Monday, 4 July 2011

Rachel Stevens

With rumours of a Girls Aloud comeback pencilled in for 2012, now’s as good a time as any to remind ourselves of one of the other leading lights of the “Future Pop” sound from the mid noughties. Rachel Stevens had served an apprenticeship as part of the rather cheesy S Club 7, and when the band split, the majority of them sunk into obscurity. Stevens remained one of only two of the group to stay in the world of pop, and although it has been nearly six years since her last LP, there are rumours that a third album is on the way. Certainly, go onto her website and amidst articles about restaurants and beauty tips, the two albums she released are mentioned quite proudly. And rightly so, because there were some major gems on both those records.

I have listed below, in release date order, the seven singles and two albums Stevens released between 2003 and 2005. Most releases were just available on one format, CD, but details of additional versions (and photos) are shown as well. Numerous promo releases also exist in different covers, but are not covered here.

Sweet Dreams My LA-Ex
(CD Single, Polydor 981 1875, some copies with poster [981 1874])

Stevens’ debut single, originally written for but passed on by Britney Spears, it was a fairly decent start to her solo career. Whilst the S Club singles had always been rather flimsy, this one was a great piece of “adult” pop, with a good vocal and a crunchy beat.

Despite the fact that multi-formatting of singles was always a surefire way of “fixing” yourself a good chart position, “Sweet Dreams” was only issued on one basic format, although limited edition copies of the single were released with a free poster, and came in a thick jewel case. But the track listing was the same on both editions. The single came backed with “Little Secret”, taken from the then forthcoming album, so the only real rarity was the “BMR Peaktime Mix” of “Sweet Dreams”, the third track on the CD. Last time I looked, the Wikipedia page for this single rather confusingly listed a third "European" edition, which featured a similar tracklisting, but it was never sold in the UK so quite why it's mentioned, I am really not too sure.

Funky Dory
(CD, Polydor 986 5702)

The first album, issued late in September 2003. It’s title was borrowed from David Bowie’s 1971 LP, “Hunky Dory”, and was the recipient of some rather so-so reviews, the general consensus being that there was too much filler on the record. Whatever the faults, you can’t deny it came in a superb picture sleeve.

“Sweet Dreams” both opened and closed the record, with a bonus Bimbo Jones mix of the track appearing at the end. As was often the case with 'pure pop' acts, Stevens had little involvement in the writing process, with various guest writers and producers helping to put the album together. It went into the top 10, and by now, Stevens was starting to garner interest from the lads mags, who would never have admitted liking S Club (although they did do an FHM shoot), and would soon find herself stripping off for the cameras as often as she released a single! She has even done an FHM shoot between the release of the last album and the date of this very blog, and still seems to feature in their "100 Sexiest" list every year, despite effectively being AWOL from the pop scene.

Funky Dory
(CD Single, Polydor 981 4984)

The title track of the album, issued as single number 2 later the same year. The single took elements, both musically and lyrically, from Bowie’s “Andy Warhol” - also to be found on his “Hunky Dory” LP. The version used for the single was a different mix to that which had appeared on the LP.

For the second time, the B-side was lifted from the album (“I Got The Money”), but VFM was provided with a “Vertigo Vocal Mix” of the a-side, along with the video on the CD-Rom section of the disc. Numerous other mixes turned up on promo only releases, none of which have ever been commercially released.

Some Girls
(CD Single, Polydor 986 7433)

An absolute belter of a single, very Goldfrapp, and the best thing Stevens has ever recorded. It was produced by the at-the-time hip producer Richard X, who had earlier worked with Liberty X on their ‘mash up’ hit, “Being Nobody”. “Some Girls” was a standard production, but sounded like it had been teleported in from outer space, and remains a work of genius to this very day.

The song was a new recording, not on “Funky Dory”, recorded specifically for the Sport Relief charity. However, quite what a song about pop stars doing unspeakable things to record execs in order to further their career has to do with the 100 metres, I have no idea. Stevens later claimed she had no idea that lyrics like “the champagne always makes it taste better” had any sexual references. The video featured sport stars in the clip, rather than any sex scenes, BTW.

“Some Girls” was the first Stevens single to include a proper B-side, “Spin That Bottle”, along with the video and the “Sharp Boys Hot Fridge Vocal” mix of the A-side.

Funky Dory: Reissue
(CD, Polydor 986 7503)

An expanded reissue of the original LP, specifically to include “Some Girls” in the track listing. The reissue used a rather plain cover when compared to the original, and indeed, the entire CD booklet came with new photos second time around. Just as the original had opened and closed with the same song, so did this reissue, as the original version and a remix of “Some Girls” were used to bookend the record.

There were other differences second time around. The original version of “Funky Dory” was replaced by the single version, whilst a new mix of “Breathe In Breathe Out” replaced the original. The remix of “Sweet Dreams” from the original was removed, but a second new song, a cover of the Andrea True Connection disco single “More More More” was included instead.

