Apr 14

AQUA – “Doctor Jones”

Popular85 comments • 6,250 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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  1. 31
    glue_factory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I think the ‘less tempted to mark for “importance”‘ effect is great though. I mentally mark all the records here, just because it forces me to stop thinking about the influence they had, or their timeliness, or whatever and forces me to decide, would I rather hear this or Mouldy Old Dough. Which then often drives me to revise my original opinion.

  2. 32
    Rory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    A key difference between the marks Tom gives here and the marks in Q, Rolling Stone or wherever is that the person handing them out here is one and the same as the person who wrote the review. Once magazine editors get their mitts on a review you can end up with so-so write-ups accompanied by four or five stars. Here, the marks give useful additional focus to the write-up, implying either a summing-up of what was written or “despite the praise/disparagement above, I gave this a 5” or whatever. I find that interesting and valuable, and have done since the beginning, even when (or especially when) I disagree with Tom’s mark. It helps build up a cumulative sense of where Tom’s tastes lie – and even how they have evolved over 10+ years of writing Popular – which is more easily revisited than having to re-read each and every review. The marking system here also justifies the inclusion of reader marking, which provides a whole new level of fascination, especially when we look at large tranches of data, as we did the other day with our look at the annual polls.

    In my day job I spend more than half of each year with marking of some sort hanging over me (I’m in the thick of it right now). It’s usually straightforward enough to come up with a number to attach to a piece of work; the time-consuming struggle is in writing the feedback that justifies that number and agrees with it. Often after writing feedback you end up adjusting the mark, until you’re sure that you can stand by it. Then we have moderation processes to cross-check our marks with others, to be as confident as we can that we’re all marking consistently; Popular’s discussion threads and reader ratings serve something of that role. At the end of it all, some students look only at the mark and ignore the accompanying feedback. I’d be surprised if that happens here – you might as well just visit the Populist page and be done with it, and who would do that?

    What the marks do do, though, for students and for we readers here, is give a lens through which to interpret the accompanying feedback or review. Saying something is “good” and 6 or 62 is different from saying it’s “good” and 7 or 72 – not that that’s all that feedback or a review will ever say, but even the lengthiest write-up can end up capable of being interpreted in different ways by different readers. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambiguity, even mystery, but there’s also nothing wrong with an author taking that last opportunity to say “this is where I’m coming from: 3”.

    Nobody could seriously accuse Tom of being “a man sleepwalking through life” when it comes to Popular reviews; what keeps me coming back is the impression that they’re never phoned in, that he’s trying to say something fresh about something that in many cases is overfamiliar (just as Punctum is at TPL). When Popular reviews get attention elsewhere, it’s for the writing, or for the significance of the milestones reached, not for the 2/10 or 8/10 at the end of them.

  3. 33
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 24 Apr 2014 #

    To me Aqua always meant Barbie Girl and so perhaps the fact I always thought that this was by the Cartoons shows that it just isn’t up that level. (A similar problem with their next hit, which is a shift in style as well as quality)

    It would be interesting to see whether I’d have felt the same way if Doctor Jones was released before Barbie Girl and Aqua was associated with that first and foremost…or whether Barbie Girl is strong enough with all its different layers (if indeed there are layers, which is itself one of the more interesting things about it) to always eclipse its rivals.

    (With all the mark-chat, I’d give it a 7; but I’d gave Barbie Girl a ridiculously high score and was using that as a yardstick.)

  4. 34
    James BC on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Five star reviews I can see the value of – they say “Listen, you might usually skip over a review by this artist or in this genre, but you should check this out because we think it’s exceptional.” Two, three and four star ones have less of an obvious purpose, but perhaps they need to exist for the five stars to make sense.

    Q used them too sparingly, though. By reserving them for absolute stone-cold classics, they forced themselves into trying to judge what was a stone-cold classic on the first few listens, which no one can do.

  5. 35
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Like Be Here Now and On Every Street, you mean?

    In music monthly speak five stars usually mean: “Stunning Return To Form”™ and/or “we need that cover interview.”

  6. 36
    iconoclast on 24 Apr 2014 #

    What all this points to is: if you must give marks to a song or an album, how many different marks do you need? Punctum suggests two; anything more than ten is too fine-grained. And then you have to have to consider the probable appeal to someone who doesn’t listen to the genre, too.

