Category Archives: 1997

Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night

Camp Lo
Uptown Saturday Night
January 28, 1997
Profile RecordsArista Records/ SME
083/100
Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night
1. Krystal Karrington // 2. Luchini AKA This Is It // 3. Park Joint // 4. B-Side to Hollywood (feat. Trugoy the Dove) // 5. Killin’  Em Softly // 6. Sparkle // 7. Black Connection // 8. Swing (feat. Butterfly) // 9. Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Harlem // 10. Say Word (feat. Jungle Brown) // 11. Negro League (feat. Karachi R.A.W. & Bones) // 12. Nicky Barnes AKA It’s Alright (feat. Jungle Brown) // 13. Black Nostaljack // 14. Coolie High // 15. Sparkle [Mr. Midnight Mix]

Every once in a while a piece of music enters ones conscience that makes you wonder how you got by without it all those years. Camp Lo’s Coolie High has been one of those songs for yours truly. I remember when I first heard the song at a house party some five, six years ago and unfortunately I was too far off the map and preoccupied to walk up to the desktop to find out just what exactly it was that was playing. The smooth-as-butter instrumentals and nimble flows did however leave a mark and when one of my friends casually put it on at another house party years later I immediately recognised it, had a eureka moment of sorts and managed not to forsake finding out what was that time. Coolie High has since been a favourite track of mines, kept in heavy rotation and helping me zone out for a bit at those times when life gets a little too stressful. Their other hit song Luchini AKA This Is It also turned out to be a classic and sounds like Coolie High‘s polar opposite production-wise. The beat has a cinematic horn loop among other things that doesn’t creep up your spine but grabs you by the throat in stead. Neither song has any particularly meaningful lyrics but everything the Lo say does sound cool with a poetic veneer, and their liquid flows are near perfect which puts the guys somewhere between being instruments used by Ski to complete his music and star MCs in their own right.

The duo behind these songs hails from the Bronx, New York and entered existence in 1995. Soon they hooked up with producer DJ Ski and started working on their debut album Uptown Saturday Night, the subject of today’s post, released on Profile Records, home of RUN-DMC. Unfortunately for them during the recording a young upstart who went by the name of Jay-Z came along and stole purchased the instrumental, the hook and the flow of their songs Feelin’ It (and who knows what else) wholesale from their producer Ski for his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Despite that minor setback they continued to work on their album and it dropped in early ’97. Despite not conforming to any of the dominant sounds in hip-hop of the time, those being P. Daddy’s shiny disco rap, Dr. Dre’s syrupy G-funk sound or RZA’s dusty beats, they managed to score two minor hits off their debut, the previously mentioned Coolie High and Luchini AKA This Is It. These songs introduced the world to the Lo’s confidently delivered ’70s  blaxploitation slang raps and Ski’s atmospheric, soulful and jazzy yet down to earth productions. That would unfortunately be the entirety of their commercial success as nothing they did following that charted, but that didn’t stop them from staying together, collaborating with their boy Ski and putting out albums for the decade following this album’s release so they probably have a small but dedicated cult following or so it would seem.

Nothing on Uptown Saturday Night surpasses or even matches the artistic success of the positively epic Luchini or aural relaxant Coolie Hight, but the rest of the album is still quite entertaining. Highlights include the Jamiroquai-esque piano groove of Sparkle and the smacking salsa-hop of Rockin’ It. The booming opener Krystal Karrington is also pretty awesome. The rest of the songs are fairly entertaining filler and Uptown Saturday Night as a whole is an underrated gem of an album that is deserving of every hip-hop head’s time and attention.

Best tracks
Krystal Karrington
Luchini AKA This Is It
Sparkle
Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Joint
Coolie High

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Daft Punk – Homework

Daft Punk
Homework
20 January 1997
Virgin Records
UMG
090/100

Daft Punk - Homework

1. Daftendirekt // 2. Wdpk 83.7 fm // 3. Revolution 909 // 4. Da Funk // 5. Phoenix // 6. Fresh // 7. Around The World // 8. Rollin’& Scratching // 9. Teachers // 10. High Fidelity // 11. Rock’n Roll // 12. Oh Yeah // 13. Burnin’ // 14. Indo Silver Club // 15. Alive // 16. Funk Ad

Daft Punk is a team up of two DJs who became popular in the early nineties. They were influenced by Funk, early electronic music, Techno and eighties Pop à la Roxy Music. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter a.k.a. Daft Punk were part of a new generation of so-called Dance artists like Basement Jaxx, Moby and Armand van Helden just to name a few. Continuing the list: Junkie XL, Air, The Chemical Brothers and you understand how fertile that period was for electronic music.

