A review of Forever, the fifth studio album from Belgian dance act Milk Inc. The album was not officially released in the UK, but can easily be picked up online for around £14.00.
One thing that seems to elude commercial dance acts is any kind of longevity in the public arena. Indeed, it's very often unusual for these groups to pull together one studio album. So it's testament to Milk Inc's appeal that they've managed to notch up five studio albums over a career that is now into its twelfth year. Predominantly popular in their native Belgium, the group experienced some success in the UK in 2002 with a couple of top ten singles, but have seen the greatest success in the familiarity of the Euro dance/trance scene.
The group essentially comprises vocalist Linda Mertens and producers Regi Penxten and Filip Vandueren. Mertens' vocals are certainly the most accomplished that you might hear, but she has a distinctive, sweet and almost childish voice that lends itself to this kind of material. Most of their material (and certainly everything here) is recorded in English, with that familiar European lilt in Mertens' voice that just about gives away this is not the native language. Unlike other artists, however, the song lyrics are reasonably innocuous and certainly don't fall foul of some of the clumsy translation that dogs other acts within the same genre. The choice of song matter is relatively consistent - love, fun, happiness, everything will be OK. These are the themes of choice here and, given that first and foremost you're supposed to be dancing to this, the mood is appropriately upbeat and modern.
In the early days, Penxten took a more credible stance on the club music scene and achieved some popularity with an instrumental number titled 'La Vache'. His Milk Inc material, however, is far more mainstream and has changed little since the group first started releasing commercial material. Indeed, whilst there might be six years between the release of Milk Inc (the album) and Forever in the UK, you could be forgiven for thinking that these are separate discs from the same release. This music is the very definition of formulaic; chugging, charging beats, broken by variously paced synthesised instrumentals and breakdowns, all played out to Mertens' triumphant, dominant vocals. This is a sound that had a certain following in the UK between 2001 and 2003 but has never really lost any kind of appeal in the rest of Europe.
The long and the short of all this is that if you've ever really liked anything that Milk Inc have released before, there's really no reason that you shouldn't like (or even love) everything here. Forever comprises thirteen tracks, most of which share a pretty relentless beat, a relatively similar tune and an entirely consistent vocal from a singer who probably sounds rather more sincere about the whole thing than you might expect. That doesn't mean that everything sounds EXACTLY the same of course - after a couple of listens, you'll certainly pick out some favourites and some highlights, as you would with any other album.
'Summer Rain', for example (not to be confused with the Belinda Carlisle tune) is a delightful, summery tune with a nagging percussive beat. Almost certain to have been echoing around the continent's less credible bars throughout the summer, Mertens' innocent, childlike voice complements this kind of thing entirely. 'Sunrise' is harder and heavier, but makes the transition to club land rather more forcefully. This was a successful commercial single around Europe and was popular, but overlooked in the UK - remember this stuff just isn't 'cool' any more. There's a completely mad cover version of that Maniac song from the Flashdance movie too, complete with 80s style beats and synths. Again, Mertens' voice works well here and the Eurodance makeover is cheesetastic. 'Ouch Damn' is one of the more unusual tracks on the album, a stop-start, 80s style electro pop number that actually moves the group away from its trance roots, to surprising effect. The 80s influences here are relatively frequent throughout the album, strangely enough. The melodies and instrumentals are often not unlike sounds of that era, frequently coupled with effects we saw in the 1990s. 'Live Her Life', for example, is a hugely likeable montage of 80s and 90s influences coupled with those pointless Euro-lyrics that are too inane to offend.
The rest of it is entirely likeable, if not slightly unmemorable. There is, of course, an obligatory ballad (Perfect Lie, the last track on the album), which is rather nauseating. It's almost as though the group has to prove that they can do slow songs too, and although the vocal is competent enough, it's just typical of that terrible, overblown Euro-ballad style that all these acts seem to do from time to time for reasons nobody really understands. Occasionally, the lyrics suffer a bit too - 'Guilty', for example, has a seriously silly usage of 'don't do the crime if you can't do the time' which sounds gimmicky and would be lost on anyone but a UK audience.
As an album in its own right, Forever is good 'activity' music. I'd happily listen to this in the gym or when exercising in some other way. It's also perfect 'night out' music, if you're looking for something to perk you (and/or others up) before a big session. This isn't something that holds up well to scrutiny, so unless you're really into this, it's probably not an album you could listen to in one sitting without doing something else at the same time. It's surprising, however, that Milk Inc haven't maintained far more commercial success in the UK. Forever is perfect testament to a polished, commercial sound that could happily sit alongside the likes of Cascada on both radio and night club speakers but, for whatever reason, has been entirely overlooked by the UK.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
4 Waste of Time
5 Summer Rain
8 With You
10 Live Her Life
11 Ouch Damn
13 Perfect Lie