New Radicals – Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough
Sometimes, pop gives with one hand and takes with another, doesn’t it?
In 1999, it unfurled its palm to reveal New Radicals, and I got very excited indeed. But just as I’d decided (for the umpteenth time) that pop was saved, the other hand – which turned out to belong to frontman Gregg Alexander himself – came along and slapped them out of existence, leaving us with one spectacularly good hit single and an album that could have generated quite a few more had they not disbanded almost immediately. That hit was of course You Get What You Give, which I initially heard on my first visit to New York City in January of ’99. I was already in a state of constant delight, but this song (which seemed to follow me everywhere I went) kept me in a state of giddy happiness for the full week. Coming across like a slightly petulant Hall & Oates record (with faint hints of Billy Corgan), it was an angry, shouty, bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you brat of a song built for jumping up and down repeatedly, and a very effective warning of the celebrity obsessed decades to come.
Last week I was in Washington DC for the first time, and early on Sunday morning I set off wandering by myself on what turned out to be a 20km walk around the city and the surrounding areas. At times like these, shuffle mode is the best friend a boy can have, and it threw up an astonishing amount of American classics in that slightly sentient way it sometimes has – among them songs by Kim Carnes, 10,000 Maniacs and the Bangles – but just as I was marvelling at the view from the top of Arlington National Cemetery (below), a song came on which gave me one of those I’ve-never-been-more-alive-than-I-am-right-now, holiday-defining moments, made all the more sharp because of where I was at the time. Once again it was a New Radicals song, and that song was Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough.
The opening track on Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, this would have been the album’s third single had the plug not been pulled. Clearly Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough owes a small debt to Sympathy for the Devil, though being something of a pop cretin my initial thoughts linked it more to Bananarama’s Only Your Love. Nonetheless, I loved it from the second I heard it, which was about five minutes after I unpacked from that first trip to New York. As an album opener it’s completely brilliant because it feels like it’s all about anticipation, potential and the thrill of the new and that makes you want to hear more. Of course it could just as easily be about a burgeoning drug habit as it could a new relationship, and it has a bit of a sting in the tail courtesy of Danielle Brisebois (a former star of my favourite ever TV show Knots Landing, to my lasting delight), who delivers the “social security number please / credit card number please / money please / soul please” bit towards the end, but I choose to focus on a more upbeat interpretation.
I love that it took seventeen years for this song to have its private, personal moment with me, and it’s now forever associated with that view, discovery of a brand new place and also the urge to find a restroom after consuming two litres of water on the walk up.
If any of this makes you a bit sad that New Radicals didn’t stick around for very long, don’t be. I actually tend to think that Gregg might be the smartest pop star who’s ever existed. Already tired of the endless treadmill of promotional obligation and realising that You Get What You Give was likely to be a one hit wonder, he called time on the band before the second single Someday We’ll Know was even released and activated Article CD (Cathy Dennis), allowing him to do all the fun stuff like writing amazing tunes without having to endure all the bother of being a celebrity. Of course if everyone did this pop would be quite a rubbish place, but Gregg made the right call – You Get What You Give being one of those records that completes a group’s mission (for the want of a better word) in one song – they would have been in decline from that moment on. But! By giving your subsequent songs to other pop stars, you give them the best possible chance of being adored by lots of people. And so it proved to be.
Writing frequently with the legendary Rick Nowels (notable for his own partnership with Ellen Shipley which yielded Heaven is a Place on Earth for Belinda Carlisle – gasp!), Alexander worked with an awful lot of British pop stars, among them Geri Halliwell, Sophie Ellis Bextor (on Murder on the Dancefloor – double gasp!) and Melanie C. He was also the co-writer of the greatest moment Texas ever had, Inner Smile.
And then there was the more lasting collaboration with Ronan Keating, which produced the closest thing to a follow up to Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too in the form of the Destination album. I rather like that Ronan, possibly one of the least radical pop stars ever, was the main beneficiary of Gregg’s decision to move behind the scenes – there’s no denying that Lovin’ Each Day is a masterpiece, is there? Let’s remind ourselves of its brilliance.
Amazing. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that this would have been the lead single from a second New Radicals album – but pop being what it is, it would probably have sunk without trace and we wouldn’t get to experience that lovely thrill of recognition when it occasionally crops up on Heart FM nowadays. Proof, if it were needed, that Gregg Alexander knew exactly what he was doing when he got out of the frontman game. Thanks, Gregg!
Entered chart: was not released (though it was promo’d in the UK)
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Harry, Liam or Louis. Take your pick.