By David Browne
February 18, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST



Arriving just in time to initiate an altogether new century of one-hit wonders, Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” makes a funny face at all its competitors at the top of the pop charts. That competition has become a suffocatingly earnest lot — a veritable army of dewy-eyed, talent-show-rooted balladeers who seem to have temporarily checked their fun gene at the door. (Jessica Simpson emotes like a visitor from Planet Star Search.) By comparison, the musical gnome “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is actually a refreshing bit of absurdity. Its sing-songy, nursery-rhyme hook will lodge itself in your cranium despite your best efforts to remove it, and the contrast between its downbeat images (“I have a girlfriend and she is so blue”) and its paradoxically peppy, throbbing-club ambiance makes you want to listen closer: Is there more than meets the ear in the music or in the Goth-cutup delivery of singer Jeffrey Jey?

None of this should imply that “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is all that good, but any bit of loopiness is welcome these days. The hit distinguishes itself in other ways as well. There’s the way the tin-can production makes the song feel like a freshly unearthed relic from the now-distant ’80s. And there’s the way it preserves two admirably moronic pop traditions: the vocoder-distorted vocal gimmick (resuscitated prominently on Cher’s “Believe” and Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle”) and the subgenre we can call baby-talk-core, heard in gibberish-rock hits through the ages, from Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” to the Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and Trio’s “Da Da Da.”

Europop, the Eiffel 65 album that’s been catapulted into the top 10 on the heels of the success of “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” is nearly as eccentric as its hit. With blatant nods to the likes of Erasure and early, pre-facial-hair Depeche Mode, it may be the first album to treat old-school synthesizer pop as revered roots music. Thankfully, Eiffel 65, comprised of three Italian dance-club mavens, don’t take themselves as seriously as their predecessors. Beneath their chintzy beats and computer bleeps, the bouncy “Living in a Bubble” and the treadmill-ready “Move Your Body” are new-millennium bubblegum techno and disco, with Jey’s vocal tic (a smirking-robot sarcasm) setting the tone. It’s hard to call these songs timeless masterpieces, but it’s also nearly impossible to hate them.

Cutesy hooks and a deadpan sense of humor constitute what little saving grace Europop has. When Eiffel 65 try to play it straight, they stumble. Their tortured-soul ballad, “Your Clown,” is drearily sullen. In “Now Is Forever,” they muse that “The past is all that’s gone/ The future is yet to come” — surely the most duh!-inducing line in a pop song since America sang “the heat was hot” in “A Horse With No Name.” Title notwithstanding, “Dub in Life” has no hint of dub or reggae but is a generic dance tune with a Studio 54 bass line. Moreover, Europop could easily have been reduced to an EP: The threesome (Jey, keyboardist Maurizio Lobina, and DJ Gabry Ponte) recycle themselves shamelessly. Several songs, like “Hyperlink (Deep Down)” and “Another Race,” employ the same vocal and production devices as “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” but to lesser effect. There’s even an unnecessary remix of the single tacked onto the album.

Ultimately, the most fascinating element of the eminently disposable but intermittently amusing Europop is entirely unexpected: its lyrics. The music’s programmed vibe isn’t the only indication that this is an album made by children of the digital age. The word “hyperlink” is used not only in a song title but as a sexual pun (“a hyperlink to go inside of you”); “My Console” is such an undisguised celebration of a Sony PlayStation it could double as a jingle; and the line “all I want is a silicon world” is communicated with utter sincerity. This is music that stems not just from computers but from computer culture. Why the album isn’t called Byte Down Hard is even more of a mystery than why a novelty Italian club act named itself after a French monument. C+


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