Anyone searching for inspiration on their lottery numbers this week would be encouraged to try using the number of songwriters employed onRachel Stevens’ second album. At last count, the final total was a monumental thirty-three, including Stevens herself, receiving a jointcredit for Funny Now.
And herein the good and bad aspects of this album are found. Good in the sense that the production is so polished you can see your face in it: glittering electronic effects, vocoded asides from the singer, rump-shaking basslines beefed up to give maximum damage to the subwoofers. The unwritten commandments of pop music have clearly been followed to the letter. And on the minus, a perceived lack of personal involvement from Stevens herself – the feeling remains that all she has to do is turn up and sing.
Which is, of course, the main part. Her vocal contributions have improved a lot since S Club days but the crowds of writers stillhave less to work with in terms of range, both in pitch and emotion. Stevens is at her most effective when delivering a coolly detachedmidrange vocal, semi-robotic in its precision, whilst always offering the chance of a hummable chorus and some breathy innuendo.
Doubtless hundreds of songs were auditioned for this album, and the ones to have made it are mostly good. After all, it’s difficult to argue with the hitmaking potential of Richard X (Some Girls), or the club sensibilities of So Good. Negotiate With Love is arguably one of the less successful singles with its awkward vocal melody, but I Said Never Again exploits a three to the beat sound that Stevens has commendably made all her own, starting with Sweet Dreams My LA Ex.
A further advantage of the massed ranks of contributors is in the lack of genuine filler material. Pretty much any track here could bereleased as a single. I’d opt for the slightly slower electronic pop that is Nothing Good About This Goodbye, purely for its winning chorus couplet, “tell me will you miss me, when I’m in your history”. Two tracks that struggle to make themselves heard, however, are It’s All About Me, using a sample from The Cure‘s Lullaby to something well short of its full potential, and Je M’Apelle, which sounds like a Kylie cover, despite brandishing some promising R&B beats.
In all, then, a mostly successful exercise in branded pop music. Rachel Stevens has always looked the part, now she has the vehicle to sound something like a pop star as well. It doesn’t always work, but if you’re after a record of good tunes and savvy lyrics, this should keep you satisfied for a while.