More More More
(CD1, Polydor 986 8324, CD2, Polydor 986 8325)

I never cared to much for the original, but Stevens gives a faithful, and quite fun, rendition of this old hit. Not the first female pop act to cover it (Bananarama got there first), it became the first Stevens single to be issued on two different CD singles, with alternate covers and varying track listings. Each future single thereafter would all be issued in at least two different versions.

The version on the single was a different mix to the LP version. CD1 came backed with another new song, “Shoulda Thought Of That”, CD2 included a different mix of the “Funky Dory” album track, “Fools”, recorded for the soundtrack of “The Princess Diaries 2”. Also included was the video and the “Sharp Boys Sky’s The Limit" remix.

Negotiate With Love
(CD1, Polydor 987 0783, CD2, Polydor 987 0784)

2005, and the first of three singles to be released in the run up to Stevens’ second album, the critically lauded “Come And Get It”. After the electro rush of “Some Girls”, and the camp romp of “More More More”, this was a bit more refined - Stevens phrasing was described by Stylus Magazine in a review of the album as being “marvellous”, and this must have been one of the songs they were referring to - imagine a posh librarian having a crack at a singing a Girls Aloud tune.

The first CD includes the “Europa XL Vocal Mix Edit” version of “Some Girls”, whilst the second was something of a bumper release - a b-side, “Queen”, the “Love To Inifinity Edit” of the a-side, and an enhanced CD-Rom section with two versions of the video, a ringtone and a game - subsequent singles offered similar goodies on their respective enhanced sections as well.

So Good
(CD1, Polydor 987 2236, CD2 Polydor 987 2237)

Two CD Singles again, two different sleeves. “So Good” was a bit more upbeat than it’s predecessor, with something of a “hands in the air” rave-style chorus. Once more, there was a non album B-side, “Never Go Back” on this release, which appeared on CD1. Both CD’s include an edited version of the a-side.

The first CD added the “Aurora Vocal Mix” of the a-side, along with another bumper enhanced section. CD2 includes the “Milky Vocal Mix” of “Breathe In Breathe Out”. The decision with this and other singles to only include one b-side on one of the CD’s was part of a chart regulatory directive, to try and boost single sales - the second CD could only have one extra track, but the price would therefore be kept to under £2. It never really worked, as certain indie labels were already issuing 3 track singles at £2 before this rule was introduced, and there was a feeling people were actually getting LESS value for money than before. As such, we ended up with the depressing download culture we have today, as record labels more or less abandoned the physical single as the noughties progressed due to declining sales.

I Said Never Again But Here We Are
(CD1, Polydor 987 4239, CD2, Polydor 987 4240, 12”, Polydor 987 4407)

My lords, what a single. If Rachel never records again, what a stormer of a 45 to leave the music world on. “I Said Never Again” was a monumental pop record, loud and brash, the sort of record Westlife could never make even if you threatened to take their stools away.

Although there had been promo releases on vinyl for earlier Rachel singles, this one was the first (and, probably the last) Stevens single to be released on 12”. The 12” used the same sleeve as CD1. CD1 includes “Waiting Game” on the b-side, whilst the 12” includes the “Jewels And Stone Extended Mix” and the “Instrumental” version of the a-side.

CD2, in it’s unique sleeve, included a “brand new album track”, as billed on the cover, which made it sound more exciting than it seemed - in English, it was just a track of the forthcoming LP, “Dumb Dumb”. The “Bimbo Jones Extended Mix” of the A-side completed the disc, along with the now obligatory enhanced section.

Come And Get It
(CD+DVD, Polydor 9874712)

And so to what - at present - is Rachel’s last stand. Her 2nd album, issued at the tail end of 2005, was the subject of excited reviews, but for some reason, there was a certain level of disinterest in her career by the mainstream media by this point. This possibly explains why Polydor issued three singles BEFORE it’s release, in an attempt to try and hype the album up.

Other tricks to try and “sell” the record to the public were carried out. “Some Girls” was included on the LP, despite having already been included on the reissued “Funky Dory”, and the free DVD with all of Rachel’s videos to date was heavily plugged, with a sticker on the front exclaiming that the DVD included “Sweet Dreams”, to try and lure the floating voters in. The aforementioned "Dumb Dumb" was one of two "UK Bonus Tracks" tagged on at the end, another trick by the record labels to stop UK record buyers from buying cheaper import copies on websites like CD Wow - these import copies did not include the bonus tracks.

It obviously wasn’t planned at the time, but given that Stevens has released no more music since the albums' release, it means the DVD is actually a complete visual document of her solo singles - very nice. And although there are stories of Stevens entering the studio again in 2010, the problem is we are now halfway through 2011, so these stories are off the mark, or she is doing a “Scott Walker”. So, until either Stevens or Girls Aloud do actually return, we only really have The Saturdays flying the British Future Pop flag. It would be nice if Rachel and a few others could rejoin them again.

1 comment:

  1. The recently leaked Richard X produced "nothing in common" gives me hope she may have a 3rd foray into pop up her sleeve. This was a great article and I love that others appreciate Rachel's sadly overlooked 2nd album.