As far as shock reunions go, the reformation of All Saints is probably up there with Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler getting back together. Yet six years after acrimoniously splitting (allegedly over who wore a particular jacket on a TV appearance), the Appleton sisters have indeed kissed and made up with Shaznay Lewis and Mel Blatt.
Of course, there’ll be many a cynic who will speculate whether this renewed chumminess is genuine or whether this is one last desperate shot of the dice in order to avoid more excruciating appearances on Reality TV shows. After all, in their years out of the spotlight, the four Saints have hardly set their world on fire – both Shaznay and Mel’s solo careers were pretty underwhelming, and the less said about Appleton’s one album, the better.
The new All Saints are a very different group to that of their late ’90s heyday. Back then, they were the cool alternative to anyone turned off by The Spice Girls‘ pop cheese, and Shaznay Lewis wrote a string of classy pop RnB gems (we’ll ignore the massacre of the Chili Peppers‘ Under The Bridge) that took up permanent residence in the charts.
Yet the pop landscape is very different these days. Girls Aloud and Sugababes have raised the bar for girl groups, while singers such as Jamelia have the soulful pop market sewn up. So, in a wise move, they’ve come back with a new sound (mixing in dancehall and reggae elements into their usual pop suss) and a new image (goodbye combat trousers – hello hoodies!).
It’s a new sound that suits them – kind of. First single Rock Steady is a good example of how at ease All Saints sound with their skanking new direction. It feels fresh and cool, and the backing vocals from the Appleton sisters fit in beautifully. The mid-tempo beat of On And On is possibly closest to their old style (at times it sounds very like Pure Shores), but the best moments are when they throw caution to the wind and experiment.
Headlock for example, just sounds mental. Opening with a hard piano riff, and propelling along by some heavy percussion, it sounds thrilling. It’s also one of the rare moments where the girls’ vocals sound really impressive. Scar opens with a infectious horn section and then goes off into a bit of a ska direction, while Flashback appears to throw all sorts of noises into the mix, to wonderful effect.
Yet at other times, Studio 1 just sounds flat and a bit, well, pointless. Hell No is a put-down of a cheating boyfriend (“tell me who’s that bitch I see climbing out your window”), but the problem is that Lily Allen does this sort of thing much better. One Me And You proves irritating to the point of distraction with its strange chorus, and although Too Nasty is very slinky it’s not enough to stop the second half of the album becoming a bit mediocre.
Studio 1, despite not bearing much resemblance to the All Saints of yore, will be snapped up eagerly by those who remember them fondly in their heyday. Yet it’s unclear who else this will appeal to really – while it’s a pleasant enough listen for the most part, there aren’t enough strong songs for it to really grab the attention. And of course, if it is a success, we could well have an Atomic Kitten revival on our hands – which really would never do…