Best known for being the lead vocalist of pop juggernaut Steps, in which she was famed for her cheeky and emotive delivery in their videos, Claire Richards has been planning a solo album for three years. My Wildest Dreams is the title of that labour of love, and it contains some beautiful moments packed with passion, heart and soul. There is even a bucket list moment for every established artist, a song written by the formidable Diane Warren.
It begins with On My Own, an uplifting and defiant synth-pop anthem with a glorious ’80s blueprint. It’s not surprising that Steve Anderson is at the production helm here, on a track packed with heart and sporting a gorgeous gospel section. Anderson is just one of many producers and songwriters on the album, although he is on more tracks than others. He lends his trademark bittersweet melancholy to the engulfing mid-tempo ballad End Before We Start, which gives a small nod to Kate Bush‘s epic Wow in the middle-eight. It’s here we begin to experience the richness and vulnerability in Richards’s lower register that crackles into something powerfully commanding, yet never overblown, in her higher register. Richards is at times comparable to Barbra Streisand in her delivery and emotional intensity. Anderson also oversees the title track, an imposing slow-burner that builds into an optimistic banger topped off with some wonderful vocal harmonies, as well as the driven synth-pop slice Deep Waters.
Elsewhere there are some stunningly cinematic moments, such as the gorgeous strings and production on the lush and sweeping For Now. The staggering Liar has such an authentic feel it’s easy to picture Richards all smouldering and tortured, yet bittersweetly draped over a piano with a Fabulous Baker Boy in a smoky jazz bar. The personal and sanguine Brave has such an optimistic shimmer and there’s a canny shift in the middle-eight of the compelling and wondrous These Wings. There are also tidbits in store for Steps fans – Shame On You is a pleasing bop, and 7 Billion is inspiring pop at its slick best.
There’s nothing really leftfield here, and the album’s tendency to tread down the paths of several genres can make it seem lacking in cohesion, but the passionate and self-assured Richards makes each song a pleasure to unfold, and you can see why she would absolutely play to her strengths.
The album’s stand-out must be the heartbreaking and stunning Don’t Leave Me In This Love Alone. This has Diane Warren all over the narrative and Anderson again comes up with the goods on production. However, Richards truly makes this her own with a vocal performance so layered, commanding and cathartic, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this song. This endeavour may have been one of Richards’ wildest dreams, but this might be only the start of a formidable journey for this talented and endearing singer.