Release Date: Apr 8, 2016
Record label: Universal Music TV
Ten years after their last comeback, the 90s’ coolest girl band are at it again. While their 2006 album, Studio 1, suffered from a pronounced identity crisis, Red Flag recalls the potent mix of strength and vulnerability showcased on classic singles Never Ever and Pure Shores. So, pensive opener One Strike intricately dissects sudden emotional devastation, while the lovely Fear and Pieces are hymn-like odes to getting up and starting again.
All Saints, you might remember, were one of the most beloved girl groups of the '90s. The English foursome composed of Shaznay Lewis, Melanie Blatt and Nicole and Natalie Appleton were the sleekest of their peers, with chilled-out hits like "Never Ever" and "Pure Shores," selling upward of 12 million records before their highly publicized breakup. They caused a bit of a stir in January when they announced that they'd be releasing new music for the first time in a decade, fourth studio effort Red Flag.When it comes to reunions surrounded by such nostalgia, you never know if a comeback album will live up to past glories, or if they'll even be relevant.
All Saints' fourth album Red Flag -- their first in a decade -- is both a step forward and a step back for the British-Canadian group. They've moved past 2006's lackluster comeback Studio 1, while simultaneously resurrecting the authentic spirit that brought them fame in the late '90s. For the first time, the songs are all arranged by the group without label input (Shaznay Lewis wrote all but one of the tracks here).
We’re just past the middle point of the decade, so that means we must be due a new All Saints album. The quartet livened up the back end of the ’90s with a string of excellent singles, before famously splitting up over an argument about who would wear a particular jacket in a photoshoot. Then, in 2006, they suddenly reappeared again with the disappointingly tepid Studio 1 album – it was pretty clear that their heart wasn’t it (Melanie Blatt said afterwards she’d only taken part for the money) and the reunion soon fizzled out like a damp squib.
Sometimes a pop song rides the wave, seizes the zeitgeist and carries an unstoppable momentum towards its place in posterity. Such was “Pure Shores”, All Saints’ turn of the millennium single, a surge of pristine pop borne on accelerating waves of crystalline vocals and William Orbit-helmed subtle electronica and buoyed by a lyric promising a bright future. However, the bright future never quite arrived for the London-based girl group.
All Saints were never your orthodox pop act, with their luscious, layered songs built on a hybrid of adult themes and girl-group camaraderie. Parts of their fourth album don’t always match up to that former savvy style, however. Experiments with world rhythms sit next to mellow ballads of varying degrees of schmaltz. While One Woman Man is a classic pop comeback, Fear is full of glacial, sombre Saints’ sorrow, and rogue energies ripple throughout: the prickly dancehall track Ratchet Behaviour conjures images of a spurned Shaznay Lewis headbutting the “other woman” in a club toilet.
You’d think 2016 was a better year for pop judging simply by the stars who’ve put out full-lengths — Rihanna, Fifth Harmony, and Sia among them — but when Justin Timberlake’s Trolls soundtrack cut is the best thing reverberating from radios and across wedding receptions, we’re really just treading water. Luckily, there are more than enough sub-Top 40 pockets filled with striking production, next-level songwriting, and boatloads of fresh personality to make up for the mainstream’s shortcomings. We’re entering the Beats 1 generation: When Zane Lowe says it’s so, listeners bow to his expertise.
All the tracks were written by Shaznay Lewis, the group’s key songwriter, who revealed that conversations with Nicole about her split informed the 12-track album’s pulsating first single and opening track ‘One Strike’. As comebacks go, the song is a near flawless piece of glossy pop, complete with pointed mentions of a “poisoned tongue”, aiming a direct hit at the ego of the younger Oasis brother. He gets more s**t thrown at him on ‘One Woman Man’, with synthy string stabs elevating its towering trip-pop chorus.