Once again, we look to Germany's top novelty, Scooter. Their previous album, Jumping All Over The World, met with both hurrahs and boos all over the world indeed. It spawned four singles (five, if you include the 2008 re-release), and of particular note, it booted Madonna off the top spot in the U.K. Charts when it was first released there. Now it's been almost two years since their last new studio album, and eager fans have been wondering just how that time has been spent. As history has informed us, every time Scooter takes a year off from releasing an album, their return is more interesting than if they quickly squeeze out another. Well, that trend has stayed alive with the release of their newest album, "Under The Radar Over The Top", which proves that their vitality is far from gone. Named after a U.K. article describing their surprising success in the land of crisps and plum puddings, Scooter has crafted a rocking album filled with elements of hardstyle and hard trance, boasting the stadium techno power that they've come to be known for. They're not quite out of the jumpstyle woods yet, though, but at least they can see the glow of the outside world.
The album starts off with Stealth, which is a bit is a misnomer because the track hardly exudes any incidences of stealth. In fact, it's quite slow with a few creepy sound effects of a haunted office cubicle and an extended vocal clip, probably from a movie (Could it possibly be from the movie "Stealth"? Who knows?). Anyway, this leads into the first real song, J'adore Hardcore, which was also the first single of the album. This version starts out differently than the radio edit -- a bit more maturely, I'd say. I've already reviewed the single, and although I found to be fairly decent, it was not the wonderful first single I was hoping for. Ripping melodies from "Chase The Sun" by Planet Funk (a song that I had known about well for about seven years) and "I Just Can't Stop" by The Pitcher, they have created an anthemic tune for shufflers everywhere. They also demonstrate what is the first of many tracks to incorporate auto-tune functionality, something that has become synonymous with Americanized pop music nowadays. Next up is the second single, Ti Sento, which I reviewed as well. I called it a "hard trance opera", which is as accurate as I can get. Combining the Italian opera vocals of Antonella Ruggiero (formerly of Matia Bazar, the original band behind the song), cool hardstyle backing synths, and frontman H.P. Baxxter's typically powerful nonsensical lyrics, you have quite an interesting combination that I feel is a much bolder and stronger move for Scooter.
The next track, State Of Mind, is a mixture of their jumpstyle/hardstyle sound and ambient music, accompanied by vocals whose melody/lyrics are borrowed from "PALE" by Within Temptation, but performed with the now Scooteresque high-pitched vocal method. The contrast between the two styles are a bit jarring, but the song works. Next up is Where The Beats..., which I actually consider to be a highlight on the album. Using a charming high-pitched chorus that may even be longer than the one from Jumping All Over The World, believe it or not, as well as the refrain from Technoboy's version of "Ti Sento", they have crafted a work that is quite joyous and upbeat -- definitely worth a shuffle as well. There's even a separate high-pitched sample played during high-energy moments that adds to the track as well. H.P. sounds far more vibrant than usual here. He must like the song, too! Bit A Bad Boy follows this, and aside from the weird name, it's actually pretty average in comparison to the previous tune. The chorus sounds a bit more out of place than usual (more in line with a late 80s singer... actually, it's taken from "Will I Stay" by Scott Brown. Yeah, never heard of it.) and the hook is less memorable. After so much hardstyle in one sitting, sometimes not everything will pique your interest.
But if there was one track that I was highly anticipating, based on the preview teaser posted on YouTube, it would be The Sound Above My Hair, and quite frankly, it lives up to its hype. This is a hard trance bomb that outdoes every other track on the album. There's no high-pitched vocals, no goofy hardstyle antics. It's pure hard trance, and H.P. is actually singing instead of shouting (with auto-tune, no less) a simple and short, yet extremely catchy refrain. Consider this like a cup of instant trance euphoria, and it's definitely proof that Scooter has some extra magic up their sleeves that they can release every once in a while. So how do you follow up something like this? With a take on DJ Paul Elstak's happy hardcore classic, "Rainbow In The Sky", that's how! But that's not all you'll find in See Your Smile. Nope, you'll also get really cool auto-tuned chopped vocals, courtesy of our beloved H.P.! Even though the effects all feel a tad gimmicky, I think that's where the charm of the band originates, so I'll roll with it.
Clic Clac is an unusual beast. Similar in style to "Whistling Dave" on the previous album, this is an instrumental that snags a popular theme and gives it a rougher and tougher flavour. In this instance, Scooter opted to use the Pinocchio theme to help create a hardstyle track. This is cheesy, and they could have fleshed this one out a bit more. I will give them credit for the part around the 3:32 mark where they make the song sound as though it was part of the soundtrack for the NES game, M.C. Kids. Word to the M.C.! Then Second Skin rears its head -- meet the black sheep of the clan. There's no hardstyle or trance here. Instead, it's very much the stuff of 80s synthpop. Actually a cover of "Second Skin" by The Chameleons, this one demonstrates not only their love for old synthpops tunes and H.P.'s ability to still sing even after puffing at a truckload of cigarettes, but also that remnants of H.P. and other member Rick J. Jordan's previous synthpop band, Celebrate The Nun. As long as the hairdos don't return, I guess I can live with it. Still, this song doesn't quite belong here. They could have used those 6 minutes to do a Mariah Carey hardstyle jam instead...and I think it would go something like this:
H.P.: "Alright, crew! C'mon!"
High-Pitched Vocals: "But it's just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby..."
H.P.: "Get up! Ahhhh!"
And they had to do a cover of Lionel Richie's "Stuck On You". They just HAD to do that. I think that one's already overdone. There was already a dance version released in 2004 by Mark 'Oh, and it was pretty awful in itself. So is Stuck On Replay any improvement? All I can say is that if you liked the other hardstyle songs on this album, you'll enjoy this one as well, but I think I've had my fill and I would appreciate a bit more variety. Thankfully, Metropolis ends the album on a simplistic trance tip -- nothing special, nothing fancy, but it is certainly listenable. I've chosen not to end this review with a recommendation to attain this album, although I will say that this album is what the previous one should have been and that it IS worth a listen. No, instead I would actually like to close with a quote from Technoboy, a hardstyle artist who seems to have inspired many of the tracks on this album. The day before the album was released, Technoboy made a post on his news page, entitled "Dear Scooter..." Here's an excerpt from that posting that sums up his thoughts quite nicely:
How sarcastic. Guess he didn't approve of their "inspiration". Such is the way with Scooter. Then again, Technoboy only referred to H.P. Baxxter, thinking that Scooter consists of only one person. I think I'm the only sane one of the bunch.