Fragma – Toca

Somewhere, lost way back in about the year 2000, lies a world of happy, meaningless – but melodic – Euro dance. One of the best examples of the field was Fragma, who appeared that year with the instrumental Toca Me. Coupled later with Coco‘s hit I Need a Miracle to become Toca’s Miracle, it became an enormous hit, and that’s pretty much the entirety of the story.

On the album Toca, the two versions of their biggest hit are the bookends, with Toca’s Miracle the opener. Fifteen years on, it’s a little harder to remember why it was so good – it’s catchy and memorable, but it does sound just a little bit dated now.

The second track is the catchy but somewhat vacuous Everytime You Need Me. It would sound great in a club, although it would probably be a bit pedestrian for modern audiences. Maria Rubia‘s vocal is strong though, and it’s difficult not to enjoy, and certainly at the time it was a worthy second single.

By the time Reach Out starts, you should have a good idea of what this album is trying to be. This is probably the weakest song on here, in lyrical and melodic terms, but it’s got pretty much the same rhythm and backing track as everything else, so it’s really difficult to fault.

You are Alive comes next, which was the third single, and nearly did as well as the other two, peaking at number 4 in the UK, and again, it’s a good song. It’s difficult to imagine it working particularly without the enormous Euro backing track though. An acoustic version would not be advisable.

The rest of the album might as well be padding – the three (or four) megahits for which Fragma would become known for the next decade or so have largely passed, and all you need now is for people to buy the album, and everybody’s happy. But they did continue, fleshing this album out with another six tracks, and even managing to come up with another one the following year.

Move On is pleasant, catchy, and entirely forgettable. Do You Really Want to Feel It? is a little darker, and stands up better as well. Again, though, with the title being pretty much the only lyric, an acoustic recording may not work entirely well.

Then comes Magic, followed by Everybody Knows and Take My Hand. All very nice fifteen years ago, but times change, and so do tastes. The main album closes, unremarkably, with Outlast, and then the baton is passed back to Toca Me, which at least is still a nice piece of turn-of-the-millennium Balearic trance. Or something.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little disappointed – I remember quite liking Fragma at the time, and vaguely thinking this album was pretty good. Has it aged badly, or have my tastes changed for the better or worse? That’s not for me to judge, but I don’t think I’ll be listening again for a while.

Your best bet might just be to track down the one or two tracks you remember, but if you desperately need the full album, it’s still available here.

Preview – Savage Garden

I was struggling to remember whether this was actually any good, and whether I should give it the oxygen of publicity, but actually the bar is pretty low on this blog, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. With a verse that sounds a lot like Macarena and a vaguely catchy chorus, this is Savage Garden, with I Want You, to celebrate the release of their new compilation The Singles, which came out a week or two ago.

No, I don’t know what a chickacherry cola is either.

Chart for stowaways – 9 January 2016

Here are this week’s top ten singles:

  1. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  2. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  3. Róisín Murphy – Exploitation
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre & Vince Clarke – Automatic
  5. MG – Pinking
  6. Conjure One feat. Hannah Ray – Kill the Fear
  7. Röyksopp – I Had This Thing
  8. Little Boots – Working Girl
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Christmas
  10. MG – Europa Hymn

Flop? The Best of Erasure’s Compilation Albums

As with Jean-Michel Jarre, whose compilation back catalogue we examined here, Erasure have just added yet another one to their list. I was actually surprised how well it performed on the charts, but it proves that they are finally being recognised as they legends they truly are.

But is Always – The Very Best Of their best compilation, or should you go for a different choice? Once an artist has more than a couple of choices on the market, it can be very difficult to choose. Let’s attempt to find out by spuriously but studiously scoring each of their compilations. Firstly, what tracks do you get on each one?

