23
Apr 14

AQUA – “Doctor Jones”

Popular82 comments • 3,122 views

#783, 7th February 1998

doctorjones Delightful as “Doctor Jones” is, probably the most interesting thing about this record is that I’m covering it at all. “Barbie Girl” – smart as it was – was also obviously a novelty record: for Aqua to return not once but twice shows that Europop enjoyed more commercial clout in Britain than it had in years.

The classic form of Europop is the holiday smash, which sets some ground rules for the genre: it has to be catchy enough for anyone to recognise it on a minimum of encounters, and it should be essentially a-lingual – simple and nonsensical enough to make the idea of a language barrier a mockery. Pop that the polyglot audiences of Europe could embrace, when brought together in a sangria haze. With European Union – and the rise of pan-European cable channels – big cross-continental audiences weren’t just for holidays any more, and the 90s were a boom decade for Europop.

In the UK, meanwhile, Europop appealed to the new audiences being brought in by supermarkets and Woolworths. Kids liked it, casual record buyers liked it, students and post-students liked it, and it’s the sort of thing dedicated record shops tended to hold at arms’ length.

This feels a good entry to drop some broad Europop analysis in, because “Doctor Jones” is as straightforward as “Barbie Girl” was layered. It’s notionally about Indiana Jones, but there’s no sense of that in the song – only in the video, and then only as a game of dress-up (including, as Wikipedia helpfully warns us, a “stereotypical voodoo tribe”, perhaps in homage to the Indy films’ nuanced and well-researched portrayals of other cultures).

In fact, as a song “Doctor Jones” is “Barbie Girl” played absolutely deadpan: a cartoon romance two-hander – no song with Rene Dif on it is going to not be a cartoon. He sounds less slavering as he makes the transition from plastic action figure to cardboard pulp hero: Lene Nystrom sounds slightly more winsome switching from doll to damsel in distress.

What Aqua have also done, though, is absolutely stuff this song with hooks. “Barbie Girl” had two – the chorus and “let’s go party” – and they were both deliberately annoying. “Doctor Jones” bounces with them: a really pretty verse melody, “Baby I am missing you!”, the yippee-i-yoos, and a chorus just as catchy as “Barbie” but a bit less irksome. It turns out the formula works even when you strip out the satire. “Doctor Jones” is pure froth, a lot less interesting and dense than its predecessor but ultimately rather more likeable.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Patrick Mexico on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Oh Tom, I bought that the week it came out! Actually an excellent pop record… but depends on your tolerance for fellow Minnesotans the Replacements downing all punk tools and deciding to be Foreigner meets Toto.

    Then again I remember the “Get A Grip” video being unwatchable, and “Follow” being the harbinger of Mumfords/Passenger doom.

  2. 52
    Kinitawowi on 24 Apr 2014 #

    One of my uni mates had All About Chemistry, and there’s undeniably some pretty good songs on it. Not sure about five stars, but…

    XKCD taught us the problem with star ratings in #1098.

  3. 53
    Ed on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Aren’t we being a bit quick to assume that those five-star ratings in Q are all necessarily either venal or foolish? If you put together ‘On Every Street’, ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘All About Chemistry’, you’ve got a pretty well-defined aesthetic right there.

    Now, many of us would probably view that aesthetic as almost criminally wrong-headed, but you can’t deny it’s coherent. Say what you like about Q Magazine, at least it has an ethos. In commercial terms, it seems pretty successful, too: at the very least it has created a defensible market niche.

    And maybe more of us could embrace that aesthetic, if only we gave it a proper chance… But perhaps I am being too influenced by the next entry here.

  4. 54
    weej on 25 Apr 2014 #

    The road to venal and foolish is paved with the writing of criticism for a target audience / market niche rather than actually saying what you think, surely?

  5. 55
    Erithian on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Been offline since posting #40 but you’re spot on Tom!

  6. 56
    punctum on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Niches, and catering to them (reducing critics to the level of butlers), aren’t aesthetics. “Criminally wrong-headed but coherent”? You could say the same about fascism.

