Disco took a pretty intense shellacking in the U.S. at the end of the 1970’s, thanks to the “disco sucks” movement – but it never experienced a similar crisis moment in Europe. That illustrates one of the great things about Europe from a pop culture standpoint: the music scenes of its different countries embrace the ephemeral side of dance fare in an unapologetic, celebratory manner that allows musicians to enjoy entire careers producing colorful, frothy, sometimes loony dance music. As a result, their dance music scenes produced a plethora of eccentric yet instantly accessible tunes long after disco returned to the club-scene underground in the U.S.
A timely reminder of these Euro-pop characteristics recently arrived in the form of Disco Discharge: Europa. This long-running disco compilation series has devoted past volumes to Euro-dance fare’s cartoonish extremes and Europa illustrates how well compiler Mr. Pink understands its appeal. Appreciating this flavor of disco means abandoning any pretensions and allowing yourself to embrace its shameless desire to entertain in the flashiest, kitschiest and most insidiously catchy manner possible. If you can do that, Disco Discharge: Europa offers a guided tour through this scene’s grandiose cheap thrills.
The first disc anchors its exploration into Euro-dance with a few internationally familiar tunes: Taco’s Weimar-goes-Kraftwerk redux of the standard “Puttin’ On The Ritz” wraps flapper-era pop hooks in a relentless synth-disco pulse while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” bombards the listener with an array of sticky-sweet hooks over a metronomic beat, particularly a giddy lord-of-the-jungle yell that functions as its wordless chorus.
Elsewhere, Italian electronic disco dominates the proceedings on this disc: Lian Ross’s “Say You’ll Never” pumps a gothically beautiful sad-ballad melody with drum machines and synth swoops, Radiorama’s “Hey Hey” uses a fist-pumping chant hook for the title phrase that comes right off a vintage T. Rex single and Diviacchi’s “Waiting For Heaven” layouts a jungle-gym of jackhammer synth and drum machine hooks to prop up a lounge-lizard vocal melody that talks about “angels from outer space!”
The second disc of Europa is no less colorful. Techno collides with schlager sentimentality on Fancy’s “Bolero (Hold Me In Your Arms Again),” which has a soaring chorus and breathless spoken word bits supported by an array of burbling synthesizers. Sweden tackles the Hi-NRG style with a Eurovision level of catchiness via Lili & Sussie’s “Oh Mama,” with a syncopated, instantly accessible chorus that rolls over any listener resistance like a tank.
Italo-disco is also a major feature on this disc. Highlights in the Neapolitan dance are include Lee Marrow’s “Mr. Fantasy,” with a deft arrangement of glossy synth hooks coalescing around a percussively chanted bubblegum chorus and Dr. Groove’s “Freak It Out Mr. D.J.,” a fast-moving gem where the crazed electronics make the dee-jay tribute scenario sound like you are traveling through a busy ’80s-era video arcade.
However, the killer cut on disc two – and perhaps the best song on the entire set – is the Dutch import “Upside Down (Dizzy Does It Make Me)” by Vanessa. It utilizes a Moroder-style combination of synths plus a live rhythm section as the background for a melody built on lighter-than-air pop hooks, sung in the most cutesy-pie tone imaginable. The word “effervescent” doesn’t begin to describe this delirious piece of music. It’s the kind of song that rockist snobs would instinctively sneer at but it’s also the kind of song that completely disarms the disco fanatic with its castle of cotton-candy catchiness.
As a result, “Upside Down (Dizzy Does It Make Me” serves a good representation for the entirety of Disco Discharge: Europa. If you can surrender to the fizzy joys of this camp classic then you’ll find a lot to enjoy on this similarly over-the-top double disc set.