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LABEL: Sheffield Tunes RELEASE DATE: February 5, 2016 GENRE: House, Dance, Electro, Hardstyle, Dubstep
// review by Jeff

Would you accept the seven of hearts?

It was bound to happen again! The three strapping lads from Hamburg — H.P. Baxxter, Michael Simon, and relative newcomer Phil Speiser — have returned for another brand-new studio album, their eighteenth, to be exact. They've survived a number of musical style changes and have still managed to drop some pretty good party tunes. But Ace isn't another reinvention of their sound; it's an expansion on it with a few steps in some new directions. Unfortunately, there are some missteps as well...

After the very somber piano and operatic singing-based introduction in Ace, it's straight onto what is arguably the best track on here: Oi, which became the second single from the album. With little delay, the main hook of the song approaches: a crowd shouting "Oi! Oi! Oi, fucking Oi!" And you're going to hear that a lot. But no Scooter single could possibly be complete without the braying of blonde-haired frontman H.P. Baxxter, and I actually enjoy his lyrics this time, not to mention his pretty good rhythm. With a tame but bouncy beep-tastic chorus, Oi's pretty darn earwormy. There's not a lot of variation, but it's definitely going on my repeat list.

I can't say the same for Mary Had No Lamb, whose title should have been a tipoff. Starting off with quick two-liner chorus in a high-pitched voice (which, by the way, sounds a bit off and too deep for some reason), Mary Had No Lamb quickly switches into a generic sounding electro-synth melody that couldn't catch my attention if it wore a redhead wig. And I don't even want to ask why H.P. included such tasteful lyrics as "Such a lady, makin' me mad... while she's giving head..." This Mary lass seems like a load of trouble. Of course, it's not half as strange as "Don't throw away the banana boxes! Shouting is for the family!" What was H.P. on that day?

Scooter then brings electric guitar back to the dance scene with Riot, the first single from the album (which has already been reviewed). As I said before, it's a mix of "pounding rhythms" and a dash of Fallout Boy, it's definitely another one of their high points on Ace. Encore breaks new ground for the group, introducing male pop-like vocals NOT performed by H.P. but instead by a random studio singer. They're not bad — a bit loud, mind you — but when the song promptly shuffles into another generic electro jam that would fall straight out of the pocket of Hardwell, Armin, or Tiësto... and a chorus sprinkled with twinkly coconut noises that's a bit more palpable. Also, H.P. uses the term "jimmy head" twice in this song. What was H.P. on that day?

Much to my chagrin, Australian-Greek singer Vassy makes a return in Burn, but at least she's not half as shrill as in previous songs and is far more subdued. Maybe she doesn't even care about being here, especially with lyrics like "burn, baby, burn, baby, burn, baby, burn". The song is chintzy electro-pop, similar to anything David Guetta has popped out. H.P.'s lyrics are, surprisingly, the highlight of this one, too, but that's not enough to make it stand out. Don't Break The Silence starts out promisingly enough with dramatic female vocals, but it ends up suffering the same fate with a mix of pounding electro-trance and a few dubstep samples thrown in for padding. The chopped up pitched vocals in the background do add a bit for the better, though. Then they throw some harder sounds our way with The Birdwatcher, using the melody from a classical Russian waltz but with a far scratching hardstyle sound. Though the beat should probably be equally as hard, this one's not bad to listen to.

And then we hit a new low. Maidwell, also known as Michael Maidwell of the German reggae group Orange Grove, makes not one but two vocal appearances on Ace, and he belongs in neither of them. The first one is What You're Waiting For. Aside from having vocals that are simply too loud, his pop-influenced injections are so out of place on a Scooter album, it's baffling. On a Tiësto or similarly mainstream dance track, they might fit, but Scooter shouldn't have this. They're treading dangerous waters here; Scooter is becoming less and less Scooterish with songs like this. It's a shame, though, because the song itself has potential, ruined only by Maidwell's presence.

When you hear the squeaky voice on Crazy, complete with terrible indie reverb and associated acoustic guitar, you'll think you accidentally switched to a different album, but nope, it's still Scooter straying from their roots. Luckily, once the electronic aspects return, it's not so bad. The heavily filtered melody is pretty sweet, interrupted only by more of that small café tunage. To be honest, Crazy feels more like three different song ideas tossed together to try and form a coherent package but failing. Shame, because I like two of the three parts. The following track, Opium, is an instrumental versed heavily in dubstep previously explored on "T.O.O." from their The Fifth Chapter, but it does so with a friendlier vibe. It's a little more swallowable by the masses as it also includes bytes of trance and symphonic tracks alike.

And then you hear the most generic pop tune, Stargazer, featuring Maidwell again, which wouldn't be out of place on a beach or a small-town alt-rock radio station. Unlike radio stations, however, I can easily skip this song because this style simply doesn't belong here. And even if it did, there's nothing special about this song that makes it pop or stand out. Did Scooter even work on this one at all? It sounds unlike anything they'd even try, a corny pop-house blend that could make milk curdle. And at this point on Ace, H.P. is becoming less and less prominent...

Two more tracks remain, and at least they're a little different. Wolga is a six-minute dark opus that is more atmospheric than it is melodic. The fake ending in the middle was a bit of a surprise; I genuinely thought the song was over, but then it hopped back into place with a jabbing metallic synth of doom. And, on a strange note, we end with Torch, a piano-laden synthpop tune and a cover of Soft Cell's 1982 song of the same name, just somewhat updated and sung by H.P. who, in recent years, hasn't been the biggest fan of singing. Though jarring as a closer, this is hardly the first time Scooter has done a synthpop cover. Heck, this isn't even the first time Scooter's covered Soft Cell — they did a very unusual version of "Sex Dwarf" back on their 2000 album, "Sheffield". H.P. isn't the worst singer, but it was certainly an unexpected way to end the album.

The main issue I have with this album isn't its quality, because there are some danceworthy tracks on here for sure. The problem is that it doesn't sound like Scooter. In fact, it doesn't sound like anybody in particular — it sounds like EVERYBODY. Scooter once had a very signature sound, but in recent years, as they try to follow and adapt to new trends, they distance themselves further from what they once were. Ace is neither gutwrenching sour nor outstanding, but it really pushes Scooter away from the spotlight and back into the crowd of generic electro-house and dance producers that tend to all adopt a similar sound. If Scooter wants to really survive from a production perspective, they're going to have to take more risks, but they may very well be too far gone.


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