Single Review: All Saints – One Strike

I can say with some confidence that few could have been more excited about 90s favourites All Saints’ reunion announcement on 1st January 2016. It was like all my dreams came true at once.

In their glory days of 1997-2001 they were staple hitmakers in the UK, scoring five number one singles and 8 top ten singles overall, including seminal hits such as “Pure Shores”, “Never Ever” and “Black Coffee”. They were the cooler, edgier alternative to the Spice Girls and we loved them for it. Khaki pants and all.

It is with an acute pain that I remember their first reunion in 2006. While comeback single “Rock Steady” did become a big hit in the UK, its parent album Studio 1 belly flopped rather heavily and the kibosh was quickly put on the reunion. Melanie Blatt later announced that she did it just for the money anyway. Great….not the glorious reunion we wanted.

I can hardly believe that it’s been 10 years since their first reunion but, however long it’s been, I was biting my nails in anticipation at their new stuff. Not only do we get a brand new single “One Strike”, but a whole album’s worth of material Red Flag. How would they sound? Could they compete with 2010s girlbands such as Little Mix? But something about this time round had me even more confident that they could achieve the fabled comeback a la Take That that all 90s popbands dream of. That’s because I knew they were doing it for the right reasons. For the love of it, as it were. The girlband reported in an interview that the process of making the album was so fun that it took longer than it should have (DAMMIT!) and that “One Strike” was written about Nicole Appleton’s very public breakup with Liam Gallagher in 2013. It’s always great when it gets personal.

“One Strike” debuted on Radio 2 this morning and OH THE HARMONIES! It’s quintessentially All Saints but with an updated more bassy sound which fits right in with today’s popular music. The girls sound battle ready with military drums and fighting talk style lyrics. But they have retained the ethereal, disconnected vocals of their Saints and Sinners album (“Pure Shores”, “Dreams”) which helps distinguish the track as completely ALL SAINTS. All it took was “One Strike” and they’re back.

 

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The Best Songs of Gwen Stefani

Be excited because Gwennie Gwen Gwen is back with a new album and single “Make Me Like U”. Have a listen here!

Our favourite Orange County Girl has ever been the sultry, cool alternative to our beloved pop princesses. On the eve of the release of her third album it’s easy to forget what a big footprint Stefani has left on music with her impressive body of work. From break ups to bindis to Harajuku Girls, lest we forget that cerca 2004-2006 Gwen Stefani was hot property boasting a string of international chart toppers and cultivating a inimitably kooky style that only she could pull off. She is one of the most versatile and musically innovative singers of her generation blessed with a voice which is instantly recognisable and utterly unique. To celebrate the release of Gwen Stefani’s third solo studio album This is What the Truth Feels Like on March 18th, I feel the time is right to look back at the 46 year old’s impressive discography:

15) Gwen Stefani – 4 In the Morning

Stefani lost in melancholy. “4 In the Morning” was released as the third single from The Sweet Escape, Stefani’s 2006 follow up to Love. Angel. Music. Baby. This Madonna-esque synthpop ballad is one of Stefani’s strongest downtempo songs and puts her innocent, girlish vocals firmly at the forefront.

14) No Doubt – Simple Kind of Life

By the release of No Doubt’s second studio album, 2000’s Return of Saturn, Stefani had started pining for domesticity. On the morose “Simple Kind of Life” Gwen declares her need for marriage and family but eventually recognises that her independence is more important. The single became the only song to chart on the US Billboard Chart from Return of Saturn and remains one of the band’s most understated singles.

13) Gwen Stefani – Used to Love You

After failed lead singles “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire” failed to ignite the charts, Stefani decided to take a more personal approach to her songwriting. Inspired by the end of her 13-year romance with Gavin Rossdale “Used to Love You” is a confessional ballad and one of Stefani’s most potent tear-jerkers, proving that honesty really is the best policy.

