Monday, 4 January 2010

2000 All Saints: Pure Shores/Madonna: American Pie

In the late nineties/early 2000's, William Orbit was esteemed as fashionable producer for hire whose trademark electronic treatments came to define the era's post dance comedown. With a distinctive style all his own, Orbit's hand is all over the next two number ones, though the results, I think, are best described as 'mixed'.

For an act promoted as British urban R&B, 'Pure Shores' is a step leftfield from the norm for All Saints, though as it was co-written with Orbit specifically for the film version of Alex Garland's 'The Beach' then maybe that's not so surprising. With all the past bump and grind beats banished, 'Pure Shores' is a whirl of tics and bleeps that swirl around the girls vocals like sea breezes and seagull calls. For once, Melanie Blatt's lispy gurgle finds strength as a virtue, riding Orbit's jet stream without ever trying to fight against where its taking her while the rest of the girls provide a siren wail of ghostly ambience to call her to the beach. This isn't All Saints remixed but genuine collaboration where the girls are generous in their participation and willing to meet Orbit more than halfway. Shame they couldn't have maintained this level of quality throughout their career. Or (in hindsight) what was left of it.

Orbit, of course, had already breathed new life into Madonna's flagging career on her 'Ray Of Light' album and the 'Frozen' single, and the partnership continued on this version of the Don McLean warhorse that also featured on a film soundtrack (Madonna's 2000 starring vehicle 'The Next Big Thing'). But though it's a neat statistical twofer for Orbit, this is very much the antithesis of 'Pure Shores' and shows that his name on the credits could sometimes be an anti-Midas touch.

I'd say this is a failure largely for the opposite reasons why 'Pure Shores' succeeded - 'American Pie' is a cover version, no more no less, and Orbit's makeover, at all times, accommodates McLean's song rather than obscures it.
Because in trying to deck out a straight bat in fairy dust, the jaunt of Don's campfire singalong is sacrificed on the altar of 'innovation' as a jaded Madonna cherry picks the verses in a truncated version of the original that kneecaps any merit that existed in McLean's storytelling. Not that I ever cared much for that original you understand, but at least Don was genuine in his eulogy/tribute to Buddy Holly. Maybe it made sense in the context of the film (I haven't see it so can't comment) but Madonna just sounds bored. Which is exactly how I feel long before its finished. But you can't win a coconut every time I guess.

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