Apr 12

GABRIELLE – “Dreams”

Popular50 comments • 4,461 views

#691, 26th June 1993

Gabrielle starts as she was to go on: a voice apparently soaked in personality singing songs with a total absence of it. Gabrielle’s throaty, worldly tone marks her out as this year’s version of that recurring chimera, the Great British Soul Hope. The GBSH – last seen on Popular in the form of Lisa Stansfield – tends to play out in a broadly similar way each time. A girl, or guy, or group with good voices and the best intentions enjoys early success, but the toxic mix of acclaim and dull material does for them.

In the case of “Dreams”, Gabrielle is halfway there already. The production is reassuringly professional, very close to the kind of powerpoint soul the Lighthouse Family would serve up later in the 90s. I think it’s the mix of strings and acoustic guitars that turns me off – two well-worn signifiers of “classy” in British pop, but they don’t play well together: the union has an inescapable beigeifying power. In fact the most interesting thing about the song is that it’s trying terribly hard for legal reasons not to be “Fast Car”. Once you learn that the original “Dreams” was built around a Chapman sample it’s impossible not to hear it, and hard not to wonder if the lack of clearance castrated the track. As for the lyrics, this isn’t strictly that other 90s curse, the motivational hit – but Gabrielle sells it like it is.



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  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Gabrielle FACT that I have dredged up from somewhere: I believe that when she entered the chart at #2 the previous week, that was the highest placing for a debut single. A quick wiki confirms this incredibly boring fact – for some reason there was a MASSIVE hoohaa about it at the time for some reason, possibly because dudes were trying their best to talk about something other than URRR SHE’S ONLY GOT ONE EYE (untrue).

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 20 Apr 2012 #

    (her record got beaten by a summery bunny the next year!)

  3. 3
    Mark G on 20 Apr 2012 #

    I um, yeah.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 20 Apr 2012 #

    This is pleasant, hummable, but fairly unremarkable. Surprising that it was quite *so* big.

    Gabrielle is/was quite hit and miss for me. Give Me A Little More Time is glorious – one of those songs that’s so good you instantly assume it’s a cover of an old standard rather than an original. I also thought Should I Stay was gorgeous.

    However she had more than her share of bland nonsense. If there’s an early 00s hit that has aged worse than ‘When A Woman’ I haven’t heard it. Ghastly.

  5. 5
    lex on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Oh I am disappointed by this low mark, this song is an all-time favourite of mine – I absolutely loved it at the time and still do. It’s so casual and self-assured and so perfectly summery. I love the tasteful strings!

    Gabrielle’s kind of underrated, she had a surprising amount of really great pop singles.

    I remember her performing this on TOTP (eyepatch and all), IIRC this set the record at the time for highest new entry position from a debut artist (#2, lol).

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    lex on 20 Apr 2012 #

    (10/10 btw. Easily. Kat beat me to that chart fact I see!)

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    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    I have never really understood Gabrielle’s obsession with her lazy right eye. At the time of her first hit she covered it with a glittery eyepatch; since then she has deployed fringes, left-favouring profiles, and on the cover of her 2001 greatest hits album, a hat defiantly angled to obscure any view of that eye while she smiles knowingly at the camera. We get the impression that she is hiding (from) something, and thus find it difficult to connect with any of the emotions which she attempts to express in her music.

    “Dreams”‘ initial popularity was due to the initial white label version which basically had Gabrielle singing the vocal line over a backing of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” – another proto-bootleg, and a telling source, since “Dreams” is, by the singer’s own admission, about her hoped-for career rather than falling for someone (“Look at me, hey, I’m with you”) and she sings it in a careful low contralto as if slightly ashamed of such naked ambition. Whereas “Fast Car” is about escape from living death as a matter of absolute necessity – it could even be the object of “Calling You,” and the line “leave tonight or live and die this way” is an especially chilling line, particularly when sung in Chapman’s ostensibly nonchalant but concerned post-Joan Armatrading voice.

    But “Dreams” succeeded and launched Gabrielle on a long and still-thriving career of providing photocopies of real music for people who don’t really like music; the song sounds “authentic” (even though it’s based on another song) and “soulful,” and as several participants in 2007’s Live Earth concerts proved, there is still a substantial audience for this kind of thing; “caring” from a distance but not sharp enough to draw blood or initiate actual passion. The question of what – or whom – exactly she was hiding from (“You know you’ve got to be strong” – why?) will, I guess, be addressed further down the Popular line.

