All Saints

All Saints

All Saints formed in 1993, a year before the birth of the Spice Girls—and yet it took a name tweak, a lineup change, and plenty of trial and error before they could finally catch up with the likes of Scary, Baby, Sporty, Ginger, and Posh. In fact, it wasn’t until 1996—the year the Spice Girls released the culture-altering smash ”Wannabe”—that the pop landscape was suddenly open for a new wave of girl bands. Market forces had alchemized them from untenable propositions to hot commodities and All Saints duly swept in as a cooler counterpart to their compatriots. The fact that breakout hit “Never Ever” was produced by Cameron McVey (Massive Attack, Portishead) was the first indication that we weren’t in Spice World anymore. Opening on a spare piano progression and spoken word intro, the single is a brooding rumination on the personal shortcomings that may have led to a breakup (“Was it that I never paid enough attention?/Or did I not give enough affection?”). The simplicity of the almost chanted chorus (“Never ever have I ever felt so low/When you gonna take me out of this black hole?”) belies its hefty emotional punch, circling until it builds to its gospel-inflected apogee. Elsewhere, “I Know Where It’s At” samples Steely Dan’s “The Fez” in a slice of streetwise bravado compelling the listener to the dance floor, while “Bootie Call” is a faintly menacing invitation to hook up, accompanied by an inexplicable digitized horse whinny. Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is a cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.” Originally inspired by lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ battle with cocaine and heroin addiction, All Saints omit the final verse about drawing blood under a downtown bridge, their reimagining elevated by rich harmonies and soulful ad-libs. While All Saints would never quite inspire the global mania which accompanied the Spice Girls (perhaps in part because they often appeared more like disgruntled colleagues than best friends), their debut was a very welcome addition to the rapidly expanding girl band canon left in their wake.

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