UK Chart Position Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Who Needs Love (Like That) (1985) 55 * * * *
Heavenly Action (1985) 100 * *
Oh L’Amour (1985) 85 * * * *
Sometimes (1986) 2 * * * * *
It Doesn’t Have to Be (1986) 12 * * *
Victim of Love (1987) 7 * * * * *
The Circus (1987) 6 * * * *
Ship of Fools (1988) 6 * * * * *
Chains of Love (1988) 11 * * * *
A Little Respect (1988) 4 * * * *
Stop! (1988) 2 * * * *
Drama! (1989) 4 * * *
You Surround Me (1989) 15 * * *
Blue Savannah (1990) 3 * * * *
Star (1990) 11 * * *
Chorus (1991) 3 * * * * *
Love to Hate You (1991) 15 * * * *
Am I Right? (1991) 22 * * *
Breath of Life (1992) 8 * * *
Take a Chance on Me (1992) 1 * * * *
Lay All Your Love on Me (1992) *
Voulez-Vous (1992) *
Who Needs Love (Like That) (Hamburg Mix) (1992) 10 * *
Always (1994) 4 * * * * *
Run to the Sun (1994) 6 * *
I Love Saturday (1994) 20 * * *
Stay with Me (1995) 15 * * *
Fingers & Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day) (1995) 20 * * *
Rock Me Gently (1996) * *
In My Arms (1997) 13 * * *
Don’t Say Your Love is Killing Me (1997) 23 * *
Rain (1997) * *
Freedom (2000) 27 * * *
Moon & The Sky (2001) * *
Solsbury Hill (2003) 10 * * *
Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) (2003) 14 * * *
Oh L’Amour (August Mix) (2003) 13 * +
When Will I See You Again (2003) *
Video Killed the Radio Star (2003) *
Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime (2003) *
Breathe (2005) 4 * * *
Don’t Say You Love Me (2005) 15 * *
Here I Go Impossible Again (2005) 25 * *
All This Time Still Falling Out of Love (2005) +
Boy (2006) +
I Could Fall in Love with You (2007) 21 * *
Sunday Girl (2007) 33 * *
Storm in a Teacup (2007) * *
Always 2009 (2009) * *
Be with You (2011) *
Elevation (2014) *
Sometimes (2015 Mix) (2015) *

The Scoring

Firstly, Erasure are a British duo, so it seems reasonable to score each album by the number (and size) of the UK hits that it contains. Let’s award a tenth of a point for each Top 100 hit; an extra point for each Top 40 hit; another for each Top 20 hit; one for each Top 10 hit; and another for a Top 5. Multiple tracks from the same release won’t get any extra points, and neither will the bonus tracks on Total Pop. By my calculation, that gives us:

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Tracks 21 20 41 20 16 20
Top 100 21 18 36 15 13 17
Top 40 18 17 33 15 12 15
Top 20 17 16 27 10 11 15
Top 10 12 11 16 4 6 12
Top 5 6 7 8 2 3 9
Total Carried Forward 7.4 6.9 12.0 4.6 4.5 6.8

Any compilation worth its salt should always contain a reasonable cross-section of existing material. We should therefore award points for each album that was available at the time of release. These will be distributed as follows:

  • Over 90%: 10 points
  • 80-90%: 9 points

… and so-on. For the sake of this calculation, we’ll be pretending that Union Street doesn’t exist. That gives us the following scores:

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Total from previous table 7.4 6.9 12.0 4.6 4.5 6.8
number of studio albums represented / available 5 / 5 10 / 10 12 / 12 7 / 7 * 7 / 13 10 / 15
Album points 10 10 10 10 5 6
Total Carried Forward 17.4 16.9 22.0 14.6 9.5 12.8

* Even though there were 12 albums available when Pop 2 appeared, it seems unfair to penalise it when it only ever claimed to be a second volume, so I have awarded it the full 10 points here.

Most of the compilations charted, so let’s give them a bonus for performing well, in line with the singles points above:

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Total from previous table 17.4 16.9 22.0 14.6 9.5 12.8
UK Album Chart Peak 1 15 21 9
Bonus points 5 3 2 0 0 4
Total Carried Forward 22.4 19.9 24.0 14.6 9.5 16.8

Since Total Pop is a double album, it is gaining slightly unfairly here. Clearly a double album appeals less to the casual fan. By choice, you might go for the cheapest, so let’s subtract the difference based on difference from the cheapest, using the current price of each release (courtesy of Amazon UK).