  7. 57
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Yes you could, as Ed himself acknowledged by using that Big Lebowski reference (“at least it was an ethos”).

  8. 58
    punctum on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Clearly my whole life has been a failure, as evinced by my inability to spot obscure references to “cult” movies.

    The overgrown student union “ethos” is actually one of the worst aspects of FT. The whole “you either GET this reference from when the rest of us were at uni or you are an ABNORMAL ALIEN BEGONE” thing. The “who’s in and who’s out” business.

  9. 59
    iconoclast on 25 Apr 2014 #

    @59: I perhaps wouldn’t be quite so harsh, but you do have a point: smug clever self-aware self-knowing cult-referential hyper-trendy shite is still shite, however you dress it up.

  10. 60
    Tommy Mack on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Isn’t the problem with Q one of white, middle-class, male self-entitlement?

    It’s basically a specialist magazine (for £50 man) that claims to be an all-encompassing overview of music (because of the priviledge and over-representation of £50 man)

    Vibe doesn’t claim to cover anything other than Hip-Hop and RnB, Mixmag doesn’t claim to cover anything except dance but Q covers ‘a bit of everything’ (which is to say a lot of white-guy music and a bit of everything else because white middle-class guys are normal and everyone else is other: ‘you might want to check out this list of the top ten reggae albums of all time but you HAVE TO HAVE OK Computer because it is a BIG IMPORTANT WHITE-GUY ALBUM).

    Perhaps I’m being a bit studenty myself in drawing Qs division of mainstream and other partly along racial lines (I’m not suggesting anyone at Q is a racist) – Let me put it another way: if you were a total hip hop head but you also owned Nevermind, OK Computer and London Calling, all which you gave an occasional play, you probably wouldn’t claim to be an authority on rock music whereas, I always imagine Q man as seeing himself as an educated and broad-minded person because he occaisionally plays What’s Going On, Legend and Blue Lines amid a load of Radiohead, Coldplay, U2 etc.

    They also gave Adam Ant’s Hits two stars so must burn in hell forever.

  11. 61
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Since I’ve never met Ed or James BC, I don’t think you can really hang a charge of FT cliqueiness on them, Punctum!

  12. 62
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Anyway, Q magazine – to be honest, I hardly notice it any more. I mean, I follow a bunch of music journos on Twitter, and Q hardly ever gets mentioned. Nobody says “Wow, did you read…?” about a Q review. If someone says something interesting in a Q interview, it’s in the papers the next day anyhow. The circulation’s halved in the last year, and readership dropped 40% the year before that. It’s scrapping for identity and readers in the middle of a bunch of roughly identical magazines, most of whom have more authority or a more clearly-defined taste. The thought of buying it is…. it’s impossible to imagine being so desperate. (Though tbh I never buy music magazines, so I’m not the best person to ask there). So while I think Tommy Mack, Ed, Punctum et al have decent points about its failings, it’s also never seemed less relevant.

    (Which suggests the question – when was Peak Q? When was the zenith of its importance in the British music scene?)

  13. 63
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #58 Everything’s a travesty with you!

    I’m not attacking you for not getting the reference. I’m just saying that your “JUST LIKE FASCISM!” point is a bit flat because Ed had already put it in his post.

  14. 64
    Cumbrian on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Re: peak Q. Isn’t it about now, maybe 6 months earlier, in Popular time? This could be my own biases speaking but when people refer to the BHN review mess, I get the feeling that they are generally talking about what Q and Select said, which would seem to indicate that their influence at that point might well have been at its zenith. Also ties in with Tommy’s reference to OK Computer earlier on – people still talk about that album coming top of some poll or other for Q at around this sort of time.

  15. 65
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I agree that Q was at its peak about here, maybe lasting into the early 00s. I would identify three signifiers of its decline:
    1) Making up a spurious “50 best” or “50 greatest” list every single issue, which always contained the same canonical bands in a slightly different order. They no longer do this, and the magazine is a bit better now.
    2) Having more lifetime achievement awards than regular awards in the Q Awards. They do still do this.
    3) The general public finally losing interest in U2, the quintessential Q band, with the release of No Line On The Horizon.