12) No Doubt – Hella Good

For their third album 2001’s Rock Steady No Doubt decided to dip their toes into grittier waters which resulted in the bassline-heavy “Hella Good”.

11) Gwen Stefani Feat. Eve – Rich Girl

Eve’s first but not last appearance in this list. Urban-flavoured banger “Rich Girl” borrows a sample from Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I Were a Rich Man” to create pop chart gold. “Rich Girl” was released as the second single from Love. Angel. Music. Baby in 2005 and attained massive chart success worldwide.

10) No Doubt – It’s My Life

No Doubt decided to go on hiatus in 2004 but before they did we were treated to a Greatest Hits collection The Singles: 1992-2003. Although we technically didn’t get a new song with the project, we did get this spectacularly bombastic cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life”. Stefani is ravishing in the video as a black widow sentenced to death for murdering three men. The Devil truly does wear Prada.

9) No Doubt Feat. Lady Saw – Underneath It All

This is No Doubt at their most sweet. On the reggae-tinged “Underneath It All” Gwen declares that, beneath the façade, her boyfriend Gavin Rossdale is actually quite nice . Bless. “Underneath It All” was released as the third single from Rock Steady in 2002 and became a smash in the US and one of the band’s biggest hits there. It also won the long-windedly titled Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. On a side note, superb ad libs from Lady Saw on this track.

8) Gwen Stefani Feat. Akon – The Sweet Escape 

All the best pop songs are written in 10 minutes…Said nobody ever. Until Gwen Stefani and Akon that is. With this 2007 doo-wop banger Stefani declared she was back in style and she was proved quite right when it soared to the top of the charts worldwide. “The Sweet Escape” finished 2007 as the second best-seller of the year in the US. “Woohoo. Yeahoo”.

7) Gwen Stefani – Cool

This 1980’s style synthpop ballad is straight out of Taylor Swift’s 1989 songbook. Only 10 years before. Upon first glance, it seems to be light and breezy summer fare, but lyrically not as disposable as its production would have you believe. Retro-kitsch sounding “Cool” is the perfect ode to post-break-up friendships, drawing inspiration from Stefani’s relationship with former boyfriend and fellow member of No Doubt, Tony Kanal.

6) No Doubt – Just a Girl

After two unsuccessful albums No Doubt suffered the loss of their keyboardist and songwriter Eric Stefani (Gwen’s brother) which left Gwen as the primary songwriter. At the time Stefani was frustrated with gender stereotypes because, despite pushing 30, her dad got angry at her for staying late at her then boyfriend Tony Kanal which inspired her to write “Just a Girl”. On the track she sings about female stereotypes such as being perceived as weak and needing to be looked after. This was No Doubt’s breakthrough single in the US and became a big hit in the UK after the release of “Don’t Speak”.

5) Eve Feat. Gwen Stefani – Let Me Blow Ya Mind 

Stefani may only feature on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” but her first foray into life without her band was a resounding success. The Eve-Gwen tag team got its first airing with this squelchy-beated banger in 2001, showing that Stefani’s versatile voice can easily lend itself to hip-hop. For their efforts the song won a Grammy Award in 2002 for “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration”. An encouraging start by any stretch of the imagination.

4) Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl

Without a doubt Stefani’s most divisive song. In fact, “Hollaback Girl” has been frequently described as one of the most annoying compositions of all time. The track was written when Stefani and Pharrell decided that  her 2005 Love. Angel. Music. Baby album needed an “attitude song”. Whatever that is. So Gwen decided to write about a comment Courtney Love made in an interview with Seventeen magazine.

“Being famous is just like being in high school. But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She’s the cheerleader, and I’m out in the smoker shed”

Stefani responded in the March 2005 issue of the NME:

“Y’know someone one time called me a cheerleader, negatively, and I’ve never been a cheerleader. So I was, like, “OK, fuck you. You want me to be a cheerleader? Well, I will be one then. And I’ll rule the whole world, just you watch me.”

