In Defense of Aqua
But "often" isn't "always". Ansel Adams is a great example of a great artist that is not challenging. Ansel Adams is a photographer that takes phenomenal, epic landscapes. He is one of the artists that shaped the medium of photography. He is undeniably a great artist and everyone can agree that his pictures are really impressive and beautiful. While some people will appreciate his art more than others and see it for all off its true importance, I can't think of anyone other than someone who had a family member lost in the wilderness who is turned off by his work. His work strikes a chord with something very basic and human in us. As a result it doesn't have to pull any punch and can still get a nod from just about everyone that it is art.
Aqua is the same way. The flavor that they were cooking with is something that has a wide spread appeal: sugar. Everyone loves sweetness and Aqua were dessert chefs. Their widespread appeal was not manufactured after the fact, it was built into the art that they were making. But that widespread appeal attracted all of the trappings of Pop music and as we all know the trappings of pop music usually adorn the average beauties that the music sellers are dressing up to be just good enough to be worth a $20 sale (because there are so many more of them than the natural beauties).
But just because the unwashed masses will gladly devour any piece of fried bread if you pour enough sugar on it, doesn't mean that the five star desserteers of high cuisine are doing half-assed work. Once you strip away the trappings of Pop music, the high-gloss image over-saturation, beautiful clean people in the line-up, ad-nauseum singles play, and massive tours and publicity events, Aqua was truly gourmet; they were brilliant sugar sculptures on top of dark chocolate coated strawberries.
That credibility proof would also apply to a lot of musicians that I am not a fan of though and while there are a lot of artists that I like that don't fit the "raw, rootsy, surliness of post-hardcore" I do see a view where Aqua does fit with Atari Teenage Riot, The Velvet Underground, Strike Anywhere and Hot Water Music. I am a fan of sharp flavors; my musical pallet is tuned to enjoy hot Mexican food, stiff whiskeys, robust horseradish steak sauces, and deep rich cheesecakes.
Metaphor: At the chili cook-off we all sit around the table, eyes watering, noses running, discussing and enjoying the heat and flavor of the hot peppers and jalapeños. Next Tuesday we meet up again at the Japanese restaurant and hack and cough over the wasabe-coated salmon rolls scouring our throats and clearing our sinuses. Then next week you are walking by the desert shop and see me sitting around the table with some others, our jaws locking and cheeks puckering from the caramel-soaked, rich chocolate topped hot apple ciders we're enjoying and it seems out of character. Why is that?
Aqua does what all of these great bands do, they take a musical idea to its fullest extent. Usually fearlessly taking a musical idea to its end leaves you in territory that alienates a lot of people; only the people who aren't very far from it to start with can enjoy that much stretching of the envelope. For example, Atari Teenage Riot is completely lost on my dad because to go from what he has experience with, namely the Beach Boys and The Police, out to where they are, German Thrash techno, is a far stretch and well beyond what he is comfortable with. But for me who was very comfortable with music that set out to melt your brain, Atari Teenage Riot wasn't a far cry. So the trip from the Industrial soundtracks, Rave DJs, and screaming punk acts that I was coming from to Atari Teenage Riot was a nice stretching of the envelope for me. But to go from the Beach Boys to ATR, was not a pleasant trip.