Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain is 2006’s Life In Mono, the third solo album by British singer and songwriter, and occasional Spice Girl, Emma Bunton. Will this album fulfil your Life, or is it just a monotone mess? Read on…
This 14 track CD opens with second single All I Need To Know which opens with a soft little piano line, that’s soon joined by Emma’s warm and rich vocals. As the chorus arrives, so do the guitar and orchestra. With each part of the song the track evolves, building up gently as the piano flitters around them all throughout. Emma’s vocals are almost lullaby-ish here, and it’s a lovely gentle start to the album. However, as a single, the UK chart disagreed, with the song failing at #60 – Emma’s (so far) last and lowest charting solo single to date.
Then it’s on to the titular Life In Mono, which takes an almost mysterious James Bond theme which is unsurprising given that it’s John Barry on the co-writer credits. However, this is a cover of a 1996 trip-hop track by duo Mono. Sadly, the vocal register feels too low for Emma, resulting in her sounding like she’s just muttering like a too low Goldfrapp.
That’s followed by Mischevious, which includes a certain Cathy Dennis on co-writer duties. This gives us a flash of upbeat sound from the start, and a 1960s advert sound that could easily fit in archive footage or an Austin Powers episode. Here, Emma seems to also be channelling that 1960’s vocal of Petula, Sandie, and Cilla. The song is light and airy, and Emma’s vocals feel effortless, weaving amongst the orchestral flourishes.
Perfect Strangers follows that, and it gives us more of the 1960’s sound, courtesy of a gentle bossa laden with sweeping strings and plenty of ‘bah dee da baa baa‘ vocals. The result is a really nice little song that probably wouldn’t sound out of place on a Saint Etienne album with Sarah Cracknell’s vocals instead.
Then it’s He Loves Me Not and bossa arrives again, to give us some playful vocal melody which Emma sounds perfect in. The vocal harmonies are really nice here, although at times they seem to blend in with the orchestra. By now though, this whole 1960’s sound in 2023 via 2006 is beginning to wear thin.
Thankfully that seems to lift a bit for a more synth-led I Wasn’t Looking (When I Found Love). Here, we get synth pads, gurgling synths, acoustic guitars and light percussion alongside Emma’s vocals. Emma gets some really nice little vocal harmonies amongst her breathy verses.
After that, it’s Take Me To Another Town, which gives record crackling, a repetitive sample and a foot-tapping beat. Here, Emma lists a load of places that she ‘go to’. The combination, which grows as the song proceeds, is actually quite catchy even if the song is lyrically quite simple. The introduction of growling guitars works well, although these ‘Baby Spice’ vocals are a little light and could do with a bit more guts to them. That said, this probably could have worked with a bit more bass, a single release, and a ton of remixes.
Undressing You follows, and this raises the temperature in lyrics as a slow plodding beat, low wandering bass line, and dramatic strings flurry around Emma’s sultry vocals. At times, I’m left thinking about the Sugababes vocals and lyrical tone, but Emma does the job well with this cheeky little number.
Next up is a 1960’s department store elevator hit in the form of I’m Not Crying Over Yesterdays. Here, Emma sounds perfectly in tune with those 1960’s singers that this album seems almost entirely trying to emulate. The meandering strings, gentle percussive beat, and Emma’s soft rarely-wandering from one key vocals.
That leads on to All That You’ll Be, and once it gets going, it gives us lots of broken mould Emma Bunton, as she gets to show off her vocal range and harmonies against a swelling orchestra that’s seemingly lifting her up periodically as the song treads along.
Next is the start of the ‘Bonus Tracks’, with the album’s lead single Downtown a cover of the Tony Hatch penned hit for Petula Clark. The track gave Emma a #3 hit, and was the BBC’s Children In Need charity fundraising single, and its success is probably partly due to the exposure that the BBC televised event would have given her, but also the choice of song gave her a large multi-generational appeal. Meanwhile, the song itself really doesn’t stray far from the original, with just a little more percussion
Following that is Something Tells Me (Something’s Going To Happen) which was a huge hit for Cilla Black. Here, Emma does a great turn with the song, and she sounds like she’s enjoying the track that ‘the smile on my face’ sounds like she probably was whilst singing this. She isn’t channelling Cilla, perhaps due to a lack of the vocal sharpness that could catch the corners of Cilla’s voice, but it’s a nice little romp of this classic song, and probably the first time I’ve heard this song not sung by Cilla.
That’s followed by a cover of the Cuban hit Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps (originally Quizás, Quizás, Quizás). The song has been a hit for a load of artists, including Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Andrea Bocelli with Jennifer Lopez, and Desi Arnaz. Sadly, this sounds. a flat, so Perhaps not.
The album closes with Por Favour, a cover of the 1955 song by Billy May and His Orchestra. The track shuffles along quite nicely and gives Emma a light hearted little number to close the album with.
Over all, this album is musically sound, but it unfortunately takes one concept and stretches it across 14 songs.
Hinted at in her previous album with Maybe, but lacking in weight, this album resumes the 1950’s/60’s persona that Emma Bunton inhabited during the early 00s. This album has some wonderful styled sounds that you could imagine on interludes about how to be a good housewife, or you’d hear whilst sat in a lounge bar, but here we have 14 of them, sung expertly, but somewhat locked into a vocal range and style by Baby Spice.
Leading the way in the highlights are Perfect Strangers and All I Need To Know, both different sorts of songs but expertly constructed and executed. Other songs like He Loves Me Not, Take Me To Another Town, and Downtown are all worthy close runners-up, but they just needed a bit more oomph injected in.
The lowest point is perhaps Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, which feels a bit empty for such a playful song. It’s curious as to why Downtown is included here as a ‘Bonus Track’ when it was the album’s lead and hit single, rather than put it amongst the main part of the album. The album could easily have dropped the rest of the bonus cover versions, and would have felt less like a trudge.
A shortened album, that breaks the style a bit more would have been more interesting and perhaps successful, but with Emma’s pregnancy arriving after the second single, this album was probably destined to stumble without the support of further singles.
It’s nice, but its length just makes it a bit boring.
- POP RESCUE ALBUM RATING: 3 / 5
- 2006 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #65
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.19 from an eBay seller.