In 1996 their album Homework was released in Europe. In the U.S.A release followed in 1997. It was an immense success that put them on the map of the music world we know today. Their sound of Funk and Disco infected House and Techno still seduces unsuspecting people to shuffle their feet. I grew up in the nineties and Daft Punk’s work was part of the mainstream music channels like TMF and MTV (before reality TV took over what still calls itself Music TeleVision).

One presses play and Daftendirekt begins. A low voice makes its presence and after 35 seconds the beat starts. “Da funk back to the time, come on” is repeated and slowly the track unveils its full mix. Wdpk 83.7 fm is basically the radio promo that officially starts the album.

Revolution 909 starts with a thumping beat and sirens that introduces an infectious House tune. The samples have a retro sound to it. After 3:10 a short Techno interlude mixes up the sound after which the Disco infused House continues. Da Funk is a personal favourite track of mine on this album. The break-beat intro is so effective in luring one into the raw electronic groove. Big beats and break-beats are in a rare harmony that aren’t often heard. The electronic soloing in the middle of the track really gives this track a unique vibe.

Phoenix starts with dry beats, high hats follow and step by step the sounds make their introduction. Daft Punk want to lure you into their sound and successfully so, I am practically dancing on my chair. Fresh like water on a beach. Electric keys, beats and groove introduce me to Fresh. Again the layers of sounds just lure you in. This is more of a chill-out House track to which you can still dance or just read a book. The fade out, water on a beach…

Around The World changed many things. The video of for this track changed the world of music forever. The sound of this track was a groovy revelation in its time. This track gets people exited to boogie like MJ’s Blame It On The Boogie can do it. What’s left to add? 7 full minutes of pure electronic funky ecstasy. Rollin’& Scratchin’ is different. A repetitive dry beat becomes louder and louder while the samples slowly come together. If this track had screaming vocals and wailing guitars it would be Industrial, it is brutal yet listenable. Instead it is noisy Techno. It has a strange appeal one has to be in the mood for.

Teachers, the title tells you enough. Daft Punk mentions the names of those who inspired them. Over a break beat with a vocal sample so one can take notes before you start searching.
High Fidelity, back to beats and samples. A sample is looped and cut over one beat in various beats throughout the entire track. This results in a funky House track that remains remarkably fun to listen to.

Beats and hand claps introduce Rock’n Roll. Slowly an electronic noise repeats itself more and more. If Hard Rock would be turned into electronic music this somewhat matches my imagined outcome. A strange electronic sound wails like a lead guitar over the beats. Just like Rollin’& Scratching this track is brutal yet listenable. Oh Yeah follows as groove and a slow beat with a vocal samples slow down the pace. This track is a short transition to the last part of the album. But as a separate track it still stands on its own.

Slow beats, a strange noise and an old sample start Burnin’. This track is cool for its subtle effect while you are lured into another House groove. Daft Punk really know how to immerse the listener into the music. Even the most reluctant party goer cannot resist the urge to just dance. Indo Silver Club’s intro starts softly. After that the funky House groove takes you away. This is one of those tracks that immediately hits or misses. It sounds shy of bland but its hook can catch anyone off guard. I happen to have a weak spot for this track.

Alive starts and futuristic bombastic sounds enter make their entrance. The sounds come in one by one and at 2:08 the futuristic eighties Disco groove just takes the listener to another place entirely. This music could easily be a soundtrack for a chase in a Sci-Fi film from the eighties. This track is simply epic. Funk Ad closes the album. The outro for the album is a slow groove that slowly fades out with the sound of Da Funk…

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter produced this album to have a particular sound. When listening through headphones, AKG K500s I initially thought the album sounded slightly loud. Not brick walled just more emphasized lows and highs for a more exiting sound. On this album it works. Just be careful with the listening volume. A part from that you can hear the craftsmanship both DJs put in this album. But there’s one think I would like to know from you, if you can spare a moment: why the name Daft Punk?

