old review of this album panning the daylights out of it, but I wrote that completely closed off to the notion of listening to second-rate ABBA clones.)
I will say this, though: The execution of this album was top-notch. I mean, listen to that blaring trumpet in the Latin-inspired “Caballero.” It sounds like that thing could rip through a crowded stadium at a bullfight. The rest of the song is orchestrated almost exactly like an ABBA song (surprise, surprise!). But it's surprisingly pretty close to matching the instrumental quality of an ABBA song: it has an appealing mixture of high-pitched synthesizers, strumming acoustic guitars, ringing electric guitars, and clean and powerful drums. Even though these guys hadn't even an ounce of ABBA's songwriting inspiration and charisma, it's nice their producers took the time and effort to actually orchestrate these things. Another song with a strong Latin influence is “Fool's Paradise.” It's not bad, but I forget about it pretty quickly. ...But I'm interested why there are two Latin songs in here. Were they hoping to find an audience in Spain or something?
When it comes down to it orchestration really isn't even that important. I'd rather listen to a wheezy voiced teenager with a harmonica and out-of-tuned guitar if his melodies interested me more. And perhaps it was just a crazy fluke I liked songs like “Make Love Whenever You Can” in the first place? (Or maybe I'm starting to live up to that Vapors song?) It might be kind of interesting for you to hear Arabesque's “Look Alive” in conjunction with ABBA's “Why Did It Have To Be Me.” They're so similar to one another that they're practically the same song and yet ABBA's version gets liftoff while Arabesque's version isn't anything more than simply being a nice song.
In good Arabesque fashion, many of these songs are unintentionally hilarious. “Tall Story Teller” appears to be about an old man affectionately called “Ballyhoo” who hits on young women by spewing fantastic stories at them. I've got to say, even though the song is the most cheezoid of the Euro-pop numbers here, that's an outrageous idea for a pop song. (“He says that Rockefeller became a millionaire / 'Cause he taught him the tips and he taught him the tricks”) Those lyrics raise a whole slew of questions. The first being why ole Ballyhoo isn't taking credit for the notorious billionaire's entire fortune. The next question is how old did someone have to be in 1981 to have been able to teach Rockefeller anything? 160? Later on in the song, the narrator admits to actually loving this man and plans to marry him sometime. However, she warns him: “Be sure if you ever gonna tell me a lie / I'm saying good bye to you.” ...European women must be psychopaths.
I really shouldn't pay attention to the lyrics. (And yet they're irresistible!) Weirdly, the best song on this album by a mile is one that was written specifically to close it: “The End of the Show.” Or perhaps the song was only written as a tidy way to close their concerts. It's oh-so-cheesy, but it's oh-so-good. The melody is sweeping and memorable, the orchestration comes fully equipped with syrupy strings and scaling pianos. And the rhyming is funny, too. (“We really felt at home tonight / We hope you like our show alright / But now it's time to say goodnight.”)
Are any of you actually thinking about buying Arabesque albums from reading these reviews? If so, then save this one for last. The pop songs are fine and are orchestrated surprisingly well, but the album really needed a few more glowing hits on it for a recommendation. 9/15
Arabesque VII: Why No Reply (1982)
I've gone totally off the deep-end, by the way, if I actually like Arabesque albums. I mean, considering how ruthlessly I panned these things as recently as 5-7 years ago, I have to start backtracking through my life to find out exactly when I lost my sanity. I'm thinking sometime in 2009 when I had three back-to-back tests in engineering school. But I at least suspect my sanity is at least somewhat intact when I listen to the ultra-cutesy Beach Boys take-off “Surfing Bahama,” which has such paper thin instrumentation and a ridiculously poor melody. Maybe the presence of the song even rattles my bones a bit, since I really like The Beach Boys, and I don't take these pale imitations lightly! (I'll certainly take tributes or homages, though... but I don't think that counts as either of those.) That song's then followed up with “Zanzibar,” which has a heavy disco beat and an appealing melody. That is where I get confused again. ...Didn't I used to hate these disco songs?
This album was released in 1982, which was not only the year disco became totally irrelevant (even in Europe), but it also happened to be the year I was born. ...Maybe that explains why I have such an inherent attraction to synth-pop? 1982 is when that form of music completely took over. I probably heard this music as an infant, and it made a mold of itself in my brain, which was as malleable as Play-Dough. I'm not inherently fond of disco, however, but it's been slowly growing on me ever since I heard “Y.M.C.A.” at a roller-rink that one time in the '90s and started gliding to its beat.
I do very much enjoy the opening song, “Why No Reply,” which is a blatant disco number. There's nothing else to say, really, other than it has a catchy melody, a danceable beat, and I enjoy the rubbery funk guitar and the horn section. My favorite song of the album is probably the distinctly ABBA-esque “Moorea.” (Have I ever mentioned that Arabesque liked to model themselves after ABBA as closely as they could without evoking lawsuits?) It has a pretty, twinkling atmosphere, a soaring chorus and a sweet vocal performance from Sandra Lauer. (Regarding Sandra Lauer, does she look like she might be part-chipmunk to anyone else?) The worst thing about the song is that the melody could have been better.
