When Shaznay Lewis, Melanie Blatt, and Nicole and Natalie Appleton split acrimoniously in 2001, it left a lucrative, gal group-shaped hole in the market. The extant Sugababes took the baton and ran with it, while 2002 saw Girls Aloud enter the fray.
All three acts have released singles that managed to be poptastic and critically lauded, but it is perhaps the Saints who deserve most praise. Lewis, let's be clear, is no puppet Spice Girl, but rather a songwriter with talent enough to co-pen huge hits such as "Never Ever" and "Pure Shores".
Until recently, the former song's title might have summarised the likelihood of an All Saints reunion, but time - together with the girls' less than successful solo careers - has proved a great healer. Pals again, All Saints are now all thirty-somethings with children. Promoting forthcoming album Studio 1, the yummy mummies are back to siphon-off some of the sales of the aforementioned competition. "This is not a comeback," says Blatt, "it's a continuation."
Tonight's gig is their first since re-forming. Cannily mindful of a growing market, it is being sponsored by 3 Mobile Media, who are filming part of the concert for customers to download to their phones. Lily Allen did something similar earlier this month, tapping into a market that has seen 3's users purchase 18 million video and audio tracks in less than two years.
When the lights dim, all eyes are fixed on All Saints' backing band. But in a neat coup de théâtre, the girls appear from behind us, a phalanx of security guards parting a sea of adoring fans. The girls' local gyms have clearly been visited, and they strut to the stage like models on a catwalk. Their new look is classy: black or white shirts sexily teamed with big, loose-knotted ties.
Almost all of the short set comes from the aforementioned Studio 1, its titular nod to the seminal record label of the same name also signalling an album with reggae, ska and dancehall influences. This being All Saints, however, any dubby vocals or earthy brass motifs are housed in forward-looking, seamless-sounding pop arrangements. The new songs penned with Greg Kurstin (Jamelia, Flaming Lips) and Rick Nowels (Madonna) are resolutely, unmistakably 2006.
The tale of crazed, all-consuming love that is "Chick Fit" is a propulsive, bobbing slice of electronica with "hit" written all over it. Lewis handles the lead vocal, while her band mates fall in for tight, syncopated harmonies. The Studio One influence is more apparent on "Scar", the lilting trombone and skanking rhythm guitar punctuating another fine, if slightly less immediate, chorus.
The Appletons beam at Lewis and Blatt, and the proverbial handbag is danced around with sassy allure. That All Saints are thrilled to be back is obvious, the four of them showing-off like exuberant teenagers with Saturday night fever. At one point, seizing on the buzz of it all, Nicole Appleton jokingly calls for champagne.
"In It To Win" is a smooth affair borrowing from National Lottery-speak, but "Flashback" is a huge, stomping beast built on a great keyboard riff. "Rip off the sheets and you'll get what you asked for," sings Natalie Appleton, a red leather-gloved hand on her hip, and her glittery red eye shadow catching the light. Her husband, Liam Howlett of The Prodigy, is a lucky man.
"Pure Shores", the evening's solitary dip into their back catalogue, sees glasses raised and mobile phones produced to relay the moment elsewhere. It's a great pop song, but flanked by such excellent new material, it is the least compelling track of the evening.
The superb new single "Rock Steady" shifts thing up a gear, All Saints nailing their dancehall influences to the mast and engaging in some neat, microphone-swapping choreography. "I've got my ass in check and now I'm ready to be," runs part of the song's chorus. Watch out, Pussycat Dolls.Reuse content