Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain, is the 2001 debut album from UK TV talent show winners Hear’Say, optimistically titled Popstars.
This 15 track (!) album opens with their debut hit single, Pure And Simple, which entered the UK singles chart at #1. To their credit, this was a great start, and a nice result for what was the first series of the still-reigning trend of UK TV talent shows.
There’s something distinctly All Saints about this song, and thankfully the song has plenty of room to allow each member space to sing. Kym and Danny’s vocals stand out the most, with Danny
Of course, this song also provided 90s rapper Betty Boo (Alison Clarkson) with an Ivor Novello Award for her work in co-writing this song.. so that is at least one good thing about it.
The pace picks up a little for next song The Way To Your Love, which is a-wash with strings and rich backing vocals. Noel leads here, and once again Danny’s vocals stand out perfectly. This time, this song feels somewhat like a Steps or Scooch album track. There’s a few generic pop key changes and dramatic long-held notes, but this is a nice little pop song. Unsurprisingly this was their second UK single, and the final one from this album, and again it took them to #1.
This is followed by a more mellow, but funky, One Step Closer, which would sound at home on an S Club 7 album. By the end of the track, it does manage to be somewhat catchy, thanks to the chorus.
Acoustic guitars and backing vocals open the slinky, smooth sounding, Another Lover, and this is a lovely warm song. This feels like a great companion to Pure And Simple.
Next song One plods along with some funky guitars, and some heavy bassy synths and beats. This song isn’t particularly very catchy. This is definitely album-track territory. ‘All I need is somebody, someone who can come and dance at my party’ they sing – I’d suggest that perhaps they Google for local dancers.
Not The Kind sounds promising, but I very soon hear the incredible similarities between it and the earlier Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross‘ brilliant The Best Things In Life Are Free. Here’s the karaoke version for you to sing Janet and Luther over. Once you spot it, you can’t not like Hear’Say’s ‘version’, but there’s nothing like ‘the original’ 😉
Seventh track Make It Happen, really has that 2000’s disco/dance sound to it. It’s slickly produced, up-beat, and comes complete with robotic vocals. Again, this reminds me of S Club 7 (in particular their Don’t Stop Movin’ hit, which was released less than a month later). The song gets a disappointingly poor mid-section at 2m 40s, which thankfully lasts only about 12 seconds at most before the song comes pumping back in. This is a really catchy song, and one that I think should have been their second single.
This is followed by Breathe, giving Noel another set of lead vocals. This song feels pretty generic – and not far from the song style that dominates X Factor/Pop Idol winner singles. Still, there’s a nice beat here, but they do over-use a breathy sample throughout.
This leads us into the first piano ballad of the album – Carried Away – lyrically a bit of a lullaby. The song soon builds though – with backing vocals, beats, strings, and guitar. Whilst it’s not a million miles from the generic sound of TV contest winners, the group manage to make this song sound more interesting with their varied vocals.
Next up is Sweet Alibi, which opens with synths and some looped guitar samples that seem to hint at didgeridoo.. or at least something that’s made to sound like it. The lyrics here are a little odd – ‘you got your voodoo workin’ on a policy‘ and ‘you got your boom boom box in your cherokee. got your hard drive talkin’ to you your PhD’. The song is delivered like an All Saints song though, but the lyrics really it down in the verses, and the chorus is a bit down-tempo to really make it catchy.
I Didn’t Want You Anyway is back into Steps/S Club territory – with it’s pop lite sound and lyrics. Musically this is quite a nice song, although predictably includes the obligatory key-change and high note 2/3rds of the way through. It’s just a nice pop song, but nothing groundbreaking.
Twelfth track is Colourblind, and this starts off as an aural car crash of sounds, that belts out at quite a pace. Each member feels hastily shoved into place to sing at the mic as this song flies along. This feels like it could probably take a little bit more guitar – and it would be a heavy guitar song – on which Danny’s vocals would probably work well – think Chris Cornell‘s You Know My Name from Casino Royale.
Up next is Love Will Never End, which starts off sounding like another ballad but then the beats kick in to make it another up-tempo pop song. There’s a lot of chorus here, and again I’m reminded of Steps/S Club 7. The song ends as gently as it started though… but…
..now we’re into some pointless TV series promotional covers. First up is the travesty that is Monday, Monday – a cover of The Mamas and The Papas. This feels painful, and I wonder whether the group even enjoyed covering this song. They shouldn’t have bothered.. the only plus point may have been that it contributed to sales of the original.
Finally, the album closes with a fairly sympathetic cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s hit Bridge Over Troubled Water, which gives Myleen space to showcase her piano skills (which she seemed to do endlessly in the TV series). Sadly the shoe-horning of band members into this song (like Noel’s first appearance mid-verse, interrupting Kym, and again interrupting Suzanne), makes the verses seem a bit disjointed.
Over all, I feared listening to this album somewhat, but it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. There’s some clear rivalry nods here to their contemporaries All Saints, Steps, and S Club 7, but the album would have rightly stood its ground at the time.
Listening to it now, 14 years on, there are some dated sounds and some now over-used styles (courtesy of X Factor winners). It would have been an easier listen with the absence of 2, maybe even 3 songs (Sweet Alibi, Monday Monday would be my first two to go), and might have felt easier to listen to with a couple of more singles giving a few familiar milestones in the tracklisting.
This was a ‘new’ project though – and it rightly led the way.
Where are Hear’Say now?
After Kym Marsh left the group, the group struggled to repeat their commercial success. Kym was replaced by Johnny Shentall (husband of Lisa Scott-Lee of Steps) but their second album and single, stalled.
Hear’Say split in 2002 citing ‘abuse from the public’ as the main cause. Even author Lynne Truss (of best-seller Eats, Shoots & Leaves) cites the apostrophe in the name Hear’Say, as ‘a significant milestone on the road to punctuation anarchy‘.
Hear’Say was of course the breeding ground for Kym Marsh and Myleen Klass to establish varied solo careers, whilst Noel Sullivan and Suzanne Shaw have focussed on extensive theatre work.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2015 REVIEW: 3 / 5
- 2001 UK CHART POSITION: #1, becoming the fastest-selling debut album in the UK ever.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.