Even though this is another fun Arabesque album, by far my biggest complaint about this album happens to be the same complaint I had about their previous album: There's nothing here in particular I would dub pop-crack. And I need to score more pop-crack. Desperately. Give me more songs from Arabesque IV, please. Thanks. Unfortunately, I guess, these songwriters don't have the magic formula to create these great bits of pop-crack terribly often. Technically speaking, “A New Sensation” is a whole lot like “Make Love (Whenever You Can);” it has a cute, bubblegum disco beat and bright violin lines that counter-act the melody. But it just doesn't quite have the same kind of infectious charisma. I guess you either got it or you don't, and that song plum doesn't.
And then there are songs like “Young Fingers Get Burnt” that make me feel the utter fool for listening to this band in the first place. These songs not only make me rue the day I ever decided to review these guys, but it makes me double-rue the day I decided to actually take them seriously. ...I mean, that thing has horrid-Eurovision-song written all over it. It has a stiff pop-rock beat, plastic keyboards and guitars, and a candy-coated vocal performance. But then I have to recognize that the chorus really gets some traction and I almost start to like it. Oh, my stomach. Another song that I love-hate is “Rainy Love Affair,” which is a Vaudeville inspired number that is so CUTESY that it makes me want to squish a bunny. The worst thing I can say about it is the central hook is quite weak; its pop orchestration is competent and its songwriters were somehow sophisticated enough to know to include a middle-eight section seamlessly.
Oh... I could talk about more... It amazes me how much I can talk about these guys... But this review is long enough and I should get on with other things. While Arabesque is overall entertaining and filled with generally well-crafted songs, all it's missing is pure inspiration. And inspiration is kind of a difficult thing to squeeze out of a manufactured band. 9/15.
Arabesque VIII: Dance Dance Dance (1983)
Well it happened. My descent into insanity is complete. If you've scanned the track ratings, you may have noticed it already. But in case you haven't, here's what happened: There actually exists an Arabesque song that I think fully deserves an A+. I mean, I just freaking can't stop listening to it. Am I going out of my mind? And the remainder of the material here I find entirely decent. This might even be Arabesque's greatest record even though it's going to be tough to actually distinguish it as such since this is synth-pop and therefore somewhat removed from their classic Euro-disco style. But then again, I assume the same clubs that played “Dancing in the Fire of Love” had no qualms playing the material on this album. I suppose the only real reason Arabesque had to make the jump to synth-pop in the first place was because the clubs quit playing disco.
Let's talk about the A+-scoring song, because that's just nuts. “Dance Dance Dance.” (Not to be confused with The Beach Boys' hit!) The lyrics are obtuse, but charmingly so, about the early '80s aerobic exercising trend. (“Look, no time to read a book / Aerobic dancing has you on the hook / Learn, if you go for the burn / Your body's gonna thank you in return”) ...And would you have guessed it? They're depicted wearing leotards and leg warmers on the cover of the single. The leg warmers of course are the key component to their costume. Though it's a shame those things became fashionable, since that prevented people from wearing them when they went out of style. (That is, if someone ever figures out what were the practical applications for legwarmers.) Easily the most charming portion of the song is the middle when you'll hear Michaela Rose (I think) go through a brief work-out routine. (“Kick, change, kick, change, in, out, in, out, cross, cross, clap, clap, one, two, three, four.”) But the very best thing about the song is unquestionably its melody: these guys have never been hookier. The electro-groove they start out with is as infectious as can be, and their vocal melody is fantastic. All that all builds up flawlessly into this huge chorus that I would probably sing along with if only it didn't make me feel like a complete dumb-ass. I mean, I feel embarrassed enough just listening to these guys much less praising their songs on my Blog much less bring myself to singing along with the chorus. Oh, and the synth-instrumentation is fun, especially during that playful bridge after the chorus. Man, oh, man. My taste in music is questionable.
And there's even more goodness here. “Angel Face” has the most robo-synth-pop song of the bunch. Hmmm, it seems even Arabesque weren't so immune to the influences of Kraftwerk! They get an infectious electro-dance-groove thing going, and they give it an attractive melody to boot. “Sunrise in Your Eyes” is another synth-pop number, but its soaring vocal melody gives it more of an ABBA-esque feel. And wow, these hooks are fantastic; I can't possibly dislike a song with hooks like that. That's yet another song that I find impossible to stop listening to once it gets started. My fourth-favorite song of the album is “For Your Smile,” which does start out a little off-putting with a rather jarring synth-groove, but I eventually get used to it, and they end up totally winning me over with a chorus that catches me by surprise.
The downside is the instances of blatant plagiarism are greater than any other Arabesque album I've heard before. Either that, or I've been better at catching them. “Loser Pays the Piper” is a fun tune and fitting opener, and the reason for that is because it's a thinly veiled rewrite of The Supremes' “You Can't Hurry Love.” There's a clone of ABBA's “Head Over Heels” here called “Pack it Up,” but neither the melody nor the groove matches closely enough to evoke lawsuit, so maybe that doesn't totally count as a rip-off. There's also a part in that song where it seemed the songwriters desperately wanted to turn it into a disco but couldn't because that was no longer the style.
