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.