Cruel Summer is a 1998 album by Swedish pop group Ace of Base, released as the band's third album in North America on July 14, 1998 and in Japan on August 25, 1998 by Arista Records. When Flowers saw the sale of four million copies after its release in Europe, Asia and Africa on June 15, 1998, Arista Records decided to release a different version of the album in the North America and Japan, re-titled Cruel Summer. This version of the album featured the new track "Everytime It Rains" and many new versions of songs featured on Flowers. As executive producer, Clive Davis enlisted collaborators including production team Cutfather & Joe and songwriter Billy Steinberg. While primarily a pop album, Cruel Summer explores the genres of house, motown, and dance.
Cruel Summer received generally favorable reviews from music critics, who complimented its production and viewed it as a superior version of Flowers. Despite this, the album was not a success and failed to crack the top 100 of the Billboard 200, peaking at number 101. The project was promoted with a series of live television performances which received minimal participation from band member Linn Berggren. Two singles were released from the album, one which became an international success. Its titular lead single "Cruel Summer" peaked at number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold. The second and final single, "Whenever You're Near Me" received little promotion and peaked at number 76.
In 1996, the band completed its promotion of The Bridge album, which had sold seven million albums worldwide. Ace of Base did not immediately return to the studio as they had with their second album. Band member Linn Berggren grew tired of the spotlight, and had returned home early from the group's tour of Asia. The quartet took a break from both recording and promotion; Ulf Ekberg moved to Marbella, Spain.
In mid-1997, the band's record companies asked Ace of Base for new material. Representatives at Arista Records specifically asked for "summery", sunny songs. By Autumn of 1997, "Doctor Sun" had been recorded; it was the first song completed for the new album. The band members test-played the song in several clubs in Gothenburg. Originally, the song featured vocals from all four members, but Ulf's vocals were eventually cut on the final version, which was not released in the United States.
The band members had resisted recording another cover song, but at the insistence of their British record label, Polydor Records, as well as Arista Records, Jonas Berggren chose Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" in what he called "an easy decision". The original version, however, was considered unsuitable, and a new version, overseen by Arista president Clive Davis and produced by Cutfather and Joe was commissioned instead. Clive Davis also oversaw the production of "Adventures in Paradise". Jenny had written "He Decides" for the new album, however, this song, too, was considered unsuitable in its original form, and was remixed by Charles Fisher. The resulting mix was darker in tone than the original. Ulf composed "more than twenty songs", but only one was used on the released album. Linn wrote and produced a demo entitled "Lapponia", which was originally submitted for The Bridge, but the track was rejected.
Arista generally chose songs written by Jonas for the album, although not all of these songs were considered album-worthy in their original versions. Jenny was asked to record new vocals for "Donnie", and Linn's vocals were cut altogether. The resulting remix was later described as a "Phil Spector-inspired Wall of Sound". "Life Is a Flower" was considered unsuitable for American audiences, despite high chart positions worldwide. Clive Davis ordered a new version, which became "Whenever You're Near Me", a love song. The record company head also was instrumental in the recording (and re-recording) of "Everytime it Rains". The original vocals by Jenny were found unsuitable, and a version featuring Linn's voice was used instead. "Travel to Romantis" was remixed by Love To Infinity and "Always Have, Always Will" was edited for the U.S. release.
While the band members began their promotion for the worldwide release of the Flowers album, Arista executives wavered on whether there would be a U.S. album at all. As late as spring of 1998, Arista representatives had commented that the album was "too bubblegum" and would not be released at all in the States. When it became clear the album was selling well in Europe, representatives at Arista relented, and the album was released, three months after the European version. The name of the album, however, was rejected. Arista settled on the name Everytime it Rains, but retitled the album Cruel Summer after printing 500,000 copies of the single.
The artwork for the album is the same as the art used on Flowers, however, the album booklets have different designs. The artwork was shot by photographer Jonas Linell. While each band member received one page in the album booklet dedicated to a solo picture, Linn's image is the only one that is blurred. This image is the same as the one found on the cover of the album, but zoomed-in and flipped. Linn was not present for the entirety of the photo shoot and had to be edited into some of the photos.
"Cruel Summer" was released as the first single from the album and became a top ten hit, peaking at number ten on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Songs charts. The song was promoted in the United States with performances on CBS This Morning and The View, which Linn was present for. "Cruel Summer" received positive reviews from critics, such as Billboard Magazine, who called the song a "potential smash" and Amazon.com, who described the track as a "light, upbeat groove" in their review of the album. Entertainment Weekly was more critical of the song, calling it "pointless" in an otherwise positive album review.
A second single, "Whenever You're Near Me", received little attention, and was not even correctly promoted on the Arista website, where it was listed as "Whenever You Need Me" despite fan efforts to get the mistake corrected. A music video for the song was not produced, however the song was promoted with a live performance on Ricki Lake which Linn did not attend. "Whenever You're Near Me" received a positive review from Larry Flick of Billboard Magazine, who noted that the song was "rife with sunny Caribbean percussion and a sweet smattering of acoustic guitar/synth interplay." He also predicted that the single "should saturate airwaves within seconds." Despite this, the song peaked at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent only five weeks on the chart. The track was somewhat more successful in Canada, where it peaked at number 51.
Upon its release, Cruel Summer received generally positive reviews from music critics. Tom Lanham of Entertainment Weekly provided a favorable review, noting that "there isn’t a note out of concordant place, no potential hook overlooked". He compared the album favorably to works of ABBA, describing the album as "perfect pop-Euro-disco balance." Rebecca Wallwork of Amazon.com shared a similar sentiment and described Cruel Summer as a "collection of syncopation and radio-friendly melodies." Paul Verna of Billboard Magazine described the album as "a record of surprising freshness." In a review for Flowers, Jose F. Promis of AllMusic stated that the track "Donnie" was in a superior form on Cruel Summer, noting that the track was "somewhat under-produced and unrealized on Flowers but truly shines on Cruel Summer." He also noted that the overall production on Cruel Summer was "meatier than on Flowers." Fred Bronson of Billboard Magazine ranked the album number one in the 1998 "the year in music" critics' poll. He preferred Cruel Summer to Flowers, stating "credit Clive Davis for transforming the original release into one of the greatest pop albums of all time."
In contrast, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic was more critical in his review, comparing the album to The Sign and The Bridge. Despite calling the title track a "melodic high point", he stated that the album failed "to rival their previous pop pinnacles" and that the album sounded "a little too similar its predecessors". "Donnie", "Always Have, Always Will", and the Love to Infinity mix of "Travel to Romantis" were listed as track picks for the album.
Despite spawning a top ten single, the album was not successful. It peaked at number 101 on Billboard's Hot 200 Album chart and dropped out of the charts ten weeks after its release. People Magazine reported in December 1998 that only 122,000 copies of the Cruel Summer album had sold, while the Flowers album had received a platinum certification in Switzerland, gold certifications in Denmark and Sweden, and a silver certification in the United Kingdom. Cruel Summer was more successful in Canada, where it peaked at number 23 and was certified gold.Notes
^[a] signifies an additional producer
^[b] signifies pre-production
Credits adapted from AllMusic.