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Total from previous table 22.4 19.9 24.0 14.6 9.5 16.8
Current CD Price £4.99 £5.00 £11.66 £9.47 £13.59 £12.99
Current Download Price £7.99 £12.99 £6.19 £7.99
CD Price Difference £0.00 £0.01 £6.67 £4.48 £8.60 £8.00
Download Price Difference £1.80 £6.80 £0.00 £1.80
Points deducted 0 0.1 6.7 4.5 0 1.8
Total Carried Forward 22.4 19.8 17.3 10.1 9.5 15.0

Some of these releases come with a nice set of bonus features, so let’s add a point or two in honour of them…

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Total from previous table 22.4 19.8 17.3 10.1 9.5 15.0
Optional Bonus Features None Bonus disc with megamix Box set with live disc, extra downloads None None Two bonus discs of remixes
Points Added 0 1 5 0 0 5
Total Carried Forward 22.4 20.8 22.3 10.1 9.5 20.0

Finally, it definitely isn’t fair to listeners if you don’t try to squeeze as much as possible onto each disc, so we should subtract points for wasted space on each disc. A release therefore loses a point for each minute below 78 minutes of total possible duration.

Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992) Hits! The Very Best Of (2003) Total Pop! The First 40 Hits (2009) Pop 2! The Second 20 Hits (2009) Essential (2012) Always: The Very Best Of (2015)
Total from previous table 22.4 20.8 22.3 10.1 9.5 20.0
Possible Duration 78:00 78:00 156:00 78:00 78:00 78:00
Duration 78:24 77:52 155:54 77:30 61:02 76:01
Points deducted 0 0 0 0 -17 -2
Final score 22.4 20.8 22.3 10.1 -7.5 18.0

So there you have it! Always: The Very Best Of may be performing well in the charts as we speak, but we have proved using actual maths that it’s not quite as good as some of its predecessors. Depending on how much of a completist you want to be, you should choose between Pop! The First 20 Hits, and Total Pop! The First 40 Hits instead.

And please spare a brief thought for poor Essential, which managed to end up with negative points…

Röyksopp – The Inevitable End

Hot on the heels of the collaborative mini-album with Robyn, Do it Again, Röyksopp quickly reappeared with what they described as their last album “in this format”, The Inevitable End. Time will tell what they actually mean by that, but one can only guess that they were starting to find the two years off, two years on pattern of modern music somewhat stifling creatively. Hopefully they’ll come up with something else, rather than just disappear into obscurity, as others have before them.

But The Inevitable End is still an album that can be enjoyed on many levels. It opens with the darkly analogue sound of Skulls, hinting slightly in places at the glorious sound of their second album The Understanding (2005). The vocals are curious and heavily obscured by effects, but the overall sound is exceptional – this is a great way to enter an album.

Reworked from the Do it Again album comes Monument, now with an enormous analogue counter-melody, and sounding even better than it did originally. The standard here really is exceptionally high, and it continues, as Monument drifts into what might be the best track on this album, the adorable Sordid Affair, another piece which might have fitted beautifully on the second album alongside What Else is There?

There is an unmistakable air of introspection here. Melody AM (2001) was naïve and Nordic; The Understanding was mysterious; Junior (2009) was loud and powerful; and somehow The Inevitable End is all of those at once. But we don’t want to think of it as any kind of end, so you have to put those thoughts out of your mind.

You Know I Have to Go is the first of several collaborations on here with Jamie from The Irrepressibles, and introduces us to his exceptionally emotive voice. It’s the longest track on here, clocking in at seven and a half minutes, but it’s also quite exceptional. And then, with a bit of a bang, Susanne Sundfør turns up to deliver the brilliant Save Me. Like most of this album, it’s huge, powerful, and entirely unforgettable.

The enormous pads that herald I Had This Thing are entirely appropriate, as Jamie Irrepressible turns up to deliver an exceptional song. It was later released as one of the singles, and deservedly so – it’s absolutely brilliant.

If anything lets this album down, it’s Rong. Even then, it’s only a short and momentary blip, with Robyn suddenly and inexplicably swearing at listeners about how much she hates them. But never mind, Here She Comes Again quickly picks things up again.

A long time before this album appeared, Running to the Sea came along as its lead single, and I predicted great things for this album. Well, it’s always good to be proved right, but this song is still one of the most exceptional pieces of music that Röyksopp have ever recorded. An exceptional vocal from Susanne Sundfør, set to an enormous, moving backing track. This is truly faultless.

Any other artist could have given up after something like that, but for some reason Röyksopp keep going. All of the final three tracks, Compulsion, Coup de Grace, and Thank You are premium quality. What a send-off this is.

It would also be hard to mention this album without adding a word for the superlative second disc, with another five songs, some of which are more than deserving of a place on the main album. But let’s hope that this isn’t really the end, but if it does have to be, then it’s an amazing send-off.