Today’s POP RESCUE is the debut 12 track solo album from M People vocalist, Heather Small – Proud.
The album opens with single Proud, which is what has probably become the only other memorable non-M People appearance by Heather (the other being the BBC’s Perfect Day). Heather performed this repeatedly, normally when there’s a sporting event on the BBC, and as a piece of gentle relief from hiring Spandau Ballet to perform their hit Gold.
Despite that, this song is a soaring track – both musically and vocally, and it does feel like it could have been perfectly at home on M People’s 1997 album Fresco. It’s a great track, and one that listening to now, gets my appreciation (probably because it’s not being over-used as advertising some BBC sport programme).
Next up is Holding On, another up-beat track, that pitches Heather against strings again. It feels like the perfect companion to Proud, and Heather makes delightfully light work of it. Unsurprisingly, this track was released as the second and final single.
Wherever The Road Goes is the third track, and is a much more rocky track, and Heather’s powerful vocals fit here with little trouble. It’s a catchy piano and guitar led track, that builds up nicely.
Next up is Don’t Look For Love, which takes a turn to a more RnB/garage style – a bit of a departure for Heather – in the introduction and beat at least. Simon Climie of 80s pop duo Climie Fisher is on co-writer, musician, and producer duties here – and he’s at the helm of many tracks. At times I could imagine Gabrielle singing this downtempo track. It wanders along quite nicely.
Fifth track Ease Your Troubled Mind is a big ballad, that sees Heather sing about keeping faith, and reaching high for a range of notes with a group of backing singers over a strings and piano track. This would easily be Mariah territory, but Heather does the job well enough, but I’d rather hear her sing other genre.
Change Your World is up next, and it’s back to a more mellow RnB sound, that characterised a few later M People album tracks. The great thing about Heather, is that she sings ‘motivational’ songs really well. I can’t imagine her swapping songbooks with Nick Cave.
This is followed by another upbeat summery sounding Garden Of Eden, which could have fared well as a single, but it was not to be.
Guitars open Don’t Change A Thing, and it’s a slower pace. Heather’s soulful vocals sound rich here against the minimal introduction. The track evolves into a light but upbeat chorus.
Upbeat continues with I’ve Been There – which sees Heather offering empathy to listeners, reassuring that she’s ‘been there’ too. The song builds up to a climatic ending, befitting a Bond theme she never sang. ‘Cos I’ve been knocked down and I’ve been lifted up, Cried a thousand tears of joy and fear. I’ve been there, I’ve been there, I’ve been there’ she sings. See, she is to music, what motivational posters are to sad offices.
I Know Who I Am returns to the sound of Change Your World, but reads like she’s glad to have gone solo. Was this really a little light hating towards the constraints of M People? She certainly sounds happy to have a new beginning, and having escaped someone’s lies. I’m not sure Heather hates anything.
Penultimate track Afraid is up next, and musically, it’s quite electronic, and reminds me somewhat of Proud, or something from the All Saints debut album. I think that this song would have fared well as a single, and as it lyrically has a similar theme as Proud, perhaps she would have ended up with the same amount of success with it.
The album closes with a slow number – What Do I Have? – which gives her voice space to shine, although it does teeter on the edge of ballad fromage as it progresses.
Heather has co-writer credits on all songs here, aside from Simon Climie, she’s also joined by award-winning writers Steve Booker (who would go on to work with John Newman and Duffy) and former Jethro Tull member Peter-John Vettese. If that’s not enough music royalty to content with, the sleeve also reveals that she was managed at this point by Craig Logan – formerly of Bros.
Where Is Heather Small Now?
Shortly after this album, Heather teamed up with Tom Jones for his Reload album, and then returned to M People. She released a second solo album in 2006, and took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2008 and also Dancing On Wheels.
Heather continues to regularly perform hit Proud.
She is also an ambassador for charities.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2014 RATING: 4 / 5
- 2000 UK CHART POSITION: #12, certified Gold
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Poundland store.