Review: “Make It Better” by Dubstar (CD, 2000)

Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate unknown is the 2000 third album Make It Better by British pop duo Dubstar. Will this album be Better than the rest, or are their Stars still going out? Read on…

Dubstar - Make It Better (2000) album cover
Dubstar – Make It Better (2000) album.

This 12 track CD opens with a burst of synth and guitars of Take It. Synths play like a chorus of warning sirens as Sarah Blackwood‘s vocals cut through effortlessly over a descending sequence of chords and a wonderfully heavy beat. Guitars and synths duel towards the end over repeated samples, giving this album an energetic start.

Lead single I (Friday Night) follows this and this rolls in with some guitars, but through the lyrics and precise vocals, I am suddenly reminded of Rebecca Black’s much memed song Friday, except here there’s no heavily applied auto-tune. It’s nice enough, but it lacks a catchy hook. The single stumbled just inside the UK’s Top 40 singles chart at #37, giving them their final (to date) UK charting single.

Guitars lead us into The Self Same Thing, which gives us a slower song, seeing Sarah’s vocals pitched against an almost heavenly first verse before the chorus brings the growling guitars and warm vocal harmonies. Sarah’s distinct vocals sit here well in this track, and she sounds great in the mid-way bridge, although she’s a bit too buried in the chorus when the guitars are doing their thing. The track acted as the album’s second and final single, but it failed to chart.

Next is Mercury rising, written by Kirsty Hawkshaw (Opus III, Delerium etc), and this track has a wonderful sounding guitar intro. These build steadily, allowing the song to evolve, but then so do Sarah’s vocals, giving us a good platform to hear Sarah’s vocal range a bit more.

Following that is Stay, and this picks up a much faster tempo, and hints at an almost Middle Eastern themed sound from the guitars. This allows Sarah’s vocals take on a wonderful sense of urgency, as a nice snare-laden beat shuffles alongside her. The result is a song that’s more catchy than the preceding tracks. This probably should have been a single.

Another Word quietly creeps in almost seamlessly from the previous track. Sarah’s vocals are given centre stage, and she sounds great here. A gurgling synth simmers quietly underneath the vocals with some guitars, and vocal effects in the chorus afford Sarah some harmonies and these work well, although at times i’m left thinking of what would it sound like if The Beautiful South upped their synth quota.

Then it’s When The World Knows Your Name, which ushers us in with some synth choral sounds, as a guitar accompanies Sarah’s heavenly vocal intro. This takes on an almost lullaby sound and just drifts along really.

That leads on to Arc Of Fire, which growls in with electric guitars as if we’ve ended up in the pits of Hell. ‘we are the dying babies’ sings Sarah. The sound is richly layered here, but it’s certainly a heavier sound that any others here. Once again, the Middle Eastern musical influences are evident, and the chorus gives Sarah a chance to lean towards them too. It’s a wall of sound, it just sounds a bit out of place.

Believe In Me is next, and this by contrast, is a nice bouncy piece of indie pop – and a bit closer to their earlier stuff. This too, should have been a single, and maybe that was intended, as it pretty catchy. Sarah sounds like she’s effortlessly delivering her vocals as synths and guitars play over another great sounding snare-laden beat.

That’s followed by I’m Conscious Of Myself, which is a slightly angry list-type song. The guitars chug wonderfully throughout, as Sarah skits between mid and high register vocals, ending on the ‘don’t you just love my arse?’ line. It’s a playful song, and one that reminds me a bit of some of Garbage’s tracks. It’s pretty catchy.

Penultimate track Rise To The Top is next, opening with yet more angry guitars before switching to a simple track with Sarah’s vocals over the top of a beat. The chorus packs a nice burst of energy by contrast but the ‘you’ve got to rise, to the top, to the top’ vocals leave me unsure that Sarah quite gets there.

The album aptly closes with Swansong, a wash of synths leads us in towards the piano, as Sarah gets to show off her vocals in the ballad starter of this track. The track takes on a Swan Lake feel, with string synths in the chorus. The track gives us a glimpse of how wonderfully rich and warm Sarah’s vocals can be but rarely exhibited.

Dubstar’s lead single ‘I (Friday Night)’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is a nice collection of tracks, but that’s about as far as it gets.

There are some stronger tracks, the highlights being Take It, Stay, Another Word, Believe In Me, and I’m Conscious Of Myself, but the rest of the album seems to wallow in a safe zone that leaves them nice sounding (mostly), but lacking in a sense of progression.

Sarah’s vocals are evidently rich and warm, but it does sound like she’s a caged bird sometimes, with only fleeting moments that allow her to stretch her wings and show us what she can really do.

It’s just nice – a niche inhabited by the likes of Dido and The Beautiful South – they release copious amounts of music, but there’s nothing to dislike or love. Make It (a bit) Better.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 2000 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £3.41 from an eBay seller.

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