The debut album of Australian duo Savage Garden, also titled Savage Garden, is a picture-perfect example of late 1990s pop music. Savage Garden the band consists of vocalist Darren Hayes and instrumentalist Daniel Jones. Savage Garden the album was released on March 4, 1997. On a relisten, the album simultaneously manages to feel dated and fresh all at the same time. There are definitely some trademarks of the 1990s here: electronic wibbles and drum machines feature on most songs. However, beautiful songwriting, amazingly tight production, and Hayes’s wonderful voice lift the album from something that would hang around in your local FYE clearance section to an album that’s just downright GOOD.
Fun fact: Savage Garden took their name from a phrase used in the Anne Rice series The Vampire Chronicles. I mention this only because Savage Garden really isn’t the band one would associate with Anne Rice and yet when you compare the two texts, it kind of makes sense. Because all in all, Savage Garden is melodrama. This is the sort of band that you would slow dance to at the end of junior prom. If Savage Garden was around in 2006, you know teenage girls would be quoting their lyrics on Myspace profiles. And I mean this in the best way! There is absolutely nothing wrong with making music for teenage girls and my poptimist heart absolutely adores this album.
The strength of Savage Garden is how romantic they are. The most obvious example of that is “Truly Madly Deeply,” one of the most iconic love songs of the late 1990s. How much can you say about those perfect harmonies and that amazing simple chorus? The way that Darren Hayes’s vocals pop up to the higher register on phrases like “new beginning / a reason for living” is downright beautiful. Spanish guitars occasionally lilt in as Hayes softly sings all the things he wants to do with (and occasionally to) the audience. It’s even kind of sexy–certainly not tawdry, though.
But “Truly Madly Deeply” isn’t the only beautifully melodramatic song on the album: “Carry On Dancing” and “Mine”, released only on the Australian version of the album, are both wonderfully melodramatic. The way Hayes performs his vocals going from pouring energy into the chorus before whispering a phrase or two is downright sexy. Add in wonderful strings, tight guitars, and lyrics of lust and longing and you have somethingTeenage me would have eaten this up as eagerly as twenty-something me is currently consuming it.
One of the first singles and my personal favorite song of the album is another of their biggest hits, “I Want You,” better known to a handful of people as the ‘chic-a-cherry cola’ song. There’s just beautiful contrast between those super fast lyrics, the lazy synths underneath the fast lyrics, and that powerful yet simple chorus. “Oooh I want you / I don’t know if I need you / but ooh I’ve gotta find out” is such a purposefully simple lyric, summing up the frantic paragraph-length verses in one cut and dry sentence. That breakdown is perhaps the most 90s thing ever and it’s just instantly followed by those ethereal vocals and slower synth wobbles. This song showcases contrast and it does it WONDERFULLY.
Another fun fact: “I Want You” is used as the ending theme of the 2016 anime JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. How’s that for staying power?
Are Savage Garden the band and Savage Garden the album exceedingly 1990s? Absolutely. Does some of that 1990s aspect not hold up and come across as dated? Also absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just a beautifully romantic and downright good album. So put on your JNCO jeans or your Juicy Couture track suit, grab a Crystal Pepsi, and settle down and listen to Darren Hayes’s melodic voice serenade you while you look at your poster of Jonathan Taylor Thomas taped to the wall.