Five Star – There’s a Brand New World
I’ve been waiting a long time for a critical reappraisal of Five Star to happen – or at least one that admits that actually, they were pretty bloody amazing. But I don’t think it’s coming any time soon, do you?
When Five Star‘s brief but glorious imperial phase kicked off with System Addict in 1986, I was the perfect age: thirteen and a bit years old. I had absolutely no concept of what was cool and what wasn’t, I just liked what I liked. And what I liked was what most of the girls in my class at school liked. And they all liked Five Star. And Denise, Doris, Lorraine, Stedman and Delroy just kept releasing brilliant single after brilliant single – after System Addict came Can’t Wait Another Minute. And then Find the Time. And then their greatest ever single, Rain or Shine – the song which introduced me to the word ‘mañana’ (twice) and the idea that you could take your album title (Silk and Steel) from a lyric buried in one of its songs. At the time this was a huge deal for me, though I’m not sure why now. Anyway, by the time their imperial phase ended on a high with The Slightest Touch, the band had amassed a very respectable nine top 20 hits and would bag a further three before they fell completely out of favour.
This once again raises the larger question of why a pop act stops being successful. It’s not like you got a memo to tell you to stop liking them. I just remember standing in WH Smith one day inspecting a copy of 1988’s Rock the World, mulling it over for a bit and then putting it back. And that behaviour seems to have been repeated across the land. But why? Was it the fact that Five Star had now become a Leather Proposition with a ‘rockier’ edge and faint whiff of sex about them that had hitherto been entirely absent? Or had my head been turned by other, apparently more sophisticated acts? It’s possible, but I was taking home as many Sinitta records as I was Pet Shop Boys – so probably not. I think, basically, that their time had just passed, and that is of course the proper order of things in pop. But none of that should diminish the power of the truly great run of singles they had.
We shouldn’t forget the other factor in a pop act’s demise is the level of record company investment – and it’s clear that when your 1986 album goes quadruple platinum and your 1987 one only goes platinum you’re probably going to lose about 75% of the money they’re going to spend on you in 1988. Hence the Rock the World campaign seemed to lack some of the expensive polish of its predecessors – and if you look at the video for There’s a Brand New World you can see how much they’ve slashed the budgets.
Thing is, There’s a Brand New World is actually dead good. Written solely by Denise, it could only come from 1988 and for me sits nicely alongside Kim Wilde’s You Came as a great example of how cheap synthesisers can actually make a record better and somehow more uplifting. Imagine for a second that the Pearson siblings had bagged the support slot on Michael Jackson’s Bad World Tour instead of Kim – this would have been a smash (although this means You Came might not have been, so once again we must be careful what we wish for).
Talking of Michael, one of the many accusations that have been levelled at Five Star over the years is that they were a sort of five-headed, cut-price Michael. What’s wrong with that? I love a bargain. And while Denise does indeed go the full Michael here with a couple of heavily stylised clearings of the throat at 2:49, Five Star really were so much more than that. And with their trademark synchronised dance steps and spangly uniform jump suits, you could make the case that they had a hand in inventing the whole Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation look.
Anyhow, what I’m really saying is that while we may wait a long time for that critical reappraisal to come, they never needed one in my house.
Entered chart: 17/09/1988
Chart peak: 61
Weeks on chart: 2
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Well now, here’s the problem. No one’s going to try it are they?
EDIT: A reader has suggested Demi Lovato. I’m down with that suggestion.