Album Review: Steps – Light Up The World
After a sold-out 22 date tour of the country’s biggest arenas which saw ticket sales close to 200,000, a number one Ultimate collection release and two successful Sky Living series, 90’s pop group Steps really have had the comeback the group, and their fans, had hoped for.
With a split that lasted a decade we were fairly positive that all ties were severed between members Claire, Faye, H, Lisa and Lee. Following successes that included 14 consecutive top 5 singles and worldwide album sales in excess of 20 million, conflict and a myriad of misunderstandings broke the band up at the peak of their career in 2001 and rumors swirled around the split over the following ten years. The group reunited for a Sky Living ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary that threw light on to the turmoil that encased the group and put to rest many of the arguments that kept them from reforming earlier. The documentary saw the group putting together a greatest hits collection which went to number one when it was released at the end of 2011 and also embark on a tour of the UK, performing a collection of the hits that made the group such an iconic pop outfit in their 90’s heyday. Performances complete with signature dance routines to tracks including Last Thing On My Mind, One For Sorrow, Here And Now, Better Best Forgotten and Tragedy took us on a trip down pop cobbled memory lane.
The group has already hinted at a brand new studio album in 2013 and the Christmas period has already seen them back on the road for a 6-date mini-tour of the UK, performing songs from their catalogue as well as a collection of festive numbers which make up the track listing of their brand new offering, Light Up The World.
Light Up the World shouldn’t be confused as a new studio record from Steps. Like many acts Steps have decided to capitalize on the Christmas period by recording some of the most cherished festival-themed songs for this new record with a new song, the records title track, thrown in for fans. The great thing about this new record is that the songs chosen for the track listing are less predictable than most Christmas themed albums with the five piece opting for songs that are less known than the obvious Xmas classics chosen by most artists with the exception of the records closing trio.
History Is Made At Night is the first up and is also the standout on the record. The catchy chorus with its 50’s scented chorus unleashes the pop band in fine form and in true Christmas spirit. Like the majority of the record each member gets their time in the spotlight and we particularly like the fact that Lee gets more than his fair share of vocal nods throughout the record, this song being a fantastic track for the singer to showcase his underrated talents as he croons his way through some spotlight solo moments.
The rhythm is stripped back with a complimenting Spanish coated guitar sitting modestly beside an occasional piano tinkering on the following Overjoyed. Though the song doesn’t particularly hit the same highs as most of Steps previous recordings, particularly the covers we have become accustomed to over the last 2 decades from the group, it is still a nice festive-themed addition on the record. With the song being driven by the sweet tones of Faye and H the number is more of a duet than a group effort as the rest of the group provides the songs backing vocal backdrop.
It May Be Winter Outside is another key moment within the track listing with its infectious chorus and Claire’s enormous vocals beginning the winter themed affair and carrying the track through its 3 minute duration, belting at every opportunity that arises. The chorus is also charming with its paced rhythm.
While the songs on this new record are familiar pennings that have spanned the past few decades the group have offered us a token new song in the form of the title track. The track begins with a subtle dub-step intro before it soars through a fantastic and anthemic hit that could hold up well at any time of the year. Again, each member of the group gets a slice of the pop pie on this one. Though the guitar solo nearing the end of the track borders slightly on the cringe worthy side it is a memorable newbie for the pop stars.
New song now aside it is straight back into Christmas classics as Claire offers a vocally vibrant When She Loved Me, her vocals ringing eloquently on the track before Faye’s incredible high peaks take over and hold centre stage on the albums most sentimental and touching inclusion. Both Claire and Faye unleash a stunning rendition of the 1999 Toy Story 2 soundtrack hit and once again showcase one of pops most talented yet underrated and misjudged outfits. What other pop acts could pull off a stunning power ballad with such intensity and conviction as this one? I can’t think of any myself!
Closing the record are some of the more known of Christmas pennings and the boys take the reigns here with H and Lee taking on some of the festive seasons most cherished classics. First up is H with the iconic Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). As he turns out a spectacular cover of the classic the remainder of the outfit provides the tracks syrupy backing vocals.
In Steps’ time it has been a rarity to hear Lee in the spotlight especially taking on the role of lead vocalist but with the following Please Come Home For Christmas he does so with ease. Sure, Lee isn’t the most confident or strongest of singers within the pop unit but he holds his own on this track and delivers the festive hit with confidence as he reveals his cool and suave vocals on one of the records closing highlights.
Ending the record is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas where the whole group comes together to deliver a stunning cover, each taking solo moments in the track and reveling in the sweet balladry of the track, taking advantage of the slow paced rhythm to showcase their individual vocal abilities in the opening half of the track while the latter section brings together the 5-piece for a beautifully harmonized closing before Claire’s radiant and powerful vocals guide us out of the track.
Over the past few years a lot of acts have made comebacks, most unsuccessful in their attempts. Take That seemed to set the bar pretty high and following their success a lot of pop acts from the nineties have emerged out of the glossy woodwork to reclaim their places back on the pop market and reignite the flame of their heyday successes. There haven’t been many that have been able to recapture the essence of their initial popularity and after a mere matter of months most acts dissolve back into obscurity. Steps are one of the rare few who have been able to reestablish themselves with their old fans and earn themselves a whole new generation of follows.
Steps have always been a very misjudged outfit. Though it may be an easy thing to dismiss a manufactured pop act it seems unfair to do that to a group like Steps. The songs they deliver are catchy and on top of that each of the band members can belt out a song unlike many other pop bands, particularly with Claire and Faye leading the band, both have stunning, confident and powerful vocals that have always carried the majority of Steps recordings.
Light Up The World is a fine festive collection. Like previous Steps recordings it is unapologetic and camp drenched pop at its best – just the way we like it!