Tuesday, 4 February 2014
And so, for the second time, All Saints are back. The 90’s “cool” version of the Spice Girls, the band are heading out on tour with Backstreet Boys having seen their mid-noughties comeback collapse amidst so-so reviews and public disinterest. It’s difficult to know what the motivation behind this latest reformation is, given that Melanie Blatt has admitted she got involved in the last reunion purely for the money, so we shall have to wait and see what comes next.
The original incarnation of the band was put together in 1993, a trio consisting of Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and Simone Rainford. They signed to ZTT Records and went under the slightly messy moniker of “All Saints 188.8.131.52”, as all three girls had been born in 1975. Their debut single, a cover of Atlantic Starr’s “Silver Shadow”, appeared in 1995, but this was the post-grunge Britpop years, and radio was not interested. The single flopped.
A follow up single was recorded by the trio, variously known as “If You Wanna Party (I Found Lovin’)” or “Let’s Get Started”, but by the time it was ready for release, Rainford had decided to quit the band. Thus, it was a duo of Lewis and Blatt that adorned it’s front cover when released later the same year, but this one too fell on deaf ears.
In 1996, the group was expanded to a four piece when family connections put Blatt in touch with Canadian sisters Natalie and Nicole Appleton, and they were invited into the fold. They signed a deal with London Records, and released their next single in the summer of 1997. “I Know Where It’s At” was a perfect showcase of the band’s urban-pop sound, and the label’s PR department must have known what they were doing, as the group became inescapable on TV and Radio. Now renamed to the snappier “All Saints”, the single went top 10, and it was the start of a continuous run of hit records.
The band’s self titled debut LP was preceded by what is probably the band’s signature tune, “Never Ever”, which opened with an almost Shangri-La’s style spoken word intro, before settling down in a laid back R&B groove. It was an enormous hit, and set the band up well for the release of their first LP, a self titled affair which was released in late November, and eventually went top five early the next year. The LP was the subject of mixed reviews - the cool kids liked their funky sound and style, which was felt to be more grown up than the teenybop image the Spice Girls were projecting, but some critics felt this almost anti-pop vibe worked against them on some of the album tracks. The group also came in for some stick for covering “Under The Bridge”, with many wondering how the band could consider singing a song about drug addiction when none of them were drug addicts.
The album was re-released again in 1998. If my memory serves me correctly, several songs were revealed to have included uncleared samples, and a new version of the album was issued with the offending bits removed. “Let’s Get Started” appeared under it’s alternate title, whilst “Lady Marmalade” was listed as being a “98 Remix”. The bonus remix of “Never Ever” which closed the album was changed as well, the “Nice Hat” mix being replaced by the “All Star Remix”. In the credits, “Trapped“ and “Beg” now had a publishing date of 1998, suggesting they were the main songs being ’reworked’ for the reissue.
The singles continued to hit the higher echelons of the charts, with the multi formatting of each of them undoubtedly helping to do this. The double A of the two covers on the album appeared next, followed by “Bootie Call”, an almost R Kelly like piece of strutting soul. A non chart eligible 12” in a unique cover appeared for the collectors. The wistful “War Of Nerves” was issued in late 1998 as the final single from the record, and was followed in December by “The Remix Album”, a 70-minute long continuous mix of All Saints hits. Some were new mixes, some were old, but the single-song structure meant that, effectively, everything on here was brand new material. The two albums were later included in a nifty boxset which also included a VHS called “The Videos”, a compilation of the band’s official post-1995 promos to date, and a few “live at MTV” performances, along with a nice 12” square booklet. It simply seems to also be called just “All Saints” but was referred to, at the time, as the “Xmas Gift Box”.
After all this activity, the band went away to recharge the batteries and begin work on a new album. The first fruits of their labours were seen in the early part of 2000, when a track recorded for the soundtrack to the movie “The Beach” appeared as their next single. “Pure Shores”, produced by William Orbit, was thus a world away from their new-jack-swing inspired debut album, a lovely, ambient piece of pop, with lots of odd keyboard noises, and more of a “pop” vibe than any of the singles that had come before. It went straight into the charts at number one, and with the Geri-less Spice Girls now starting to lose momentum, it suggested that All Saints were now about to steal their pop crown.
Another excellent piece of Orbit helmed future-dreampop, “Black Coffee”, turned up as the next single in late 2000 - and again hit the top spot. It was followed a fortnight later by the “Saints And Sinners” album, initial CD copies of which saw the digipack album tucked into a slightly pointless, but sparkly, pink slipcase. The album hit the top spot, but the excited reviews for the singles weren’t carried across, and critics were again divided. A third single from the album, “All Hooked Up”, also dented the top 10 early the next year.
But trouble was on the horizon. Newspaper reports at the time reported that the band had split up due to in fighting, and the group did indeed announce a hiatus. Lewis later claimed the band had a fight over who should be wearing what for a photoshoot, and it was the final straw. A compilation album titled “All Hits” appeared on London late in 2001, bolstered by a record Blatt had recorded with Artful Dodger in the summer, “Twenty Four Seven”, one of a number of dance collaborations Blatt had completed during her time with the band. Limited edition copies of the album included a free DVD with the promo videos on as well.
In the years that followed, the band had mixed fortunes. Although seen as the “talentless” ones in the group, Nic and Nat had the most high profile post-All Saints career, when, as Appleton, their “Everything’s Eventual” album did quite well in the charts. This was not the first time they had recorded outside of the All Saints set up, as they - and Blatt - had starred in a movie in 2000 called “Honest”, and all three of the girls got to sing a solo tune each for the soundtrack. Blatt’s solo career never got off the ground, she released her first “proper” single, the excellent “Do Me Wrong”, in 2003, but after it failed to the hit the top 10, she was dropped by her label, and the planned album was abandoned. Lewis also managed a solo album in 2004.
And then, come 2006, All Saints decided to make a comeback. They signed to Parlophone and released their first single for well over five years towards the end of the year, “Rock Steady”. It dented the upper reaches of the charts, and All Saints were well and truly back. Or at least, that’s how it seemed. The following new studio album, “Studio 1”, despite being tipped as a big selling chart topper, didn’t do a great deal, despite being issued as a limited edition double disc release with a free DVD including exclusive footage and extra audio material. It only just about got into the top 40, and was the subject of mixed reviews once more. A planned second single, “Chick Fit, was relegated to a download only release and the band seemed to just disappear from view. I have no recollection of them ever calling it a day, but Blatt was later quoted in interviews as referring to the band in the past tense.
As I type this, I am still not sure if the return is going to herald a new album, or if this is a cashing in, retro style, jaunt around the UK - after all, everybody else has been at it the last few years (remember when bands used to reform and it used to be exciting, because they had been AWOL for twenty five years?). The band have been quoted as planning on playing a "hits heavy" set only, with no new material. Time will tell.
The albums list is based on initial pressings, and any important repressings. The singles are more or less everything on every format, as rarely did the girls ever release a “pointless” single. It is worth pointing out that, being of both a dancey persuasion and popular overseas, multiple promos and variant editions of most of these things exist which may be of interest to completists, and although slightly outside the remit of this article, I have listed a few odds and sods from my own collection at the end.
All Saints (CD, London 828979-2)
All Saints (CD, 1998 reissue, London 556 004 2, later included in “Xmas Gift Box“ release with new catalogue number [556 017 2])
The Remix Album (CD, London 556 063-2)
Saints And Sinners (CD, London 8573 85295 5, in slipcase)
All Hits (CD+DVD, London 0927 42151 2)
Studio 1 (CD+DVD, Parlophone 378 4442)
Pure Shores: The Very Best Of (2xCD, Music Club Deluxe MCDLX 503)
Silver Shadow (7” Edit)/(UK Swing One)/(Club Sax)/(Jungle)/(Bogle Dub)/(Rare Groove) (CD, ZTT ZANG 53 CD)
Silver Shadow (Shadow 94)/(UK Swing One)/(Club Sax)/(Jungle)/(Underground Mix)/(Rap Dub) (12”, ZTT ZANG 53 T)
If You Wanna Party/Let’s Get Started (Full Krew Mix)/(Classic Paradise Club Mix)/(RnB Edit) (CD, ZTT ZANG 71 CD)
Let’s Get Started (Classic Paradise Club Mix)/If You Wanna Party (Gyro Disney Mix)/Let’s Get Started (Full Krew Mix)/(RnB Edit) (12”, ZTT ZANG 71 T)
