|LABEL: Club Tools
||RELEASE DATE: October 24, 1996
||GENRE: Happy Hardcore|
Up to the point when I wrote this review, I had only examined Scooter albums produced since their "3rd Chapter" to the present -- that is, from 2002 to 2008. During this time, they had come to be known to produce mainly commercial hard dance music. It is still entertaining material, but their creativity level had dropped significantly, resorting to cover versions and borrowing elements from other artists' songs. This could partly be blamed on their hectic release schedule: Scooter generally tries to release an album approximately every year. Heck, in both 1996 and 2007, they released TWO albums. Scooter really ought to slow down and take the time to more carefully craft their songs and put more thought into them. But there was indeed a time when the situation was not so dire. I look back upon their "1st Chapter" (1994-1998) as a symbol of what Scooter really stood for: high energy, happy hardcore party tunes. There was nothing particularly serious about their music; it was just another way to enjoy the raver spirit. Creative output was at its maximum during when the band consisted of three fellows who were still fairly young: frontman H.P. Baxxter and his two Scooter companions, Rick J. Jordan and Ferris Bueller (not their real names, but that's fine). And so we have here one example of the band in its blossoming stage, with their third album, entitled "Wicked!", released in 1996 (alongside "Our Happy Hardcore" only seven months earlier).
Taking a tip from Scotland, the fairly brief introductory track samples from the famous Scottish anthem, "Scotland the Brave" before unfolding into the first real Scooter song of the album, I'm Raving, which also happened to be the first single. One of the two main melodies is from the aforementioned anthem (combined with some funky acid synths), mixed up with a type of breakbeat that will soon become the norm on this album. Older listeners may recognize the other main melody as "Walking In Memphis" by Marc Cohn, but even more astute fanatics will see the even stronger similarities with "Raving I'm Raving" by the early '90s dance group Shut Up And Dance. Either way, the melody is the same and the lyrics are pretty much word-for-word. The only reason this song could be considered great is because it's a mashup, something that seems to be popular. It's far from being the greatest track they've ever done, that's for sure, but even with its promising energy that crowds seem to enjoy at concerts, there isn't really any Scooter elements in this track. It's just two other songs put together with practically nothing new on the part of Scooter. For shame. Anyway, the energy is kept alive fairly well with the following tune, We Take You Higher, which boasts yet another dancy breakbeat and some average organ synth work. It is at this point in the Scooter discography that H.P. really comes to the forefront as a lyric delivery boy; they are more coherent (thus being far from nonsensical unlike more recent releases) on this album, serving more to pump up the crowd than as a necessity and staple. Perhaps H.P. should look back to these times and realize that what he used to say made SOME sense; now, we're not sure what the hell he's talking about.
Awakening is an instrumental that, though very repetitive in nature, is actually quite impressive, starting with one simple element and gradually adding on new parts to create a fun piece of rough happy hardcore music. The loud bass noise they use near the beginning is especially intimidating yet surprisingly awesome. Interestingly enough, the beat doesn't actually come in until a little past the halfway point. It's a solid track, and certainly one that could awaken a neighbour or sleeping pet if played loud enough. The next tune is When I Was A Young Boy, and while this could have been a nice track, the problem is that they use pretty much the same formula as "We Take You Higher", breakbeat intro and all. It is an attractive piece, but it blends in with the rest of the album because it fails to stand out or offer something unique. It's followed by Coldwater Canyon, which is another of Scooter's fine classic instrumentals. There is a more rapid build-up, leading to an eventual frantic piano part that is quite magnificent and energetic. The rest of the tune is just as amusing; all the various synths and sound effects bringing forth a great wave of sound that will get your toe tapping. Furthermore, the funky change in tempo at the midpoint is a nice touch that helps this track glow amongst its brethren on the album.
Many people on the official Scooter forum (and perhaps beyond that spectrum) have shown a fair amount of disdain for the next track, Scooter Del Mar, although I personally find it enticing. This is a chill-out, ambient track that wouldn't be too out of place on a relaxation compilation (or the local weather channel, as the case may be). The piano melody is outstanding though not too complex. It's a good way to calm down after the frenzy of the previous track. The soothing aspects of this track should also prepare you well for the unusual nature of Zebras Crossing The Street. The build-up has been done well enough, offering a common piano tune and typical dance beat, but the real allure of the track comes in the vocoded lyrics:
Leaving the whole world behind
Stop your troubles, open your mind
Is this the life you want to live?
Clear up your mind
Zebras crossing the street
Everything is in your hand
Running around down the street
Buying some frozen foods, put it in the fridge
Turn up the music louder
If that made any sense, I'd be surprised. What is the purpose of zebras crossing the street and frozen foods? I have no idea. The lyrics have been implemented effectively into the song, even if they are far too cryptic for the average person. Anyway, it's a cool dance track, though not particularly creative enough to stand out on its own. But it DOES stand out relative to the next song, Don't Let It Be Me, a synth-pop song that has H.P. trying to sing. He sounds like he has a bit of a cold, actually. The instrumentation isn't notable, and the lyrics are pitiful. Apparently, they were penned by longtime dance music producer and composer Nosie Katzmann, so Scooter can shift some of the blame to that guy.
Next up is The First Time. This song features another one of the album's trademark breakbeats, a piano repetition, and a strange hollow percussion sound that eventually gets a bit too loud for my taste and ends up overwhelming the lyrics. Ah! And the lyrics, short and sweet though they may be, are performed by Mary K., Rick's sister. She also seems to have a cold here, as they are delivered far too nasally (based on other tracks which she has sung on, she doesn't always sound like this) and seem almost cocky in a way. Overall, it's a standard track for this album. Then we end by entering new territory with Break It Up, a song that proclaims to be the first "techno-ballad" ever. Focusing more on real instruments that usual with effective use of an acoustic guitar, this proves to be an interesting direction for Scooter, and ultimately one that is welcome (although in later instances, they sometimes screw up on the ballads and they become awful abominations). "Break It Up" later became the second (and final) single from the album.
It's interesting to look back at albums from Scooter's earlier days because it feels like they put more effort into the creative side of things. Their works were not a series of covers and sampled melodies, as is the case today, and therefore, by comparison, this is a more distinct Scooter album, showing off their true abilities. The energy is bright and although some aspects may sound corny, "Wicked!" has held up surprisingly well over the course of 12 years. If you are interested in taking a look back at Scooter's glory days before commercialism took control (and before H.P.'s lyrics weren't in shambles), this is a fine place to look.