No-one really knows for sure what a Hollaback Girl is….except from presumably Gwen herself (though it’s doubtful she even knows). Despite critical misgivings, this tribal chant, hip-hop stomper was a massive hit in the US, becoming the first digital download to sell a million copies in the US. Like it or not, no other artist has ever sung about bananas as convincingly as Gwen.

3) No Doubt Feat. Bounty Killer- Hey Baby

The Jamaican dancehall influenced “Hey Baby” is a triumphant rallying call for all No Doubt fans. From the start it’s a chaotic party starting jam which is impossible to ignore. The track contrasts No Doubt groupies’ naughtiness and debauchery on the Return of Saturn tour with Stefani’s dissatisfaction at her long distance relationship with Rossdale. It won the band their second consecutive Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Greedy much…?

2) Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For?

The lead single from Stefani’s first solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby was typically eye-catching (should that be ear-catching), introducing us to Stefani’s crazy, kooky world complete with Harajuku Girls and a topsy turvy Alice in Wonderland inspired video. After the announcement of No Doubt’s hiatus, Stefani was literally forced into a chokehold by prolific singer songwriter Linda Perry who demanded they write songs together. The initial session proved to be unfruitful due to Stefani’s lack of confidence without her band, which resulted in a bad case of writer’s block. This inspired Perry to form a skeleton of the song “What You Waiting For?” as a way to empower Stefani. The rest, as we say, is history.

1) No Doubt – Don’t Speak

The best and probably the saddest song on this list. Written about bandmate Tony Kanal after he ended their seven year relationship “Don’t Speak” was released as the third single from the bands breakthrough album Tragic Kingdom, but it was almost the single that never was. In 1996 tensions were riding high in the band and they were on the verge of breaking up but decided to film a video for “Don’t Speak” as a form of therapy. As a result, the video is brutally honest in showing the source of the tension with the band mostly in the background while Stefani receives all the attention. Upon release “Don’t Speak” became their band’s biggest hit to date, peaking at No. 1 throughout the world and eventually selling over a million copies in the UK as of 2015 (after almost 20 years of sales!). While the song was extremely popular in the US, “Don’t Speak” did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 (chart rules back then required a physical single be issued for a song to chart and the band never released one for “Don’t Speak”). However, it did manage to stay at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay for 16 weeks, a record at the time.

Now that’s what I call a formidable discography. Let’s hope Stefani’s new stuff is just as good. Fingers crossed. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, like and share. Here’s a lovely Spotify playlist to listen to all Gwennie’s songs mentioned here and a few cheeky extras:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiven, Not Forgotten: The Story of The Corrs

Corr-blimey! Guess who’s back!!!

In light of The Corrs recent comeback album White Light I felt the time was right to take a look back over the group’s 20 year discography and cherry pick some of the ripest tunes plump with juicy pop goodness. Now listen up, there’s a lot to get through…

We all remember The Corrs as one of the most popular and inescapable turn-of-the-century family bands whose inoffensive, Irish folk infused brand of pop meant they were never far from the top ten of the UK singles chart. History has a way of ironing out the bumps in the road, but lest we forget that The Corrs did not find initial success outside of their homeland of Ireland until much later than their 1995 debut. Their story is actually one of successful crossover to the international pop mainstream after being largely classed as a folk band.

It is 1995. The year of “Wonderwall” and “Waterfalls”. Boyzone and Take That are sending girls with top knots into a frenzy all over the planet. Lorde has not even graced the planet yet. Let’s take a minute to take all of that in…ok done. The Corrs, four bright eyed and bushy tailed siblings hailing from Country Louth, Ireland, have their eyes set on world domination. Their debut album Forgiven, Not Forgotten is released to positive critical and commercial reception, yielding three top ten singles in Ireland, including the No.1 “Forgiven Not, Forgotten”.

