Now that Ace of Base has scored plenty of platinum—The Sign, the group's U.S. debut, sold more than 8 million copies—all it needs is a little respect: Detractors have been quick to dismiss the Swedish quartet as a mindless imitation of ABBA.
On their second album, sister vocalists Jenny and Linn Berggren still sing as if they're on the verge of tears, and the foursome's melodies remain annoyingly unshakable. But Ace sidesteps the reggae-tinged repetition of The Sign to expand their musical palette. "Beautiful Life," the first single, offers a blast of jumpy techno, "Strange Ways" kicks in with serpentine Middle Eastern flourishes and "Whispers in Blindness" puts some hip hop in Ace's bass.
The group occasionally stumbles over its newfound variety, though. Malnourished ballads like "Angel Eyes" and "Experience Pearls" barely register, and even the world's most magnificent melody couldn't rescue poetic attempts like "Time/Close your eyes, see dreams of tomorrow/Time/The wheels are turning till eternity" from "Edge of Heaven." Ultimately, Ace of Base is most successful when they let their pure-pop instincts rule. (Arista)