After S Club 7 split up in the Spring of 2003, member Rachel Stevens wasted no time in keeping the momentum with a solo record. I am still fond of S Club 7, they definitely had some solid gold classics in their canon, but I found them a little too tailored to the junior market to ever become a superfan.
Rachel, on the other hand, took the initiative – and her appeal to an older audience, having topped many ‘sexiest women’ polls – and started making what might patronisingly be described as ‘grown-up pop’ or ‘pop it’s OK to like’ (God, I hate phrases like that). Not that this felt contrived, it was a natural progression, and it’s not like she was doing indie or anything, this was still pop music.
Her first single “Sweet Dreams (my LA ex)” was a success, but the wheels fell off when the title track was released. A re-think, a re-issue and some new songs gave the album another shot in the arm, and saw the campaign through to a qualified success. I always loved her second album “Come and get it”, almost to the point that I’m scared of listening again unless it’s not as good as I remember. But “Funky Dory” sort of passed me by, singles aside. Time to sort that out.
10 Some Girls – Getting ahead of ourselves, this heralded the re-release and became her biggest success to date, hooking up with alt-pop superproducer Richard X. I love this so much, a tale of a disillusioned popstar over an electro-glam soundtrack. Critics of Rachel’s voice would be hard-pressed to say it doesn’t fit the tone of the track. A shining beacon during pop’s wilderness years of the mid-00’s.
10 Sweet Dreams (my LA ex) – Her debut single now, what a 1-2 punch of opening tracks. That guitar riff with the springy electro beat really go well, this is some high-quality pop music. I only sort-of got the fuss at the time, but I really love this. “What PLANET are you from??”. A great debut.
08 Funky Dory – Sure, it wasn’t as good as “Sweet Dreams”, but I don’t think this single flopped so much because of the song alone, it must have just got lost in the pack. It’s a little more understated, but there’s plenty going on with a catchy chorus to boot.
08 Fools – I wonder how many of these tracks could have ended up with Girls Aloud in another lifetime? I like that almost-country loop, very memorable. It also has one of my favourite pop writers Karen Poole too. Maybe this could have been a better single than the title track? I like that middle-eight though, even if the song as a whole never quite takes it to the next level.
07 Breathe in, Breathe out – It wouldn’t be the mid-00s without some MOR ‘everything’s going to get better’ inspiration. Maybe the sound on the verses is a little harder than the sweet and optimistic chorus lets on. Sort of reminds me of Hear’Say. Simple enough to be pretty catchy anyway, and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
06 Glide – Oh this definitely has Girls Aloud vibes, and you can tell how it’s the same team as “Sweet Dreams”, i.e. Swedish pop royalty Bloodshy & Avant. But for me the chorus doesn’t really do it for me, it hasn’t got quite the depth I’m looking for. Who says it like “Guh-lide” too?
07 Heaven has to wait – Ah good, before we lose track that this is a pop album, let’s come back to a nice ballad. Was this S Club’s lost Christmas 2003 single? At the time I’m sure it was lovely, though these days I’ve heard a few too many of these quasi-R’n’B pop ballads. Very nice, but maybe not a keeper.
07 More More More – I really loved this cover of Andrea True Connection’s disco classic, but maybe it’s the production that’s got a bit stale. A shame really, it was another hit in the bank for Rachel. It’s just those tinny synthetic trumpets that send it veering off into Butlin’s kitsch more than anything. Nice try but needs a little more oomph.
07 Blue Afternoon – That cheesy bossa nova sound doesn’t help the feeling I got from “More More More”, and this one fully embraces the naff loveboat cruise production. I didn’t like it on Kylie’s “Light Years” and I’m still not a fan. That chorus has totally stuck in my head though, so simple!
07 I got the money – Whoa, what happened? From the last few songs we’ve suddenly got some even more quasi-R’n’B action. This time it’s a bit more pronounced, and despite my reservations it’s not really bad at all. It’s not my really thing normally but this is well structured and catchy. Still not exactly my cup of tea but not a bad effort at all.
07 Little Secret – Maybe this and the last track were an effort to get some interest Stateside? Takes a little while to get going but that chorus is pretty catchy. The production again seems like they aren’t quite sure which direction this album is going in, and the sultry downbeat pop sound suits her fine, but I think the electro stuff is a better fit. This is decent but doesn’t shake my world.
08 Solid – This is definitely a post-S Club track isn’t it? You can nearly hear Jo singing it! Not saying it would have been an amazing single though, it just makes me think of them. Another catchy, simple chorus, but I just wish something on the second half of the album has nearly as much impact as the two big singles. Actually I quite like this.
08 Silk – What an odd one to end on, but really quite hypnotic. Totally minimal production, with a few rather loud, dark beats stalking the verses. She plays it really well, it’s not a song that needs a massive vocal delivery, disaffection is her friend here. It has shades of “I’m a slave 4 U” in those verses a little. But it’s a curious closing track, especially with those shivers of strings leading into a full string instrumental section. Very interesting.
Hmm, well I won’t pretend I feel like this is a lost pop gem, particularly with the knowledge of (and inevitable comparison with) her second album “Come and get it”, but “Funky Dory” at least had plenty of effort spent on it.
Rachel sometimes gets the impression of a blank canvas in the proceedings, but that’s not supposed to be derogatory. Maybe versatile is a better word. Sure, some experiments don’t work out, but the worst of the filler is just stale rather than bad.
The two big tracks (and maybe even “Silk”) more than make up for any major criticisms on a pretty tight album. A decent listen, but let’s call it work in progress.
Keepers for the iPod: Some Girls, Sweet Dreams (my LA ex), Funky Dory, Fools, More More More (for old time’s sake), Silk.