Review: “Situation: Critical” by Ultra Naté (CD, 1998)

Today’s Pop Rescue is the 1998 second album Situation: Critical by American dance music singer and songwriter Ultra Naté. Will this album be a Kind Of Medicine to your ears, or should you give it away for Free? Read on…

Ultra Naté - Situation: Critical (1998) Limited Edition album
Ultra Naté – Situation: Critical (1998) album

This UK Limited Edition of the album opens with titular track Situation: Critical, opening with gurgling synths, whispering vocals, occasional guitar string twangs that waft around before a gentle beat drops in. Ultra’s familiar vocals slide in perfectly alongside this slower number. The track allows you to hear her softer soulful sound. It momentarily reminds me of Neneh Cherry, but it’s a nice gentle start to the album as the sounds swirl around, ending on the uplifting advice of “don’t you give up” despite the situation being critical. We’re off to a great start.

Next up is fourth single New Kind Of Medicine. The song reached #14 in the UK charts. This track is steeped in Chic-styled disco. There’s a wonderful bass, dramatic swooping strings galore, and a nice disco beat. It sounds like it is an old Chic or Sister Sledge cover song, but actually, like the rest of the songs on this album, it’s written by Ultra. This is a really funky and slickly produced smooth track and the perfect step along from the previous track. It’s a foot tapper, catchy, and utterly glorious, and probably as musically close you can get to a Nile Rodgers track without getting sued.

The familiar guitar riff of the huge breakthrough #3 UK hit and this is the album version of lead single Free. The bass synth and beat drops in and I’m right back to my many nights of clubbing. Ultra’s vocals here sound magnificent throughout, and seemingly effortlessly delivered. The uplifting lyrics match the uplifting vocals, particularly in the chorus. Free was also released as the second single in a remix single format (reaching an admirable #33), providing a bridge across the seven months on from the success of the lead single, to the album’s next singles.

The album version of third single Found A Cure is next, opening with what sounds very much like an interpolation of Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love guitar riff. The guitar riff really does add a catchiness to it, but the chorus really catches you – those ‘na-na-na-na‘ vocals from Ultra will hook you in, and the shuffling snares really are lovely to hear. The track takes a shot of energy in the chorus with a thumping bass drum and perfect vocal harmonies. The track reached #6 in the UK singles chart.

That’s followed by It’s Crying Time, which brings the tempo down a bit, giving Ultra the perfect forum to show off some really rich and warm vocals. She’s joined by some sultry beats, keyboards, occasional mournful guitar riffs. The vocals though, are what are shining here, and the vocal harmonies in the chorus really really shine. The track sees Ultra joined on vocals by Danny Madden in chorus harmonies. This song sounds wonderfully luxurious.

Release The Pressure follows that, the album’s final single, but it saw a release in mainland Europe and not the UK. Guitars strum us into the first verse, but the big beats and some brass join in for the chorus. This track enables Ultra to sound a bit like En Vogue in their hit Free Your Mind during its chorus. Despite the pressure in the title, the track feels a bit more free flowing and not quite as catchy as earlier tracks. I don’t think this would have done as well as earlier tracks in the UK.

Next is Any Ole Love which might have the title of a Chas ‘n’ Dave song, and it does open with someone on piano, but it soon slips away from this into another deliciously sounding funky disco-inspired song. Teasing riffs from gurgling synths sit alongside a simple 4×4 beat and handclaps. At times, I can ‘hear’ Lisa Stansfield (at her poppiest moments), but once again it’s a warm and slick Ultra track.

Love You Can’t Deny follows that and it has very strong echoes of Free throughout, musically/melody-wise. That said, that doesn’t detract too much, as that song is so good that this still feels good – just a tiny bit lazy.

A match seems to strike as night birds and insects open Every Now & Then. This is a heartfelt slick track, with a wonderful bass, building up with extra percussion as the song evolves. Ultra’s vocals shine of course, showing off their tenderness and richness over this mid-tempo track. It’s a delight.

That’s followed by Divine Love and this picks up the tempo again. It briefly reminds me of Lady Kier Kirby of Deee-Lite’s later work, before bouncing back to a bouncy pop track. The vocal harmonies here are a delight, and the track’s instruments pretty much keep out of the way to let these shine – and they do! It’s a nice little song.

We’re now into remix territory for the final three tracks, the first being a thumping and bubbling remix by Full IntentionFound A Cure (Full Intention Club Mix). This is a 7m 25s walloping remix of the track, stuffing it full of energy, over a heavy bass drum, and playing on the guitar riff. Once this track gets going, it really bounces along perfectly.

That leads on to Free (Full Intention Club Mix), with yes, you’ve guessed it, Full Intention at the helm again for this 6m 49s track. It’s a full onslaught at the start, beats, bass, riffs, and vocal samples, before giving away to vocals and claps. When it bursts into its flow, it’s quite a loud bassy track that would no doubt be amazing in a club, but now, on my headphones, it feels a little wasted. Ultra Naté’s vocals slide in effortlessly and sound rivalled in this loud club mix.

The album closes with Free (M&S Philly Klub Edit) which I presume isn’t a Marks & Spencer sandwich. No, it’s a kind of brass/jazz sample-style riffed dance track. The vocals are given a bit more space here to shine than in the Full Intention Club Mix, and that works a treat. The brass stabs, almost hit a disco sound, with the occasional appearance of the familiar riff. It’s a great ending for the album.

Ultra Naté’s lead UK single ‘Free’ (1997)

Verdict

Over all, this album is a joy!

Ultra Naté’s vocals are beautiful, expertly wielded throughout, and the harmonies are wonderfully warm. That, alongside some very catchy tracks (that she has writer or co-writer credits on), and some either really great uplifting sounds or slick soulful or disco inspired tracks, makes this album a great listen.

The highlights are definitely Free, New Kind Of Medicine, and It’s Crying Time, but others like Found A Cure and Any Ole Love are a joy to hear too. There are a couple of weaker moments – Love You Can’t Deny feels like an alternative set of lyrics over a version of Free, and Divine Love doesn’t sound so great to me, but there’s nothing jarring on this album at all.

The album does feel like a fresh and new kind of medicine, and if you’re feeling down, this may well be the cure. Give it a try.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1998 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #17
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.99 from an eBay seller.

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