While Forgiven, Not Forgotten does manage peak at No.36 on the UK album chart, it fails to produce a top 40 UK single. Regardless, The Corrs embark upon a two year world tour before returning to the studio with renewed vigour and ambition.

However, their second studio effort Talk On Corners is fraught with setbacks. Many artists often suffer from “the difficult sophomore album” syndrome due to the pressure of following up initial success and, for a while, it seemed as though The Corrs would fall victim to this curse. Producers from the band’s record label Atlantic were so unimpressed by their recordings, particularly “So Young” and “What Can I Do”, that they threatened not to release the album at all. Finally Talk On Corners was released in October 1997 and was initially met with a lukewarm response, with all three of its singles (“Only When I Sleep“, “I Never Loved You Anyway” and “What Can I Do“) continuing their trend of missing the UK top 40.

However, their big breakthrough came when they contributed a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” to the 1998 album Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The album’s release was preceded by a televised live concert in the Albert Hall on St. Patrick’s Day featuring Mick Fleetwood and a day long VH1 special dedicated to The Corrs. This greatly raised the group’s profile and, as a result, they decided to issue “Dreams” as a single and include it on a reissue of Talk On Corners. The single soon found chart success, becoming The Corrs’ first UK top 10 single, peaking at No.6 in the UK.

From this moment on there was no stopping The Corrs. They were on the cusp of reaching the zenith of their career. A remixed version of “What Can I Do” was released as their next single and peaked at No.3, becoming one of the most ubiquitous summer hits of 1998. The single also peaked at No.1 in Canada and went top 10 in most major markwets. The Corrs’ success on the UK singles chart saw sales of Talk On Corners surging, which sent the album soaring the top of the UK charts, staying there for 6 weeks in 1998.

Subsequent single “So Young” kept The Corrs dominating the radio waves throughout 1998 and ensured that Talk On Corners did not leave the UK top 10 for the rest of the year (save one pesky November week when it logged in at No.11…). Due to this continued success, Talk On Corners finished 1998 as the highest selling album of the year in the UK.

1999 saw the band release a remixed version of their debut single “Runaway“, which became the group’s biggest hit yet, peaking at No.2 in the UK. Here’s a bit of chart history for you – “Runaway” was held off the top spot by none other than doe-eyed Britney Spears with her seminal debut hit “…Baby One More Time”, which was, in turn, the highest selling single of 1999 in the UK. Despite this “Brintervention” (“Britney intervention” in case that wasn’t clear…), “Runaway’s” runaway success sent Talk on Corners back to the top of the UK album charts for a further 4 weeks and ensured its further success throughout 1999, ending the year as the 9th highest selling album. Due to its mammoth sales, Talk On Corners actually still remains one of the best-selling albums in this the UK with nearly 3 million copies sold.  Such was their success that their debut album Forgiven, Not Forgotten also scaled the charts in 1999, finding a new peak of No.2 in March while Talk On Corners still held the top spot. This feat of having two albums in the top two of the UK albums chart had only previously been achieved by The Beatles and was not matched again until Adele’s 21 and 19 did the double in 2011. Thems some badass chart facts for you people!

The ridiculously hardworking band didn’t let 1999 go out without a bang either, releasing an unplugged album as part of the MTV series just in time for Christmas. The album peaked at No.7 in the UK and scored the band yet another top 20 single with the poptastic “Radio”. Unplugged proved that the band sounded just as good with or without production and continued their winning streak. By this time there was no bringing The Corrs down from the dizzy heights of success.