Best Tracks
Da Funk
Phoenix
Around The World
Rock’n Roll
Indo Silver Club
Alive

Recommendations
This album, gives one the feeling of listening to a freshly copied bootleg of a Daft Punk gig. There is no filler to speak of, everything works and when one stops thinking the music takes over. Also, in its own way this album marked a new era of electronic music a.k.a. Dance. Even today this album still sounds fresh and different. Highly recommended…

My regards,

Rura88


Kara’s Flowers – The Fourth World

Kara’s Flowers
The Fourth World
August 19, 1997
Reprise RecordsWMG
060/100
Kara's Flowers - The Fourth World
1. Soap Disco // 2. Future Kid // 3. Myself // 4. Oliver // 5. The Never Saga // 6. Loving the Small Time // 7. To Her, With Love // 8. Sleepy Windbreaker // 9. Pantry Queen // 10. My Ocean Blue // 11. Captain Splendid // 12. Buddy Two-Shoes

Kara’s Flowers, an L.A. based alternative rock band consisting of Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Ryan Dusick and Adam Levine, released their debut album on Reprise Records, to the sounds of crickets in the summer of ’97. The only single off the album Soap Disco failed to make a splash on the charts and the guys gave up those silly rockstar dreams and went to college never to be heard from again.

Well that’s what should have happened, but in stead the foursome returned around the turn of the millenium with bringing guitar player James Valentine and the funk with them under the name Maroon 5, started to making hits doing catchy come on- and kiss off-numbers, and continue to be a thing to this day.

Maroon 5, once they became successful, maintained their success by moving (or mooOOooOOoo00ving) with the times, adjusting and incorporating trends into their formula, and therefor it is not surprising that The Fourth World sounds as though Adam and co. temporarely put away their Prince and Police records, took a time machine to 1997 and recorded a post-grunge record.

Off course Adam Levine has as about much in common with Kurt Kobain as Justin Bieber has with 2pac, and therefore it is commendable that Kara’s Flowers stays completely clear of Nirvana’s emo angst and alienation generation X-shtick and just writes pop-songs with a grunge-influence in stead.

The resulting album could serve as the score to a mediocre, late ’90s-to-early-naughties “search of self” young adult roadtrip-movie (Being that this album came into existence in ’97 it baffles me that a Kara’s Flowers roadtrip-movie wasn’t commissioned. That would not only have helped The Forth World move some units, but that would also have gotten the three band-members that aren’t Adam out of anonymity.)

I don’t know much about this particular genre of music, but as usual with Maroon 5 everything is, if nothing else, neatly done. These songs are catchy and inoffensive my ears. Making music that is both catchy and acceptable to people who aren’t fans of whatever particular genre they’re dabbling in at that particular moment in time has apparently always been Maroon 5’s forte (which conversely amost certainly means that purist fans of “real” grunge, garage rock, Brit-pop, power pop and other genres that are namechecked in other, better informed reviews of the Fourth World will probaby hate the everliving shit out of this album, for “watering down” their beloved music for “pop” audiences.)

Kara’s Flowers keeps things brief with eleven tracks, clocking under fourty minutes, which is also positive since nothing sticks out, and consistency tends to turn into dragging if stretched out too long.

The Fourth World should be taken for a spin by M5 fans, but not because it’s interesting to see the band form into what they eventually became . Their catchy songwriting and music, as well as Adam’s nasal falsetto are fully formed here already, all that’s missing are the funk/ soul influences, (Besides, the M5 boys aren’t that interesting to begin with, they make catchy pop-tunes, not progressive, avant-garde music)  but rather because there is plenty to like here for fans of Adam’s distinctive singing and these songs are fairly catchy and fun which is all one can want from a Maroon 5 album.

Best tracks
Soap Disco

Recommendations
If you find this album in the used bin for the price of some loose change you might as well take it with you.


Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, vol. 1

Jay-Z
In My Lifetime, vol. 1
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
November 4, 1997

080/100

1. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More [Intro] // 2. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet)// 3. I Know What Girls Like (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 4. Imaginary Player // 5. Streets is Watching // 6. Friend or Foe ’98 // 7. Lucky Me // 8. (Always Be My) Sunshine (feat. Foxy Brown & Babyface) // 9. Who You With II // 10. Face Off (feat. Sauce Money) // 11. Real Niggaz (feat. Too $hort) // 12. Rap Game/ Crack Game // 13. Where I’m From // 14. You Must Love Me (feat. Kelly Price)

After Reasonable Doubt made Shawn Corey Carter b.k.a. Jay-Z a hood star, he wanted to be a pop star too. If not to be on the radio, then in order to pay the rent. Priority Records, the parent label to Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records had dropped him and his boys because Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell that well initially. (After several of Shawn’s follow-up albums had gone platinum people finally became interested in his debut and in 2002, six years after it was originally released, Reasonable Doubt was certified platinum.) The most effective way to sell millions of records is to strike a deal with the devil. In ’97 the devil was Puff Diddy, who oversaw the creation of In My Lifetime, vol. 1 from his ‘executive producer’ chair. He hired, among others, R&B cats Teddy Riley and Babyface who didn’t know jack shit about gangster rap, to produce this fucker and jacks a bunch of ‘80s songs for their hooks and beats, along the way in making jigga his bitch, like had Ma$e.

The results are notorious (no pun intended). The City is Mine finds Jiggaman proclaiming his dominance over the New York rap scene, which isn’t all that strange a claim considering his debut album is hailed as one of the crowning achievements of the hiphop genre as a whole. But it sounds all sorts of ridiculous with Teddy Riley’s R&B outfit interpreting Glenn Frey on the hook alongside him, even if Jay himself comes more than correct lyrically. I Know What Girls Like is almost magnificent in showing what was wrong with mainstream hiphop in ’97. Suffice to say it has P. Daddy ‘interpolating’ (meaning poorly re-singing) the hook to the Waitresses´ I Know What Boys Like to an obviously flattered Lil’ Kimberly who then proceeds to sing it back to him, with Jay sounding like awkward, bored and slightly annoyed, not unlike a single person hanging around an overly gropy  couple. (Always Be My) Sunshine is the glittered-up sequel to Reasonable Doubt’s Foxy Brown duet Ain’t No Nigga. The beat isn’t good like the one that’s on the previously mentioned song, and Foxy Brown isn’t tacked on to the rear end of the song like the last time, but actually trading verses with Jay, so there’s no easy way around her via the skip button.

Considering that these songs were the most visible representation of this album at the time of its release In My Lifetime’s poor reputation as the point where Jay-Z sold out, is understandable, but incorrect. In fact, having listened to it, most of the rest of these tracks are nearly Reasonable Doubt-good. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More rolls up two hot DJ Premier instrumentals in one track, with Jay-hova rhyming over it in his typical manner. Streets Is Watching has Ski sampling Labi Siffre’s  I Got the for an exceptionally hot three verses about paranoia. (Unfortunately Siffre wouldn’t sign off on the sample clearance unless the track was censored. The exact same thing happened to Eminem’s 1999 major label debut single My Name Is, which samples the same source material) Face Off and Real Niggaz find the Jiggaman do some lyrical sparring with respectively Sauce Money and Too $hort, two rappers who can actually keep up with Shawn both in terms of charisma and rhyme skillz, so that’s nice.

Imaginary Player is a perfect example of the art of braggadocio and the lyrical highlight of the album.

I got bail money, XXL money
You got flash now, one time we’ll reveal money
I spit the hottest shit, you need it I got it shit
That down South Master P, Bout It Bout It shit
I got blood money, straight up thug money
That brown paper bag under your mattress drug money
You got show dough, little to no dough
Sell a bunch of records and you still owe dough
I got 900 and 96 plus 4 more dough
You crazy, you full gazy, and loco with dough papo

There’s even more highlights, the NaS sampling Rap Game/ Crack Game that started that long-ass beef, which is the only song I know of that makes some good use of the ‘Rap is really just like selling dope’ metaphor. The ‘I come from a low income neighbourhood where life is not very comfortable’ tale of Where I’m From and the contemplative somber numbers Lucky Me and You Must Love Me are also stellar.

