In another world, the crassest Number One of 1998 might have been its most chic. “Gym And Tonic” steals a name, a concept, a hook and most of a sound from Bob Sinclar’s “Gymtonic”, written with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, who also co-wrote the gorgeous Stardust hit “Music Sounds Better With You” – from which Spacedust lifts the rest of their ideas, and their band name. It’s not so much filing off the serial numbers as daubing luminous paint on them. “Music Sounds…” had just missed reaching Number One a few months before this – which meant that at the peak of French pop cool in my adult life, the sole representative of “French touch” on Popular is a knockoff by a pair of Brits with an, ahem, “deliberately cheap” video. C’est la vie.
The gap Spacedust snuck into was Jane Fonda’s refusal to license samples from her workout tape for Sinclar’s single release. Spacedust got a voice actress to re-record them, threw in a few “Music Sounds….” filtered orchestral stabs to make the track more familiar and more disco-ish, and let it loose. But away from the club, a lot of the point is lost. “Gymtonic”, less busy and eager to please than “Gym And Tonic”, is a fine enough house track to listen to, but it must have sounded a lot better – and funnier – in the club, where the strict but kindly voice of Fonda cutting across a dancefloor of jacking bodies makes for an excellent contextual gag. Mixing it of the rest of pop, though, it’s just a bit weird: at its generic end, dance music sounds a bit like aerobics tapes, and here’s a record that makes the connection all too clear – and still gets to Number One.
So to an extent this stands or falls on how generic a backing Spacedust have made. And to be honest, it’s not bad. The French sound has a woozy charm – it’s disco refracted through a prism, with different layers of production phasing up and down, giving the nagging, addictive feeling that half the track is being played a room away from you. There’s enough of that here to stop “Gym And Tonic” feeling completely rote, and the bright, five-note riff that’s the heart of both versions of the song is a good hook. But it’s a hook at war with a gimmick – and the workout parts can’t quite survive the translation from joke to novelty.