This review is by guest blogger Bjorn Thomassen
In the mid-to-late 90s, Canadian-British all-girl band All Saints emerged as a potent alternative to the heavily promoted Spice Girls. The band comprised of the Appleton sisters (Nicole and Natalie), Melanie Blatt, and the band’s key songwriter Shaznay Lewis. Their trademark harmonies (which hits such as “Pure Shores” and “Black Coffee” showcase the best), in particular, made them irresistible to the music-buying public. Unfortunately, their personal lives become fodder for tabloids and put them in the public eye to the extent that their existence as a cohesive unit started to disintegrate. By the year 2001, the band disbanded. 2006 marked the beginning of the reunion wave – triggered by commercially successful veteran heavyweights such as The Police and Take That. All Saints attempted to ride this wave with their third album “Studio 1“. Despite the album’s lead single “Rock Steady” peaking at #3 on the UK singles charts, the momentum around the album was short-lived. This translated to low chart positions for both the album’s second single “Chick Fit” as well as the album. The band split yet again in 2007 and the prospects for another album seemed grim. Fortunately, absence makes the heart grow fonder and post-hiatus live performances have a way of rejuvenating interest in a band with a memorable legacy (however small it is). All Saints’ live performances in the last couple of years suggested to fans and skeptics that the band had more to offer – and that offering is slated to see the light of day on April 8, 2016 in the form of a new album titled “Red Flag“. Here is a track-by-track review of the entire album:
One Strike: For casual fans whose association with All Saints revolves primarily around tracks such as “Pure Shores” and “Black Coffee“, this mid-tempo song (especially its effective use of harmonies on the pre-chorus) will bring a smile to the face while allaying concerns about this reunion being a pointless one. “One Strike” is both a worthy lead single and an album-opener.
One Woman Man: Popular opinion suggests that if a song does not grab the listener in the first ten seconds, the listener has officially been lost forever. This is an unfortunate trend since at times, patience is a virtue. That idea could not be any truer than it is on “One Woman Man” – whose entire magic revolves around its gradually escalating pre-chorus that bursts into a fantastic harmony-driven sing-along chorus. This electronic downtempo track just requires the listener to sit through somewhat lackluster verses. Fortunately, that patience is rewarded with sonic bliss on the rest of the song. Lyrically, “One Woman Man” is an emphatic call for monogamy – a theme they have only lightly touched upon in the past (most notably on “Not Easy” from the “Studio 1” album).
Make U Love Me: Shaznay Lewis and Melanie Blatt feature prominently on the vocals of this track. The song sounds like something that would have fit comfortably on the band’s eponymous debut album. It is anchored by repetitive hip-hop beats, guitars and some old-school sounding piano. The song is not a worthy follow-up to the first two tracks and works more as a rather average album track as opposed to being something even remotely single-worthy.
Summer Rain: Shaznay Lewis is the primary vocalist on this song. This seems fitting since the song sounds like something that could have fit on Shaznay’s solo album “Open!”. The beginning of the song is acoustically driven and gradually builds into a rather beat-heavy affair. It is yet another track that follows the tradition of great harmonies on the chorus. It most certainly has the potential to be a grower.
This Is A War: One of the album’s highlights, it features a more equitable distribution of vocal duties with Shaznay Lewis singing on the first verse, Melanie Blatt singing on the second verse, and the Appleton sisters featuring prominently on the song’s Middle 8. It sounds like something out of a film with its dramatic and cinematic orchestration. Sonically, it is a seamless blend of “Never Ever“(from the band’s debut album), “Fundamental” (from the band’s “Studio 1” album), and “One Woman Man” laced with a darker mood.
Who Hurt Who: “Sappy” ballads often get their share of criticism hurled at them by critics – but this song is a noteworthy career highlight for the band. It is a song Melanie Blatt penned along with Sasha Scarbek years ago (presumably for her solo endeavor) but has been reworked for this album. Natalie Appleton is the shining star of this ballad as she provides a heartbreaking delivery of the following lines right after the song’s middle 8:
No, I never wanna lose you
Stay around, I won’t leave you
Puppet On A String: With a tropical vibe, a bouncy beat, and a healthy dose of synths, this song is probably the album’s most obviously current track with immense potential as a summer single. The use of autotune on Natalie Appleton’s vocals in the song’s middle 8 might offend some but is largely effective.
Fear: The band delves into the fear around the feeling of vulnerability that stems from falling in love. Furthermore, through the song, they explore the journey that individual goes through to get that to point wherein they are consumed by that fear. This song marks a shift on the album’s sonic style towards something that has an almost tribal feel. Brimming with dramatic string arrangements, piano effects, and a booming beat that runs through the length of the track, “Fear” sounds like it has the potential to build into something substantial and yet it does not. It is safe to say that is not one of the standout tracks on the album.
Ratchet Behaviour: This song is the most likely one to have a rather polarizing effect on the band’s fanbase. Some of this can be attributed to Nicole Appleton’s speaking/rapping sections. This noisy dance-hall track is loud, in your face, and unfortunately quite tuneless. Noteworthy elements are Nicole Appleton’s speaking/rapping portions. Overall, it is one of the more forgettable moments of the album. It is very reminiscent of their last album “Studio 1“.
Red Flag: The previous track, “Ratchet Behavior” blends into the album’s title track. It continues to build on the tribal sound that the album starts to take on with “Fear“. There songs features plenty of hand-clapping and vocal chants, and while the chorus is strong, the overall track is not instant by any stretch.
Tribal: Its name, synonymous with the style of the latter half of the album should be a highlight but isn’t. It is a quintessentially 90s-sounding track featuring reversed strings, repeated vocal lines, and Bhangra-sounding beats. It is quite unmemorable in the context of the album.
Pieces: This beat-heavy and piano-led song serves as an effective album closer and goes a long way in highlighting Shaznay Lewis’ impeccable instincts as a songwriter. It is bound to leave the listener wondering who she wrote this song about. The “blippy” synth at the end of the song is reminiscent of their work with hit producer William Orbit.
By the sound of it, many might argue that “Red Flag” is indicative of promising prospects for the girls (now ladies in their early 40s). Hopefully, this album serves as a better expansion of the All Saints catalog than “Studio 1” did. We are thrilled that the band is pushing themselves to create more material as opposed to milking the “not so latent” nostalgia of those that were teenagers in the 90s. Here is a full-length video clip of the new All Saints single “One Strike“:
STAR RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
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