I Know Where It’s At (Cutfather And Jo’s Alternative Mix - Radio)/(Original Radio Mix)/(Cutfather And Jo’s Alternative Mix)/(Original Mix) (CD1, London LONCD 398)
I Know Where It’s At (K Gee’s Bounce Mix)/(Nu Birth Riddum Dub)/(Colour System Inc. Vox)/Alone (CD2, London LOCDP 398, unique p/s)
Never Ever (Radio Version)/(Nice Hat Mix)/I Remember (CD1, London LONCD 407)
Never Ever (Radio Version)/(Booker T’s Vocal Mix)/(Booker T’s Down South Dub)/(Booker T’s Up North Dub) (CD2, London LOCDP 407, unique p/s + poster)
Never Ever (Radio Version)/I Remember (Cassette, London LONCS 407)
Never Ever (All Star Remix)/(Booker T’s Vocal Mix) (12”, London LONX 407, unique “titles” p/s)
Under The Bridge/Lady Marmalade (98 Mix)/No More Lies (98)/Lady Marmalade (Henry & Hayne’s La Jam Mix) (CD1, London LONCD 408)
Lady Marmalade (MARK!’s Miami Madness Mix)/(Sharp South Park Vocal Remix)/Under The Bridge (Ignorants Remix)/Get Bizzy (CD2, London LOCDP 408, stickered p/s + poster)
Under The Bridge (Album Version)/(K Gee’s 98 Mix)/Lady Marmalade (98 Mix)/(MARK!’s Miami Madness Edit) (Cassette, London LONCS 408)
Under The Bridge (Album Version)/(Ignorants Remix)/(K Gee’s 97 Mix)/(K Gee’s 98 Mix)/Lady Marmalade (MARK!’s Miami Madness Mix Unedited Version)/(MARK!’s Wrecked Dub)/(Sharp South Park Vocal Remix)/(Sharp’s Trade Lite Dub) (2x12”, London LONX 408, unique “titles” p/s)
Bootie Call (Single Version)/(98 - The Director’s Kutt)/Get Down (CD1, London LONCD 415)
Bootie Call (Single Version)/Never Ever (Booker T’s Vocal Mix)/I Know Where It’s At (Original Mix) (CD2, London LOCDP 415, slightly different sleeve with 4 postcards)
Bootie Call (Single Version)/(Club Asylum Skank Vocal Mix) (Cassette, LONCS 415)
Bootie Call (Album Version)/(98 - The Director’s Kutt)/(Club Asylum Boogie Punk Dub)/(Dreem Team Vocal) (12”, London LONX 415, unique p/s)
War Of Nerves (98 Remix)/Inside/War Of Nerves (Ganja Kru Dub) (CD1, London LONCD 421, black and white p/s)
War Of Nerves (98 Remix)/Always Something There To Remind Me (Live on The Burt Bacharach TV Show)/Never Ever (CD2, London LOCDP 421, with poster)
War Of Nerves (98 Remix - TV Version)/Inside (Cassette, London LONCS 421)
Pure Shores/If You Don’t Know What I Know/Pure Shores (The Beach Life Mix) (CD1, London LONCD 444)
Pure Shores (Original)/(2 Da Beach U Don’t Stop Remix)/(Cosmos Remix) (CD2, London LOCDP 444, green p/s + poster)
Pure Shores/If You Don’t Know What I Know/Pure Shores (The Beach Life Mix) (Cassette, London LONCS 444)
Pure Shores (Cosmos Remix)/(2 Da Beach U Don’t Stop Remix)/(Original)/(Instrumental) (12”, London LONX 444, unique “titles” p/s)
Black Coffee/I Don’t Wanna Be Alone/Black Coffee (ATFC’s Freshly Ground Vocal) (CD1, London LONCD 454)
Black Coffee (LP Version)/(The Neptunes Remix)/(The Wideboys Espresso Mix) (CD2, London LOCDP 454, different p/s + 4 postcards)
Black Coffee/I Don’t Wanna Be Alone/Black Coffee (ATFC’s Freshly Ground Vocal) (Cassette, London LONCS 454)
Black Coffee (ATFC’s Freshly Ground Vocal)/(The Neptunes Remix)/(The Wideboys Espresso Mix)/(Shadow Snipers Vocal Mix) (12”, London LONX 454)
All Hooked Up (Single Version)/(Architechs Vocal)/(K Gee Remix Edit) (CD1, London LONCD 456)
All Hooked Up (Single Version)/Black Coffee (Version 2)/Never Ever/All Hooked Up (Video) (CD2, London LOCDP 456, unique p/s)
Rock Steady/Dope Noize (CD1, Parlophone CDR 6726)
Rock Steady/Do Me/Rock Steady (Calvin Harris Remix)/(Video) (CD2, Parlophone CDRS 6726, different p/s)
Rock Steady (Album Mix)/(Calvin Harris Remix)/(MSTRKRFT Edition) (12” Picture Disc, Parlophone 12R 6726)
I Know Where It’s At (Cutfather And Jo’s Alternative Mix)/(Original Mix)/(K Gee’s Bounce Mix)/(K Gee’s Bounce Instrumental) (12” Promo, London RED1, similar sleeve to CD2, a “BLUE1” promo also exists)
Never Ever (Radio Version)/(All Star Mix)/(All Star “No Rap” Mix)/(Booker T’s Vocal Mix)/(Booker T’s Up North Dub) (German CD, London 570 083-2, track 3 never issued in UK)
All Saints (Japanese CD, London POCD-1260, unique sleeve, totally different track listing to UK edition and with unique mixes of certain tracks)
Chick Fit (Promo Only CD, Parlophone SAINTS 003)