In the end one must conclude that if one subtracts the three worst tracks one is left with an album that is in fact almost as good as Reasonable Doubt and hella better than the average rap disc from this era. Jay-Z never fell off or made a commercial album (well he did at a certain point, but In My Lifetime, vol. 1 is not that album). He just added a couple of club bangers to an otherwise pretty hardcore set. And although there’s nothing against club bangers per se, all of those three included here happen to suck big floppy donky dick. But let that not discourage you from giving this a spin. As a whole it is quite good actually.

Best tracks:
Imaginary Player, Streets Is Watching, Lucky Me, Rap Game/ Crack Game, Where I’m From, You Must Love Me

Recommendations:
Buy this album.


Christión – Ghetto Cyrano

Christión
Ghetto Cyrano
October 7, 1997
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
059/100
Christión - Ghetto Cyrano
Chapter 1the Streets
1. The Getto (What Ya Gotta Do// 2. Full of Smoke // 3. Pull It // 4. Where I’m From [Interlude] // 5. Where I’m from
Chapter 2: the Relationship
6. Midnight X-Ta-C // 7. Anything Goes // 8. I Wanna Get Next to you // 9. Face Like Yours
Chapter 3: the Love
10. Bring Back Your Love // 11. Come To Me // 12. Soon
Chapter 4: the Aftermath
13. Tonight // 14. aftermath

The most pretentious thing that the people responsible for this album did is include Cyrano in its name, which is supposed to refer to either 17th century French science fiction writer Cyrano de Bergerac or the play based on the man that portrays him as some sort of poetic dirty uncle. There was also apparently a 1913 opera called Cyrano, but Anthony Allen and Kenni Ski don’t strike me as opera lovers (Though admittedly I have been wrong before in similar assessment). Ghetto Cyrano may even be named after the 1991 atrocity of a musical one of my countrymen excreted after consuming an entire script of said play, with an entrée of Hans Zimmerman and an side dish of Tim Rice.
Considering that this is supposedly divided into four ‘chapters’ I’m going to go with the play, since plays are oft divided into acts (acts goddamn it, not chapters!), which the person who namedropped Cyrano into their conscience either failed to mention, or the boys in this R&B duo – who probably didn’t go to see the play for themselves – inconveniently failed to recall when they explained their vision of a concept of an album that was like a 19th century play from France, with Chapters and shit!, to Damon Dash and were too lazy too look up afterwards since him and the Jiggaman had inked them a deal already anyway and looking it up on the internet would’ve cost them more time and money since it was 1997 and all there was available was shitty Dial-Up internet access and well… ain’t nobody got time for that.
Either that or they read L’Autre monde ou les états et empires de la Lune and stuffed Ghetto Cyrano full of hidden 1657 satire references, which off course I wouldn’t notice because I haven’t read it personally (I’m not that much of a culture-buff), in which case the joke would be on me. If this is the case please leave a comment so I can see my error of judgment.
In the unlikely event this is fact the division in ‘chapters’ still doesn’t remotely make sense since only the five opening tracks show any sort of entity seperate from the rest: The first five are about ‘street life’ while the remaining three ‘chapters’ comprising nine tracks are all about love and sex, and definitely not the edgy crush-on-your neice kind that ol’ Cyrano was so lyric about in the fictitious play written about him more than a century after he died.

