If you haven’t already been swept up in the tidal wave of 90’s nostalgia, brace yourselves. Your favourite girl group is back!
All Saints first sloped nonchalantly onto the scene at the height of Brit Pop and Girl Power. The Spice Girls had already achieved world domination but their frenzied animé energy had kind of passed the sulky teenaged me by.
Enter Shaznay, Mel, Nat and Nicole – the perfect antidote.
A generation of young women took All Saints to their hearts. The songs were about grown up, complicated real life. The fashion was accessible and comfortable. We all bought the Maharishi’s and Adidas and shuffled round town trying to look sexy in a vest. In an era well represented by girl bands, All Saints managed to achieve something the kiddy pop of the Spice Girls or the saccharine schmaltz of Eternal never did – credibility.
Not just because of the clothes and the cool, aloof attitude, they actually wrote their own songs. That counted for a lot in an era where the main draws were earnest guitar bands in parkas apeing rock legends of the 60’s.
And unlike many of the pop bands at the time, I always felt All Saints were real. They spoke their mind in interviews, in an era when media training was the pervasively bland norm.
Despite the girls’ super casual ‘don’t give a f*** ‘ vibe, their records sales told a different tale, clocking up five no 1’s, 2 multi-platinum albums with Brit Awards to match and a total of 12 million total units shifted.
Not bad for a bunch of stage school graduates who eschewed the ubiquitous dance routines because they just couldn’t be bothered with the choreography. (One Direction were not the first to come up with that gimmick, kids!)
All Saints were also relatable. Especially for the generation for whom the 90’s was their formative era. I’m the same age as the girls and like them began the decade swotting for my GCSE’s and finished it working in music TV and embarking on a decade long relationship with the man who would become the father of my son (coincidentally also the singer in a Brit Pop band.)
But weird similarities aside, many women our age feel like they’ve grown up with the group and our milestone life events, boyfriends, marriage, babies, career changes, break ups, have happened alongside theirs.
Which is why it’s especially cheering to see them back. New single ‘One Strike’ is out today ahead of a brand new album ‘Red Flag’ released in April. Listen and download ‘One Strike’ here.
Many column inches have already been generated by the song’s subject matter. Shaznay wrote it after a tearful chat with Nicole, in the immediate aftermath of the breakdown of her marriage to Oasis’s Liam Gallagher. The lyrics play with incendiary war imagery evoking the pain in a relationship caused when one partner’s bombshell obliterates what was previously a happy home.
It’s hard not to have a lump in the throat when you catch Nicole’s solo vocal at the bridge: ‘broken promises, time to leave, I had everything that you need.’
With One Strike’s backstory predictably generating publicity, what will hopefully not be overlooked is that it is ACTUALLY A REALLY GOOD TRACK!
And one which crucially sounds not only relevant, but better than much of 2016’s UK output so far.
The production (new blood producer Hutch) is sparse enough to let the girls’ harmonies shine through and the opening chords reminiscent of Pure Shores’ dreamy melancholy, are offset with a sweet melodic hook which will bury itself in your brain after a couple of listens.
When you’ve been off the scene as long as All Saints have, it’s important to come back with a blinder, but thankfully that’s just what they’ve done. And while a brilliant track will appeal to all ages, there will be no louder cheers from the sidelines, than from forty-something women.
Maybe it’s because we are at an age weirdly unrepresented in pop cultural life and those of us who remain are shunted into two limiting categories ‘mummy’ or ‘childless spinster.’ Generally the perception is that our best years are long gone.
However for me and most of my peers it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting decades yet. Our children are older and more independent allowing us to reconnect with our past selves and passions. Constantly evolving workloads and family situations necessitate career changes as we pursue flexible working hours or dust off long held but temporarily shelved ambitions.
Just as All Saints stood out against the mop-tops and kiddy pop of the 90’s they now raise their heads above the parapets of an industry known for its ageism.
There is precious little representation of women over 40 in the music industry. Sure there are a couple of notable exceptions in big ticket performers like Madonna or Kylie, but even they are reliant on their status as touring powerhouses and Madge at least struggles to get her music playlisted at radio.
Likewise there are the even older icons and heritage artists Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, EmmyLou Harris, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry who are all impossible to sideline because of their magnificent back catalogues.
But where are the 40-something women making commercially relevant music?
At the moment I can only think of MIA, Missy Elliott and Polly Harvey but thank God they are still at it, as good as they ever were and blazing new trails. When they drop a track it is a major event. Plus they all seem to have earned the enviable status wherein age and appearance is no longer scrutinised or bitched about. Their music speaks for itself and is eagerly lapped up by a multi-generational market.
So perhaps their careers offer a model Shaznay and co could aim to follow? After all, the band can hardly want to bust their arses on draining world tours and press trips. Been there done that. At 40+ it’s all about working when you want, when you have something to say and demanding that your industry dance to your tune simply because you have enough talent to make that possible.
But although that’s got to be a factor which resonates with all of us, we’re not just rooting for them because of their career success.
There’s always something inspiring about the chutzpah of a woman transforming personal trauma into triumph.
Few things warm the heart more than the solid reliability of female friendship which stays around to clean up when the shit hits the fan, picking you up off the floor, helping you back on your feet.
What’s especially touching is that not only has this group’s friendship endured but that Shaznay wrote this song for her mate, to help make sense and something positive out of heartbreak.
Back in the heady, carefree days of the 90’s it was hard to imagine a time when the careers might slide, relationships dissolve and the knocks start coming thick and fast.
But it’s the measure of the woman in how she deals with the challenges life throws at her and if she can muster enough style, grace and humour and live to fight another day, then all of us will gladly cheer her on.
Another woman with a long music career and a marriage to a bad boy rock n’ roll star, June Carter-Cash, once talked about her constant goal of ‘just trying to matter.’
It’s become a mantra for many of us and it strikes me that this is why it’s important that All Saints have come back AND that they still matter.
Because if they can pull it off, then so can we.
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