For the second time, Coldcut give a leg-up to a vocalist via the medium of “featuring” – but while Yazz’ music with and without them wasn’t too different, the gap between “People Hold On” and “All Around The World” is far wider. As a house vocalist, Lisa Stansfield was a terrific find: she could play the belter with the best of them, but also provide a calm centre for Coldcut’s gleeful cut-and-mix pyrotechnics and pianos. Best of all, she sounded like she was having a tremendous time.
Since “All Around The World” is a song about guilt and loss, it’s no surprise she doesn’t sound quite so joyful. But while this kind of smoky ballad is a sensible foundation for a career at the torchy end of soul, I’ve always found it a little tepid. This kind of classy, grown-up pop works best when it feels glossy and nonchalant at the same time, a music of expensive but discreet gestures with detail barely visible but always thought-through. “All Around The World” just doesn’t fit together that well. That awkward murmured intro seems to come from a different emotional place from the grief-stricken verses and determined chorus, and it gives the record an air of self-consciousness which never quite lifts. There are terrific moments – the hesitant shame of “things… he didn’t know before” and the raw “ay-ay-ays” leading into the chorus – but I still end up not quite believing any of it. The lyrics seem sloppy too – “he gave the reasons he should go” in the verses, but she doesn’t know why he’s gone in the chorus? It might seem pedantic but it’s that attention to detail and consistency which can make a pat song believable.
The backing is stronger – light swingbeat rhythms giving a lot of space for the strings (and vocals) to move around in. In the US, where this went to No.1 on the R&B charts, it was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Guy and Troop, and makes sense in that musical context. Here – like “Ride On Time” and the next number one – it’s one of the hits which helps establish the playing field of early 90s pop on this blog. As such it’s easy to overrate – especially next to the lethal lagomorph – but for me this still seems stylised and cold.