“Stupid Boys” sounds a lot like The Thompson Twins' “We Are Detective” until they hit the chorus, which turns into this EXTREMELY cheesy '50s-pop throwback reminding me of the Muppet Babies sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan. However, easily the vilest instance of copying is the closing track “Bye Bye Superman,” which directly lifts part of its melody from The Ronettes' “Be My Baby.” In case you had any doubts that wasn't done on purpose, Sandra starts to sing “Wo-wo-wo-wo” in the chorus. Even barring the obvious plagiarism, that's a disappointing song; the only good hook is the one they ripped off, and it doesn't even flow that well with the rest of the melody. (Or maybe it just jilts me a little bit that they're not singing the chorus I'm expecting them to.) They should have just covered the song.
But anyway. This album has its flaws. I mean, this is an Arabesque album and so of course it has flaws. But it's entertaining. Take my words with a grain of salt, because I can't trust my own opinions anymore. 11/15.
Arabesque IX: Time to Say Goodbye (1984)
Oh, Arabesque. What I have sacrificed for them. Let's start with my dignity. After reviewing their previous album, I still have not been able to stop playing "Dance Dance Dance." It runs through my head all the time. Please make it stop! PLEASE!!! Speaking of “Dance Dance Dance,” I find myself very disappointed with this, their final album. While it has a few decent tunes on it, nothing here quite approaches that level of pop-crack. A few songs here are mightily catchy, but too much of the rest comes off as either underwhelming or weirdly misguided. ...In other words, this was Arabesque back to their usual standard. Well, almost.
You see, this was their first and only album made after ABBA broke up. And with no more ABBA songs to rip off, they found themselves at a loss. To compensate, they chose some a few other acts to closely mimic. For example, “Ectasy” was an obvious grab at Madonna. ...Which is a cryin' shame, because at least when they were ripping off ABBA, they were ripping off an act that I liked! With that said, I think that song's pop hooks come off as OK (I mean, I've heard worse from The Madge herself). But it's still a huge letdown. Its groove is stiff and lifeless, and worst of all, it's bereft of that good-hearted charm I've come to expect out of this group.
One song that does manage to recapture their old charm is the upbeat Euro-pop “Stop Crying For the Moon.” And that's not only because it has one of their classic, hilariously quizzical song-titles! (I mean, what on God's Green Earth does anyone have to cry about The Moon over? That celestial object happens to be tied with the stars as the most consistent thing that there's ever been recorded throughout human history.) But anyway, its synth-pop production is smooth, its hooks are about as immaculate as they could ever be, and I get positively addicted to it when I listen to it. God, make it stop. Another song I enjoy way more than I should is the title track, which not only has quite a few solid pop hooks to its name, but it also has a beat you can dance to. The album's opening song “Tropical Summer Night” is not so addictive, but at least I like its tune alright. So, good work, Arabesque.
Unfortunately, just like the previous Arabesque album, this has also its fair share of shameless plagiarism. When I was first listening to “Love's Like a Symphony,” there was something about it nagging at me. Then in a flash, I had it: “Let's Hear it For the Boy!” I mean, it's the exact same song except with a slightly changed groove and slightly altered chords. Another obvious rip-off is “Dreamin'.” And anyone who takes a quick listen should be able to figure it out in roughly two seconds: It's Michael Jackson's “Beat It!” ...Seriously, guys, you sound a whole lot better when you're not writing inferior versions of better songs.
Somehow this album doesn't truly stumble until its penultimate song “Sunset in New York” whose only sin is that it comes off as vastly uninteresting. But the closing song, “Squaw,” is the worst. Obviously they were making a play at Adam Ant there, and what a horrible idea. These girls never sounded more out-of-their-element. (And remember these are the same girls with thick German accents who'd previously done a song called “Born to Reggae.”) But despite the hiccups, I would have to award this album a low 10/15. Yes, there are a few icky spots on it, but I'd say its strong moments definitely overshadow those.
As an epilogue to these Arabesque reviews, here is what would become of its members... Our Cherished Lady of the Chipmunk, Sandra Lauer, would get married to a high profile record producer named Michael Cretu. With him by her side, she would go on to have a hugely successful solo career throughout Europe and Asia as the German-Madonna. In the '90s, she and her husband would go onto (amazingly!) become widely known throughout the world, and even in the United States, as members of the new age group Enigma. Their debut album, MCMXC a.D. would sell a whopping four million copies in the States alone!
As far as Arabesque's other two members go, they would form a duo called “Rouge” and release a few singles. However, those singles wouldn't do much of anything, and the group would fold soon thereafter. ...However, in the mid-2000s, Michaela Rose would return to us, reforming Arabesque with two new members, and embark on a series of successful tours across Europe and Asia. ...Of course, they would not tour in the USA, but that's because nobody from that country has ever heard of Arabesque. That is, except for me and my tortured soul.