  7. 37
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Having reviewed plenty for Pitchfork I am used to even the frilliest of marking schemes. And obviously my day job involves this kind of thing, not that I applied the wisdom of generations of researchers in “designing” the Popular scale, I just ripped off Edge magazine. If I think back to my training (late-90s) it was felt a 7 point scale got the best out of survey respondents. Absolutely nobody uses one outside research, though. (And barely within it these days).

    The five star system is totally ubiquitous now, thanks to Amazon, iTunes, TripAdvisor, Yelp etc. It makes an enormous difference to sales, by all accounts, which is why it gets gamed so much.

  8. 38
    Cumbrian on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Well off topic/Research industry geek speak coming up: I’ve never really liked odd numbered scales for questions, as I’ve tended to find you get a lot of people bailing out into the either/or camp on the mid-point. Even numbered scales tend to make people make a choice between positive and negative, even if only a weak one (which you then have to explore further but still, better some choice than nothing, when you’re trying to work out what people might actually do when faced with a choice).* Of course, if someone is genuinely undecided, a DK option is useful, but I’ve usually tried to hide them outside the frame of the scale in the survey window – like below the question or well off to the right hand side, depending on what is being asked/how it is being designed – but I’ve found that it gets used less than people congregating into the mid-point on an odd numbered scale.

    *This is coloured by the types of research I have generally done though. I can imagine them being useful outside the narrow confines of what I have been doing.

    Getting back on topic then, I do find an element of attraction in Punctum’s two point scale. Make a choice, that scale says to me. Human nature is to congregate around the middle – it’s why you can see a lot of normally distributed data sets knocking around – whereas forcing a choice and then exploring why that choice has been made (and whether it is a weak or strong preference and why, etc) seems more interesting to me.

  9. 39
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Personally, I broadly agree – though 5-point Likert scales are unlikely to go anywhere quickly. That’s part of why we don’t have a 0 out of 10 here. And the year polls here, of course, use a two-point scale (i.e. a tick box) – in discussion terms that was the thinking behind “Classic Or Dud?” back in the ILX days: force people out to the margin, or make equivocation something you had to assert rather than the default.

  10. 40
    Erithian on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Don’t know how well-remembered or otherwise this might be: which film was awarded SIX stars by Q when it came out on DVD? There’s a kind of logic to the answer…

  11. 41
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Spinal Tap I would guess?

  12. 42
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I’ve never held much faith in the middleground, and the star system has always seemed too focus group-comforting a compromising device to me. I also have plenty of doubtless wrongheaded faith that people are able to read long-form pieces about records which come to no comfortable conclusion. I certainly don’t buy the spiel about modern people being “too busy” to read long-form reviews. Too busy doing what? Checking on their smartphones what Caitlin Moran just said to India Knight about Khloe Kardashian? Watching rubbish on TV and tweeting about how bad it is? It’s not a question of laziness but a question of subtly tempting people away from easy time-filling options.

  13. 43
    weej on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Doctor Jones is such a joy all round, even more so than their previous #1. Though it obviously lacks the social commentary of Barbie Girl, that doesn’t need to matter – it’s so hook-laden and positive than a couple of performances on TOTP single-handedly converted me to the pro-pop position after five years in the indie wilderness. In the sullen-faced indie landcape of 1998 apparently serious things were afoot everywhere, though in reality most of the bands had no more depth than Aqua and something like 5% of the fun (that seems like a problem with the late 90s in general though.) I literally knew nobody else in the world who would listen to this or so much as imagine it being anything apart from utter shit, so very glad to see I’m not alone in this now. 7 is fair, but I’ll stretch to an 8.

    Re: marks and re: marks on Pitchfork, a link to this seems relevant, though you must’ve all seen it before: http://www.theonion.com/articles/pitchfork-gives-music-68,2278/

  14. 44
    Tommy Mack on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Indeed, I was powerless not to like this and decided ant man b (note v. 90s lower case throughout!) would definitely do a punk cover on the B-side of one of our many future million-selling singles…

    I was always a bit of a late adopter of pop trends – c.f. my not liking the Spice Girls until Stop (typically their first single not to reach number 1!)