What’s almost equally mystifying is how these two guys from the bay area of California got signed to the very New York-centric Roc-a-Fella Records, and were not only the first R&B act on the label, but the first act bar label boss Jay-Z to get to release their album on it altogether. It actually takes some pretty close inspection of the packaging to find that out though since you can find nary a Jay-Z fingerprint on it. Sure, his name is stamped on the back with Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs who all ‘executive produce’, but he doesn’t drop as much as a single line on it. Nor are there any of the producers that were associated with the Roc at the time present. Christión gets to produce all of this stuff for themselves with some mystery guy called Poetry Man who appears to never have worked on anything other than Ghetto Cyrano. Well, that’s not to say that this record is entirely free of Jay: The opening track The Ghetto (What Ya Gotta Do) has a small shard of Jigga’s vocals that seem to have been lifted from Reasonable Doubt‘s closing song Regrets that’s dropped into the chorus for no real reason other than to stress to the listener that they in fact were on his label. The same happens on Pull It, as though the Roc didn’t yet have the cash to fly Christión to Brooklyn or fly Jay to Frisco (which may have been the truth since Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell very well and the first real success in the form of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 had yet to drop), so in stead of having them record together they e-mailed Jigga’s voice across the country, but were, once again, severely restricted to an absolute minimum by what the technology of the time had to offer, which raises another question: Why did Christión sign to a not (yet) very succesful label on the other side of the country that wouldn’t offer them any musical back up? Couldn’t they have made things a lot simpler and just have brought their business to a respectable label much closer to home like Death Row?

All of these questions are probably never going to get answers since Christión’s faces can currently be on San Francisco milk cartons and Jay-Z by this point can hardly remember having at one point owned a record label called Roc-a-Fella, let alone having these two signed to it and not working with them on recording their album.
This review is the most press these guys have recieved in seventeen years and it ends on a mixed note.

There is one song on this that is an undeniable classic. That is the Marvin Gaye-sampling contemplative smokers anthem Full of Smoke, that sounds a like a Curtis Mayfield update for the mid-’90s, which was a hit-single and the music video of which at the very least places the guys in one room with Dame Dash. Which is a reminder that Jay wasn’t the only guy behind the wheel of the Roc but that Dame Dash had some influence on the proceedings at the very least early on (and if Cam’ron is to be believed later on too, but only when Jay went on vacation for a while. *tosses the Roc-offices keys to Dame and tells him to water the plants and not throw any wild parties*).
Pull It and Where I’m From are fairly decent blacksploitation grooves, and Midnight X-Ta-C is an okay song to get nasty to I suppose and Face Like Yours isn’t a bad love song. Problem is none of these songs except the hit-single pack much of a punch, and neither does anything else. These guys sound like 2pac’s second-rate hook-singer Danny Boy, which means that besides theone good song they had in them as a lead-act they probably were only truly good as a studio-tool for the occasional R&B hook of a hip-hop song, which was a career that was probably denied them by Jay himself since their only appearances from here on on the Roc-a-Fella label were the off second-rate compilation like the Streets Is Watching OST and Hard Knock Life OST, but other than that they were denied even the slightest bit of Memphis Bleek album action, no matter how much Dame begged him to give his boys some play.

Jay-Z may be a good rapper, but he really does appear to be complete dick of a boss. Word to Beanie Sigel and Dame Dash. This however doesn’t he wasn’t right about really ever fucking with Christión musically or something, and it’s hard to see anything significant being lost here like what was the case with Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U and his subsequent career and laxk thereof. With the exception of their lone hit Christión made well meaning, well informed but ultimately completely generic urban soul. Ghetto Cyrano is a historically remarkable album because of the label it was released on that nevertheless only delivers anything of enduring interest to listeners in the form of its first and only charting single, while the rest of the music featured on it refuses to be of any detectable quality whatsoever. Both the songwriting and the singing are really bland. Arguably even Bleek, whose music definitely sounds a lot worse than Christión’s, has more right to a Roc-deal because at the very least delivers that sound that Jay’s fans appear to enjoy (albeait in a store brand imitation form.) Hell, this album doesn’t even have the Pain in da Ass intro!

Best track
Full of Smoke

Recommendations
Download Full of smoke, it’s a great song, but don’t listen to the rest of this album. It’s boring as watching paint dry.


All Saints – All Saints

All Saints

All Saints

11-24-1997

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 1.9.7.5., 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.

5. Heaven

A contemplative midnight slow-burning, lounging chillout hiphop-R&B-track. Not nearly uplifting enough for its title but pretty decent nevertheless.

6. Alone

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 1.9.7.5, 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.

8. Trapped

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.

9. Beg

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?

Best tracks

Never Ever, Bootie Call, I Know Where It’s At, If You Want To Party (I Found Lovin’)

Conclusions

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.