All Saints: Saints & Sinners (London 8573 85295 2)

Fallen Angels: Only divine intervention can save them now…

CROWNING GLORY of The Beach soundtrack and biggest selling single of the year so far, the William Orbit-produced ‘Pure Shores’ confirmed All Saints’ position as pop’s coolest girl band. It also begged the question of where to go with the second album: follow Orbit’s route to ultimate pop sophistication or stick with the designer R&B “flava” that sold 10 million copies of their debut album? Tough call. Their decision to do both, while understandable, is a major part of Saints & Sinners‘ undoing.

Predictably, Orbit and his space-age ways win Saints & Sinners‘ style war, but only just. The magical ‘Pure Shores’ is his and the album’s best track, and recent single ‘Black Coffee’ comes a close second. Unfortunately with ‘Surrender’ and ‘Dreams’, he’s not so lucky. To be fair, the bleeps and whooshes are all in the right places, but Orbit simply doesn’t have enough to work with. Throughout, there’s a nagging sense of his considerable talents being employed to perk up dull tunes, not provide future hits.

Away from Orbit’s influence, All Saints’s own determination to be a convincing R&B act — and dog songs with mock hip hop beats, scratching and “Yo!s” — damns the otherwise entertaining likes of ‘Distance’ and ‘Ha Ha’. In the worst instance, the infectious ‘All Hooked Up”s sexy mood is mauled by an ill-advised Appleton sister rapping “Why’s this fool all up in my ass/doesn’t he know I got my own cash.” Lil’ Kim she ain’t.

Saints & Sinners‘ personality clash wouldn’t be the problem it is, were there more songs of a ‘Pure Shores’ calibre, or singles to match the excellence of prior hits such as ‘I Know Where It’s At’ and ‘Never Ever’. Come the next album, if still light on tunes, stumped for direction and unsure if William Orbit really is their way forward, they could do worse than seek guidance from Blatt’s squeeze, former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender. ‘I Feel You’, the one track Zender produces here, is the only time the four’s R&B urges and sultry pop are perfectly matched; hinting that he at least has a vague idea of where it’s at. **

© Dan GennoeQ, November 2000

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