Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate unknown, is the 1998 debut album Honey To The B, by British pop star and actress, Billie Piper. Will this album give you a buzz, or is it simply a Honey trap? Read on…
This 12 track CD opens with the debut hit single Because We Want To, which bursts open with some full-on teenage rebellion. The track is full of powerful parental defiance and this, alongside the energy the song exudes quite rightly ensured it was a hit, taking roost at #1 in the UK singles chart. The crowd shouting moments, plodding bass all help to keep this song catchy. This is a few years into Girl Power, super-charged by the Spice Girls a few years later, and you can certainly hear the musical similarities here. We’re off to a brilliant start.
That’s followed by second single Girlfriend, which takes the tempo down and temperature up. This track takes a more RnB sound to it, giving Billie a great platform to show off her richer vocals on a slower track. It’s slick, and effortlessly wanders from verse to chorus to verse. The track also hit #1 in the UK chart, a contrast to the lead single.
Officially Yours follows this, again picking up an RnB beat, with a few vinyl scratches thrown in. The synth orchestral hit works well here. I’m reminded a bit of Eternal here, but Billie’s vocals are softer. It’s quite a nice little song, with some thrown in asides from Sweet P, although it doesn’t particularly evolve much.
A gentle keyboard sequence opens next track She Wants You as a pop beat fades in and we see a return to an upbeat catchy track. Billie’s vocals sound effortlessly rich here. This track was the album’s third single, giving Billie a #3 UK hit. I seem to remember there being some excellent pumping remixes of this song, whereas this album version is a little more mellow. Still, it’s perfectly catchy and and a great pick up from the previous two slower tracks.
Next up is Love Groove, and we have a wonderfully funky introduction with bass, simple beat, more vinyl scratches and interjections from Sweet P, and even a little flurry of brass. We even get a flute in this track. Musically, it sounds like something left over from George Michael‘s Older, or a Stereo MC’s album. Vocally, it sounds odd though – with a meandering melody, and Billie takes on a slightly weird vocal style in this wafty jazz-funk track.
That’s followed by a ringing phone of Party On The Phone. You’ve got to love the 1990s, and the concept of this song reeks of 90s party lines. Whilst the song is catchy, with its ‘na na na’, chiming bell sounds from keyboards and phone ringing samples, set on top of a funky RnB track, it is now quite amusingly dated. ‘Everybody swingin’ it on the phone’ – really? ‘So get ringin’ it!‘ Billie demands. Can’t wait for the Zoom follow-up ‘everybody on mute’ ‘Tina’s left the call’.
Saying I’m Sorry Now is next, and we’re back into 90’s pop, and very much back into a kind of Eternal sound. Billie’s vocals sound a bit off at times here in this multi-layered – sometimes too low, and sometimes taking a wrong step. Breathy vocals, an RnB beat, a tinkling piano, and Billie’s vocals sound ok, but they don’t feel like they are always pushing in the same direction at the same time. This makes it a bit odd.
Then it’s time for You’ve Got It, which bursts open, feeling like a return to form. Billie is joined by the London Community Gospel Choir, who help to lift her higher in the chorus. It’s a fairly simple pop song, and it allows Billie to shine nicely. There’s a really nice bridge at roughly the 2:20 mark where Billie and the choir get to shine without the beats for a few moments. The pair also get to shine again towards the end. It’s nice enough, but lacks the same amount of oomph that the singles have.
I Dream follows that, and returns us to a heartfelt reflective Billie. Her vocals are soft and tender here, set against a shuffling beat and acoustic guitars. This is a really nice little mid-tempo song, and probably could have been a nice final single for the album. It has a really nice synth pad ending that adds to the dreaming theme of the song.
Birds sing and a bee buzzes around as titular song Honey To The Bee begins. ‘C’mon, buzz me up to heaven’ Billie whispers suggestively. Musically, the song reminds me a lot of Never Ever by All Saints, but Billie definitely makes the vocal performance her own. The track was the album’s fourth and final single, giving her a sultry #3 UK hit. The London Community Gospel Choir are back again singing about ‘heaven’, but it’s possibly a different kind of heaven to what Billie is talking about being buzzed to here. It’s a brilliant song, that grows perfectly before returning us to those birds and bees.
Penultimate track Whatcha Gonna Do follows this, and Billie is rejoined by Sweet P again, and she’s clearly taking issue with him this time. A slinky guitar riff leads us through this RnB track. Billie once again seems to be channeling All Saints a bit, as she sings about taking control and leaving her lover. It’s a nice plodder of a track, and gives Billie plenty of space to show off her vocal range.
The album closes with Don’t Forget To Remember. The song opens with what sounds like a lone pianist playing in a busy bar before a beat bursts in and we’re back in pop stomping Billie richness again. This is a really nice catchy pop song, and one of the non-single highlights of the album. The perfect ending to a debut album of a debut pop career.
Over all, this album is packed with an acute awareness of the late 90’s chart music of which it was part. The similarities at times to Eternal and All Saints are a reflection of the style of music that was dominating the UK at the time – bursting pop/dance songs, and slick RnB inspired tracks. That similarity clearly leant it some success but Billie’s choice of singles singled her out without relying on those.
Billie’s vocals are playful, occasionally childish, but there’s no doubting the power and control that she has over them. As a young pop star, with a debut album, she was likely at the whim of the team writing for her. What we do get here are some of the best late 90’s pop songs in the form of Because We Want To, She Wants You and Honey To The Be, but that’s joined by Girlfriend, I Dream, and Don’t Forget To Remember.
Sadly, there are some low points too, with Saying I’m Sorry Now being a difficult listen, followed by Love Groove. These are a minority though on a 12 track CD, and would have been better to have been left off of what is otherwise a great pop album, and a wonderful debut.
Why you gotta play her songs so loud? Because you ought to. Because you ought to.
- POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1998 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #14, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 70p from a Discogs.com seller.