London Records/ Island Records/ Universal Music Group
And we’re back to 1990s pop. Although, at this point no-one should be surprised about this. I don’t know if it is a good or a bad sign that nobody else writes about this stuff. I probably have carved out a nice little niche for myself in blogland by now, but then again there remains the possibility that noone gives half a fuck. Nevertheless I shall merrily continue down this path as straightfromthecrates.com is mostly about occupational therapy for this reviewer anyway.
All Saints is a group that was formed in 1993 in London by Shaznay Lewis, Melanie Blatt and Simone Rainford under the name All Saints 188.8.131.52., because the group hung around near All Saints road apparently. Oh, well. That’s as good a reason for a band name as any, I suppose. In that year the original threesome were signed to ZZT records as studio backup vocalists but also managed to record a few entirely unsuccesful singles, after which they were off course dropped by their label and Rainford left the group. In 1996, the year that the Spice Girls made it big they were joined by Canadian sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton making them a four-piece. Because the Saints consisted of three white girls and a tan one, and because of the timing of their rise to stardom it is oft assumed that they were wannabe(ha!)-Spice Girls. That is incorrect, they were actually going for Eternal. That same year they met producer K-Gee, not to be mistaken with Naughty By Nature’s crew DJ who goes by the same moniker, who recorded an demo of their song I Know Where It’s At with them and convinced London Records’ John Benson to sign them. And then the hits, the platinum plaques and the awards, (although to my best knowledge not much in the form of critical acclaim) kept coming until in 2001 they broke up for whatever reason (although in 2006 they had an unsuccesful attempt at a comeback, unsuccesful, I think because they recorded and released an entire new album rather than perform the past-glory material that might ring some bells with us 1990s hipster children, like Spice did.) All Saints was their late-’97 debut album, has gone platinum both in the US and the UK as well as in many other countries, spawned three UK #01 singles and two more more in the top 10.
Was any of this success justifiable?
1. Never Ever
This one was a number one single in the UK and Australia, and deservedly so. Right off the bat it becomes clear that the Saints are both better singers and better songwriters than the Spice girls by a wide margin. That’s right readers, this doesn’t sound like it’s written
by for 8-year old girls. This is actually quite a mature, thought-through, well-written, well-performed R&B-ballad with very mild country and gospel influences. The instrumental was co-produced by Cameron McVey, at time of this album’s release: late of Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack fame, and soon to produce the Sugababes, as well as Magnus Fiennes, who has worked with Shakira, Lenny Kravitz, Jamelia and Tom Jones among others.
2. Bootie Call
Another hit single. The instrumental of this song consists mostly of beatboxing, drums and, I think, horse noises, mixed deep into the background, yes you read that correctly… Why’d you ask? Anyway, this meshes well with girls’ singing about one night stands and what not, and the blend turns out pretty effective bedroom music. And before you ask: No, I do not have a horse fetish. Thank you very much. Oh, and what would a ’90s sex song be without at least one condom reference?
3. I Know Where It’s At
This was the track that put the Saints on the map. Or their very first success on the UK charts anyway. This hip-hop infused instrumental-driven party track sounds more 1994 than 1997 to me, which is fucking fantastic. It’s also not very surprising when you figure that it was produced by K-Gee, who, according to whackipedia, was in the generically named early 1990’s UK hiphop group the Outlaw Posse.
4. Under the Bridge
Yes, this is what you believed it to be. And it is quite as blasphemous a cover as you might’ve thought. It takes a fat shit over a meaningful song by letting some people perform it who, at the very least sound like they don’t get what they’re singing. Wait, I think they’ve even sampled the guitar playing from the original… How high were the Peppers when they signed off on this? Then again, this as a double A-side with Lady Marmelade hit number one. Fuck.
A contemplative midnight slow-burning, lounging chillout hiphop-R&B-track. Not nearly uplifting enough for its title but pretty decent nevertheless.
Midtempo hiphop-soul filler, but hey, at the very least it fills.
7. If You Want To Party (I Found Lovin’)
The beat, supplied by occasional George Michael collaborator Jon Douglas, can’t figure out whether it wants to be acidjazzed-disco or g-funk and in stead chooses to cover some pleasant middle ground. The girls do some rapping which, while off course not jaw dropping, fits is purpose on the verses and some singing on the hook, which is killer sexy too. There’s a version called Let’s Get Started [ R’n’B Edit] which has different verses, a different instrumental and shouts out All Saints 184.108.40.206, which was the group’s original name. That version is a lot more minimalistic and groove-heavy in its execution, and, in my opinion, also worth checking out. My guess is that that would be one of their 1995 ZZT singles. Although the alternative version is probably not very to the casual fan. And, at this point in time, I can’t imagine the Saints to have any diehard fans left. The version included on All Saints was a single too, but only in Japan.
This instrumental, co-produced by London Records manager John Benson and apparently, but not likely, Neville Henry of the ‘80s New Wave band: the Blow Monkeys, is g-funk-influenced, too, although no one would confuse this with a Dr. Dre production from a mile off, because the whiny synth is mixed too deep into the background for that. The lyrics about a friend who’s not doing too well are pretty decent and overall this one isn’t bad at all.
Please refer to my comments on track 6.
7. Lady Marmalade
More subdued in every way imaginable compared to that other Lady Marmalade cover, from the beat to the singing to the rapping to the instrumental, but pretty similar nonetheless in that they both have singing, rapping, a hiphop-ish instrumental and are versions of the same song. I would say this was a pretty uninspired choice for a cover… if the Saints hadn’t gotten there before Christina, P!nk, Mýa, Kim and Rockwilder. Which version is best though, you ask? Patti Labelle’s.
10. Take The Key
Please refer to my comment on track 9.
11. War of the Nerves
Pretty much the first downtempo song since the first track, oh yes… unless you count that Under the Bridge cover. Had tried to forget about that one actually.
12. Never Ever [Nice Hat Mix]* (feat. K-Gee)
K-Gee throws one of his leftover beats underneath this album’s opening song’s vocal track, and it’s probably him too who raps the added verse. The beat is pretty fresh but it overpowers the girls’ singing, hence the overall track not being quite as good as the O.G. version. But I shouldn’t complain about a bonus track, should I?
Never Ever, Bootie Call, I Know Where It’s At, If You Want To Party (I Found Lovin’)
All Saints is in fact a pretty good album. The only weight holding this down are the covers. Pretty much everything and everyone else on here serves his/ her/ its respective purpose, and every sound is expertly and slickly made. There is nothing on here as tackily exuberant or catchy as Wannabe and such, but for mature audiences that is probably for the better as there may be something more to be found than nostalgia alone. My only significant critique of this is that the girls are perfectly indistinct singers, be it from one another or from other, similar acts, (this becomes especially clear on said covers compared to their originals) but they probably can’t help that, and unlike their Spice-colleagues they are in fact more than competent singers, so it seems to me they did everything in their power to make their debut a nice listening-experience and they mostly succeed. Besides, this is European mid 1990’s R&B pop, you don’t hope for extremely distinct vocalists (with some exceptions being Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey) or progressive experimentation, you hope for some catchy tunes and cutesy performances. These things All Saints delivers, in style.