  15. 45
    Rory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I much prefer Popular’s 1-10 scale to the five stars at Amazon. Users there are forced to give only whole stars, even though the overall averages display half stars. It encourages too many ratings of 4 or 5 stars, because 3 feels too damning for something you like, which pushes the overall average up: better for driving sales, but not as meaningful when every halfway-decent album ends up with a four-and-a-half star average. Here, only 17 songs out of 783 have had a four-and-a-half star average, if we count everything that has averaged 8.5 or more in the Reader Top 100, and none has achieved a five-star average.

    We get the effects of a two-point scale as well: I can’t be the only one who considers carefully whether a track is 5 versus 6 because it will determine whether I vote for it in the year-end poll. But I’m still glad that I (and Tom, and all of us collectively) can distinguish between a 6 and a 10. Some interesting number-crunching could be done around the difference between reader ratings and the percentages of readers who voted for tracks in the year-end polls. “I Feel Love” is the clear leader in the former with its 9.46 average from 48 ratings, but only 76% of 417 voters scored it 6+ in the 1977 poll (cf 84% of 547 for “Heart of Glass” in 1979, or 80% of 573 for “Wuthering Heights” in 1978). Fascinating stuff, because around such figures legends are formed. Which of those is Popular’s favourite? “I Feel Love” because of the reader ratings, “Heart of Glass” because of the polls, or “Wuthering Heights” because Tom gave that 10 and the other two 9? Not KB, I’m guessing, because there are several other Tom 10s to compete with it, and maybe not “Heart of Glass”, because six songs from 1958, 1963 and 1966 got higher percentages in their annual polls, although those had only 165, 170 and 230 voters respectively…

    Numbers are fun.

  16. 46
    Nixon on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Re Tom #30 – well obv. the blog is ace and its reputation burgeoning etc etc (and, without flattery, I think the writing is better than it’s ever been), but more prosaically, total pageviews would always be likely to increase as the number of pages increases (because you’re still getting the steady flow of long tail search traffic from people looking up Eddie Calvert or the Dreamweavers, but this year you also have the same thing from e.g. Hanson and Peter Andre fans too, and once the “new” has worn off for each post the effect should be cumulative), while higher individual page views for recent new entries might reflect that we’re (I think?) more “caught up” than ever before in terms of date of post vs. date of song and so the reader demographic is slowly changing/expanding – more people with memories of growing up listening to Usher than David Whitfield…? (he pontificated without evidence)

  17. 47
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    #46 this is all theoretically true* but actually the all-time highs in question are on the main page and main Popular page, so not as likely to be search. And it takes a new entry around 24 hours to get to 1,000 views now, whereas it used to take several days.

    *actually FT in general gets less pageviews than we used to – good thing there’s no advertisers! – because our Google and other search hits are about 1/3 of where they were a few years ago (direct hits are strongly up, referrals pretty much the same though more social now than blogs). Most of those search hits were complete junk – we used to get 10,000 unfortunate souls a year who came looking for “porn” but hadn’t turned their safesearch filters off. But in general Google skews a lot more to recency and to stuff with a big social media presence these days, and there isn’t as much of a blogsphere sustaining Popular as there used to be.

  18. 48
    flahr on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I quite like marks-out-of-ten because of a sort of mirror of the Unwanted Consistency Watch problem: it lets you claim that two records are EXACTLY as good as each other (especially if you use Spurious Decimals too). (It will probably not surprise anyone that K by Kula Shaker is exactly as good as Nuisance by Menswe@r, it is perhaps slightly less obvious that Let England Shake by PJ Harvey is exactly as good as Chill Out by The KLF.)

  19. 49
    Izzy on 24 Apr 2014 #

    35: On Every Street as a five-star record is interesting. From memory it’s tired and kind of oddly-displeased-with-itself, but far from bad and certainly more worthy of that honour than Be Here Now.

    Right, off to see if it stands up properly…

  20. 50
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Another classic Q Magazine WTF 5-star rating is Semisonic’s All About Chemistry. If you’re in the mood for investigations, of course ;)

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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?

  25. 55
    Erithian on 25 Apr 2014 #

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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”).

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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