  16. 66
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    My own Peak Q was 1987-88 – it was a fine gateway drug into the harder stuff (NME/Melody Maker) and a bridge from the canon stuff I was being exposed to at school into current music. The affair came to an end shortly after I bought the first Wonder Stuff album, purely on their recommendation.

    (I think you’re right about Peak Q in general terms, though – the idea that their Best Band In The World Today award meant something, for instance)

  17. 67
    Tommy Mack on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #64 I’d say you’re pretty spot on, maybe even a little earlier, ’96-’97, basically when it was still something of a novelty for ‘alternative’ music to be massive: so you had bands like Pulp who were big enough to be on the cover of a glossy monthly but still had the sort of fanbase who’d buy a magazine because they were on the cover (I may be wrong, but I don’t imagine many Coldplay fans being particularly interested in what Chris Martin has to say – and anyway you have Twitter etc now where you can hear pop star proclomations straight from the horse’s mouth)

  18. 68
    Andy M on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #60 If they ever made any attempt to set the white-guy guitar band agenda I’d be a bit more sympathetic, it’s that they’ve always needed all the other magazines to tell them which white guys it’s OK to like before they’ll put their money down. Hence the Be Here Now thing, hence bad records like R.E.M.’s Reveal get 5 stars because when the previous record came out everyone else said them it was probably OK to like them again. Even Mojo put the White Stripes on the cover before Q did. Reading Q magazine is like reading an ‘On This Day…’ nostalgia column about bands everyone was getting excited about 3 years ago.

  19. 69
    lonepilgrim on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I started reading Q when it first came out – it was a novelty to have such a glossy, colourful representation of the music I liked. The downside of such (relatively) high production values was that it inevitably seemed to lead to a conservative editorial policy and a focus on the same few bands.
    I still read Mojo albeit with decreasing levels of interest.

  20. 70
    anto on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Following on from Q was Word which seemed torn between glorifying the olden days of yore and excitedly proclaiming anything that happened in the last ten minutes. It might have been aiming for cross-generational appeal but it often came across as the kind of magazine the two guys from ‘Peep Show’ might come up with.

  21. 71
    Rory on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #60: “you probably wouldn’t claim to be an authority on rock music whereas, I always imagine Q man as seeing himself as an educated and broad-minded person because…”

    I’ve bought maybe two issues of Q in my life, to read on trains, but there’s enough overlap in Q man’s reputed tastes and my own that I’ll take up his (straw) mantle here.

    It’s possible to see yourself as – or aspire to be – educated and/or broad-minded without claiming to be an authority on a particular branch of music. Why would Q man consider himself an authority on soul music because he occasionally plays What’s Going On? Or perhaps: what Q man would consider himself such an authority? If that album is his only soul album he’s better educated (even if only a little) than someone who’s never heard any, and if he likes it and is open to the idea that similar stuff could be good then he’s more broad-minded than somebody who dismisses all soul music out of hand, but neither implies a claim to authority.

    There must also be plenty of Q readers who dismiss entire branches of music on the basis of limited examples of it, but I doubt they’d claim authority in those types of music either, just an instinctive dislike of them. There are plenty of people who do that, not just Q people. I bet it’s happening right here! Hands up all who are dismissing the idea of five stars for All About Chemistry without ever having heard it? Keep your hands up if Q’s rating of All About Chemistry feels like further evidence of how rubbish the mag, the band and that kind of music are… even though you’ve never heard it.

    (Without wanting to rehash my stout defence of Semisonic from the Deep Blue Something thread, I have heard it, and under no influence from Q it was one of my top ten albums of that year; if I were giving it inflated Amazon stars I would have given it five, or in Popular ratings terms an 8. If Q got it wrong, they were off by a star – nothing like the three stars they were out by in the case of Be Here Now. In my opinion, of course. But then I am An Authority on BHN, along with the eight million other people who’ve bought it.)

