Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain fate, is the 1999 debut album Here We Come from four-piece group A1, but does this album gate-crash your brain, or should you invite it in? Read on…
This 12 track album opens with the doo/ooh a cappella of Forever In Love, like a barbershop quartet meets Bobby McFerrin. The vocals here are wonderfully harmonious, and as the song gently builds – adding in some strings, the focus remains on the vocals of Ben, Christian, Mark and Paul. This album opener really isn’t what i’d expected for a boy band, but it’s a welcome surprise.
Next is Be The First To Believe, the first of two songs that were co-written with Peter Cunnah of D:Ream. This was the group’s debut single and it’s a full-on pop avalanche with lots of phat acidy synth sounds, and slick productions. The guys vocals are full of energy and duel perfectly with the up-tempo sound. There’s a slight over-production on the vocals at times – particularly a bit of vocoder – but then we were in the Cher Believe years, so it can be easily forgiven. The song reached #6 in the UK charts.
This is followed by Summertime Of Our Lives, the second single released during the summer of 1999, taking the group to #5 in the UK chart. The song has a softer beat and is laden with Spanish sounding acoustic guitars, giving a very sun-soaked feeling. The music gently bounces along in the background again allowing the guys’ vocals to shine. There’s an element of Celebration to this track.
Ready Or Not bursts in next, with robotic vocals at the start, and giving hints of a disco era via some string sections. This track, which was part of a Double-A side single, gave the group a #3 UK hit single. This is quite a toe-tapping pop song, and one that sounds like it might be a cover, but it’s actually another one of the Peter Cunnah/A1 originals.
Pianos open ballad Everytime, the other part of Ready Or Not’s Double-A side single. Here, the guys get the time to show off their vocal skills. However, it is perilously on the edge of Westlife territory, but they just manage to keep it in an A1 style.
Up next is If Only, which feels like A1 trying to squeeze Steps’ reign. It’s disco, dramatic, a bit pop-dance-disco-by-numbers, with some Abba undertones courtesy of plenty of escalating piano chords, and Steps Tragedy sounds. There’s some great vocals vs acoustic guitars that takes the song to the end. It’s quite a catchy number.
Hey You follows this, opening with another somewhat dramatic orchestra and rocky sound. A simple beat leads you through the verse as the guys take turns on the mic. The chorus is musically far catchier with a really funky bass carrying yet more semi-disco strings.
Fourth and final single Like A Rose follows, giving the guys a ballad single. It gave them another #6 UK hit. This song sounds like X Factor winner/loser fodder – slick production, but very middle-of-the-road ballad, with plenty of opportunities for suited men to get up off of high stools to spread their arms wide as they sing something a bit twee.
Rain falls in the introduction of Walking In The Rain. This is another ballad, but the light acoustic guitar and beats near the beginning stand back enough to let the guys show off their vocals and harmonies.
Tenth track Still Around starts off quite mellow with acoustic guitars and subdued percussive beats. By about 40s in, the beat picks up giving the guys a gentle little pop track that again sounds a bit like a Steps song. Those disco strings are still present, but this light song, gives the guys plenty of space to show off their pop vocals.
Penultimate track I Still Believe opens with piano before sliding some strings and guitar in. The vocals for some reason are sung with a slightly vintage sounding effect in the verse, with warm vocals and harmonies in the chorus. This is quite a nice little song, and one that I could imagine being right at home on a contemporary Take That album.
The album closes with the slightly magical sounding tinkling harp/piano introduction to Heaven By Your Side. The guys take turns to deliver delicate breathy vocals, until the chorus when it returns to pop ballad that would make an X Factor winner proud with a key change camera-zoom-out-opportunity moment at about 3m 20s. That aside, it’s quite a nice little closing number.
Where are A1 now?
The group continued to achieve success around the world, improving on the commercial success of this album with The A List in 2000. Their cover of a-Ha’s Take On Me gave them their first #1 UK hit single.
The group went on to find greater success in Christian’s native Norway by the time of their third album, but the A1 world came crashing down when Paul unexpectedly quit via text message.
The group re-formed in 2014, to participate in ITV’s Big Reunion show, but faced anger from Paul after the three members talked about how they had come to split up.
Ben Adams has found success writing and producing for artists including JLS, Craig David, Union J, Robin Thicke, and co-wrote Lisa Scott-Lee’s single Electric with Guy Chambers. He returned to the UK singles chart in 2005 with solo single Sorry, reaching #15. He has not charted since.
POP RESCUE RATING
Over all, this album is quite good. There’s some absolute pop belters here, nestled amongst the plodding ballads. I Still Believe is a gem of a song that should probably have been released instead of Like A Rose, but either way, they found a hit. As a boy band debut, this is quite a strong starting place.
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1999 UK CHART PEAK: #20, certified Gold.
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.00 from a Co-operative Food store.