By July 2000 The Corrs had readied their follow up studio album In Blue (gosh they used to work these pop bands so hard back in the day. They were literally like machines). Lead single “Breathless” is, for me, the epitome of early naughties pop and you honestly can’t fail to be charmed by the band’s sweet harmonies and prominent fiddle lines on this summer delicacy. The single proved to be a smash and soon became The Corrs’ first UK No.1, their second in Canada, as well as a top ten smash throughout Europe and Oceania and Canada. It even managed to peak top 40 in the notoriously hard-to-break US market. “Breathless” finished 2000 as the 33rd best seller of the year in the UK. On the back of this success,  In Blue shot to No.1 throughout Europe, becoming the group’s second British chart topper and peaking at No.21 stateside.  Subsequent singles “Irresistable” and “Give Me a Reason” also managed to crack the UK top 30 but failed to replicate the success of “Breathless”.  Still, In Blue’s international success established The Corrs as one of the most popular bands in the world at the turn of the century.

The following year The Corrs decided to release a “Best of The Corrs” collection containing all their biggest hits and new single “Would You Be Happier?” which peaked top 15 in the UK. The album peaked at No.6 in the UK and went 2xPlatinum for over 600,000 sales in this market alone. Told you there was no stopping them!

This period was followed by a relatively quiet period for the band, who had been constantly touring, recording and performing since 1995. In the next two years they took a break before returning in style in summer of 2004 with the appropriately titled “Summer Sunshine” which returned them to the top 10 of the UK and became a moderate hit throughout Europe and Oceania. This was followed by the release of their 4th album of original material Borrowed Heaven which debuted at No.2 in the UK, being held off by Keane’s Hopes and Fears (which went on to be the second best-selling album of the year).

Their follow up single “Angel” was written about the sudden death of the band’s mother Jean Corr, who died in 1999 of lung cancer at the age of 57. The single saw limited success worldwide but did manage to peak at No.16 in the UK. It’s actually one of my favourite singles by the band and a touching tribute to a lost loved one. It is very difficult to make such a difficult event into a positive and the band succeeded in finding the maturity and perspective to celebrate their mother’s life.

After finishing their Borrowed Heaven tour, 2005 saw the band take a dramatically different direction, choosing to release an Irish-themed record consisting of traditional Irish songs. The album Home saw the band return to their roots after adopting a more mainstream sound in recent years. It was compiled using some of their mother’s favourite songs and was released exactly 10 years after their debut Forgiven, Not Forgotten. The albums commercially success was limited in major markets with lead single “Heart Like a Wheel/Old Town” bowing at a somewhat muted No.68, becoming their lowest peaking single. As a consequence, Home only managed to peak at No.14 in the UK,  but it did chart quite strongly throughout Europe, cracking the French, Spanish and Swiss Top Tens and topping the chart in their native Ireland. After this the band split to pursue solo careers and to raise families.

Subsequent years have been very quiet for the family band. Andrea Corr, the band’s lead singer and the youngest in the family, has released two solo albums Ten Feet High and Lifelines which both peaked top 40 in the UK but whose success was somewhat limited compared to that of The Corrs. The albums, however, did produce bouncy, fun singles “Champagne from a Straw” and “Tinseltown in the Rain”, which are worth a second glance.

The only other sibling who released any music during their extended hiatus was Sharon Corr who also released two solo albums, Dream of You and The Same Sun, with the former reaching the UK top 40 and producing the single “It’s Not a Dream”.

Now, ten years after calling it time on their pop music career, The Corrs are back with their sixth studio album White Light. Looking back on their catalogue of hits I have to say I expected something a bit more immediate for their big comeback single than “Bring On the Night”. Sure those trademark harmonies are as tight as ever, but in a world dominated by flashy performances and caterwauling X Factor contestants, The Corrs particular brand of polite pop has the potential to slip under the radar. However, White Light has already managed to crack the Irish top 10 and peak at No.11 in the UK during the busy Christmas season, which is no mean feat, especially since White Light shows literally zero progression from their early 2000 sound. That being said, there is something very refreshing about The Corrs’ confidence in their own skin. I couldn’t really see them doing EDM anyway and who’s to say there isn’t still room for their traditional folk influenced pop rock stylings. I don’t know what the future is for the band but I do know that I am glad to see them back. Vive les Corrs!

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave comments and share 🙂

Further listening: