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Rachel Stevens – Nothing Good About This Goodbye

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There are many, many unanswered questions in pop. Is the Mutya Keisha Siobhan thing happening or not? What happened to Des’ree’s brain? When is Listen Without Prejudice Vol.2 coming out? But perhaps the most pressing of all is this one: what went wrong with Rachel Stevens’ solo career?

In every pop group, usually from the word go, you can pick out the one who’ll get the decent solo career when everything goes tits up around album three. This person possesses a strange allure that somehow outweighs their ability to sing and dance. The pop press gravitates towards them for reasons they can’t quite explain, and this probably breeds a certain level of resentment among the rest of the band, inevitably hastening the split. It is the natural order of things, and thank heavens for that – imagine a world where Andrew Ridgeley was the successful one from out of Wham!

In S Club 7, the star of tomorrow was clearly Rachel Stevens. She wasn’t the best singer in the group (hi Jo), nor was she the best dancer (oh hey Bradley), but she was the one you couldn’t take your eyes off. And sure enough, when S Club 7 did stop movin’, Rachel was hastily repackaged as a grown-up solo artist. At the time I had fairly Louise-level expectations, but these were quickly exceeded – first single Sweet Dreams My LA Ex was a stroke of genius. Its parent album Funky Dory was good, with flashes of brilliance, but it wasn’t until she was teamed with Richard X for Some Girls that things got really interesting. Now, legend has it that there was something of an industry scramble for this song, and Geri Halliwell is rumoured to have locked herself in her car until it was hers (hopefully someone cracked a window). Some Girls is, of course, absolute filth, and Geri would have winked her way through it and ruined the whole thing – Rachel, so sweet, so beatific, possesses the gift of plausible deniability and that’s what makes it a perfect pop record.

For album two, it appears a decision was made to create a classic for the ages. Now, I’m sure every project starts out this way, and then somehow nine months later you emerge from the studio to discover you’ve made Terence Trent D’Arby’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh, but in the case of Come and Get It that’s exactly what we got. It easily ranks alongside Confessions on a Dance Floor and Love Angel Music Baby as one of the decade’s best pop albums. Richard X was back on board, as were Xenomania, Hannah Robinson and Rob Davis – basically, pop’s big hitters, and all of them were operating at maximum efficiency, presumably because they’d found the perfect vessel for their productions. That isn’t meant to diminish Rachel’s own contribution – her slightly detached delivery and ability to sell a line like “Oh, I let you in my back door” with a straight face is probably the greatest weapon the album has.

Unfortunately, none of this mattered because of a colossal mis-step that set Rachel’s Doomsday Clock to one minute before midnight – and that was the completely unnecessary Emergency Cover Version deployment of Andrea True Connection’s More More More which followed up Some Girls and was included on the special edition of Funky Dory. Although it was a no.3 hit, it was a terrible, cheesy version of a what is basically a novelty record and undid all the work that had been done to position Rachel as our most interesting pop star. Given that Girls Aloud had just unleashed Love Machine and rewritten the rules of pop, this hideous throwback instantly made Rachel a thing of the past.

The clock was ticking, and the effect was immediate – Negotiate With Love, the first single from Come and Get It topped out at a disappointing no.10, with follow up So Good hitting the same peak. When the complete genius of I Said Never Again (But Here We Are) missed the top ten, plans for a fourth single were cancelled and Rachel was officially down the dumper. Which meant we never got Nothing Good About This Goodbye, the song which might just have rescued things.

Nothing Good About This Goodbye is basically Call the Shots before Call the Shots. Although slightly more sparse, it shares that very particular Xenomania wistfulness, driven by lovely moody synth washes, analogue-y blips and little punches of guitar, and makes full use of one of their greatest strengths, that being their habit of pausing for a bar now and again. Almost nothing happens between 2:35 and 2:37 on this record and yet it’s one of the best bits of the whole thing – leading into a spectacularly good middle bit, it’s just enough time to create a thrill of anticipation for the final valedictory chorus. Ooh, I get the shivers. It also has the best pronunciation of the word ‘history’ in pop (“hiss-tree”) which Girls Aloud later borrowed on their own Whole Lotta History. Even more importantly, and just like Call the Shots, Nothing Good About This Goodbye is the kind of song that has the potential to sell albums; how I wish Polydor had held their nerve for just one more release.

If all of this isn’t an argument for the invention of Skynet and a Terminator sent from the future to destroy More More More and save pop for subsequent generations, I don’t know what is. I’d be quite willing to suffer a life of machine enslavement just to make this happen.

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Entered chart: was not released

Who could sing this today and have a hit? This is a moot point because soon time will be rewritten.

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