    I wouldn’t want to underestimate the value of instinct in determining our responses to entire branches of music, even on the basis of limited examples. Those instincts can act as useful attention filters, if the examples we’ve heard are good ones. If you’ve heard and disliked OK Computer, I can be fairly confident that you won’t like much Radiohead. If you like it, you’ll probably like more of their albums. I wouldn’t be so confident if your test case were Kid A, because it isn’t a typical Radiohead album. If you’ve only heard – and hated – Be Here Now, I have no real idea whether you would like Oasis’s better, earlier stuff. I can guess that you wouldn’t like their later stuff much.

    What’s Going On, as it happens, is one of the few soul albums I own. I bought it a decade ago because it’s so highly regarded, in order to sample a genre I hadn’t really explored. I thought it was okay; it didn’t really grab me. I haven’t investigated further, but am open to the idea that there are other soul albums that would excite me more. I still make no claim to knowing much about soul in general, or even about Marvin Gaye’s overall body of work. Educated? Marginally more than before I heard it. Broad-minded? I don’t know – to the extent that I didn’t dismiss it out of hand, I suppose. An authority? Of course not.

  22. 72
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    “We will meet some actually formulaic Europop in time”. Fair enough, Wales IS in europe

  23. 73
    Jonathan on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Tom’s right: I did misread his review. Also, I was nitpicking dreadfully, even if I was being self-aware about it.

  24. 74
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Have we neglected to mention Lene’s co-credit on Girls Aloud “No Good Advice”?

  25. 75
    wichitalineman on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Ah! Thanks Alan. I was trying to remember which GA songs she had a credit on. Were there any others?

  26. 76
    tm on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Rory @ 71: that’s a fair point. I suppose there’s just such a sneery condescensionin some of Q’s copy coupled with the reverence they’re required to adopt towards the bands who advertise with them that it’s easy to assume a similar ‘oh, I know all about music’ attitude in some of their readership. But yes, I don’t mean to suggest that rock or indie fans shouldn’t dabble in other genres. There’s no law that says you have to spread yourself equally.

  27. 77
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    @75, wikip sez just one other track off the first album, though she did cover Here We Go (written by Miranda Cooper) before Girls Aloud did

  28. 78
    Mark M on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I think there were two basic ideas behind Q, one of which concerns the reviews section and the other (just as, maybe, more important) doesn’t). 1) Grown-ups don’t generally have the time or intensity to maintain the approach to rock and pop music that teenagers have and that reading the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, The Face or i-D demanded, and so would appreciate a high-production value magazine that covered a range* of stuff in a simple-to-grasp way (and it’s worth mentioning that in the mid-’80s there was precious little pop coverage in the broadsheets).

    2) That whether they were musically relevant or not, the likes of Elton John had much better stories to tell than whoever was on the cover of the NME or The Face that month. And that would make for a better read.

    Now, none of that made me want to read Q, but has kept it in business for the best part of 30 years.

    *A range that was, however, limited in many ways, obviously.

  29. 79
    PurpleKylie on 25 Apr 2014 #

    All I have to contribute to the debate: This was #1 on my 10th birthday. What a milestone!

  30. 80
    Lazarus on 26 Apr 2014 #

    And on my 35th, I see. Not a great time for personally, it was the Year of Four Jobs, but I have a Showbiz Anecdote coming up soon, and it will relate directly to an upcoming Popular act. Nothing to add about Doctor Jones I’m afraid, except that it does seem to be a common surname in pop titles, much moreso than Smith, and is this the first yodelling on a number one since Frank Ifield?

  31. 81
    Billy Hicks on 26 Apr 2014 #

    My tenth birthday #1 is a few months away, and depressingly it’s probably one of my least favourite #1s of an otherwise epic decade. But more on that when we reach September.

  32. 82
    ciaran on 28 Apr 2014 #

    I enjoyed Barbie Girl a lot and was pleasantly surprised by the somewhat positive response that got here but this just doesnt do much for me at all.

    Unexpected bunny notwithstanding this is too much of a you’ve-heard-one-you’ve-heard-em-all type hit. Once was alright but the act was wearing a bit thin here.

    2 or a 3.

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