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    thefatgit on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Oh dreary, dreary! I’m not sure what to add. Gabrielle invented Naomie Harris? Heart FM, Smooth FM & Magic FM rinsed this one dry on their playlist…err…um. Next?

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    Rory on 20 Apr 2012 #

    A 4 seems a bit harsh, and surprising – given the 8 for Ace of Base I was expecting a 6 or even 7 here. Now that I say that, though, I’m not sure why, other than having always lumped the two together in my mind as “essence of 1993 pop”. I definitely prefer Ace of Base.

    “Dreams” sounds a bit like The Verve meets Insert Girls Aloud Ballad Here, but that’s hardly Gabrielle’s fault; at the time it was a much more fresh sound. In Australia it even ended up as a JJJ alternative-radio staple, bracketed by Yothu Yindi and the Smashing Pumpkins on the first Triple J Hottest 100 CD after placing 42nd in their annual listener poll.

    I was going to give it 6, but the lukewarm reaction here may have talked me down to 5. I’ll think about it.

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    Chewshabadoo on 20 Apr 2012 #

    “powerpoint soul” Genius!

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    Cumbrian on 20 Apr 2012 #

    #9. I think you mean “a bit like Richard Ashcroft meets…”. There is very little of Gravity Grave knocking about in this to my ear.

    I don’t like this – and the problem is not the tasteful blandness of the arrangement; it’s Gabrielle’s delivery. On the chorus at least, I reckon it’s clipped and nasal. Maybe she is trying to achieve something with this (i.e. it’s an artistic choice) but given she actually does have a pleasant voice, it’s a mighty disappointment for me.

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    wichita lineman on 20 Apr 2012 #

    This felt like Tom’s Diner revisited, only much duller; it was as if the Edie Brickell What I Am Balearic bootleg model had been ironed wrinkle free, all pop volatility gone. Dreams was a Smooth FM readymade.

    She has a characterful voice, granted, and I don’t see Adele as being any better or worse than ‘the new Gabrielle’ – Out Of Reach would suit Adele to a tee. Neither singer moves me in any way at all.

    Re 4: When A Woman is also maybe the laziest song title ever. IT’S HALF A SENTENCE!

    Re 8: Not sure what you mean, unless it’s the vague resemblance. Naomie Harris had already made herself known to the public by this point, starring in Simon And The Witch alongside a pre-Mandy but already terrifying Nicola Stapleton:


    (note ‘soft reggae’ theme tune)

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    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    “Out Of Reach” is on permanent Heart FM spin. I expect Blackburn will spin it tomorrow as well as it’s #4 in the 2001 chart he’s doing on POTP. Like most of Gabrielle’s work, it demands the response: “And now here’s a sketch set in a ballbearing factory. Mr Barker plays a man who loses his bearings…”

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Gabrielle UNFACT: This song was originally released by Momus.

    Didn’t expect a score this low although it’s not exactly my thing either. Gabs felt closer to MOR than ‘New Jill Swing’ (lots of great hits in that vein at this time, from Janet Jackson’s return to Mary J Blige’s breakthrough and, from the UK, Eternal’s decent debut).

    The ‘highest new entry by debut artist’ thing heralded the slow decline of breakthrough hits – commonly ballads- climbing to the summit in huge leaps having entered much lower down (‘Sleeping Satellite’, ‘Show Me Heaven’…) tho we’re only 6 months away now from what I believe is still the record holder(?).

    Gabrielle occasionally sounded a little like Patti LaBelle altho sadly not enough. ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ must be her best song and should have been her biggest hit.

    Dulldreamsfax: The first top 40 hit called ‘Dreams’ since Fleetwood Mac’s. There have been a further six since (but at least two of those were F Mac covers). Also from ’93 is top trance track ‘Dreams’ by Quench which didn’t chart (but did make #75 three years later).

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    Erithian on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Bloody hell Rory, those two words “Yothu Yindi” took me back 20 years almost to the day when I saw them live at the Marquee. Fantastic band – that well-loved guitar/bass/drums/keyboard/didgeridoo combination…

    Gabrielle is one of that very select category, ex-civil servants to have had a number one single (Lord Chancellor’s Department in her case) – beyond Mick Jones I can’t think of another! Ian Curtis didn’t quite get all the way to the top.

    I remember being both impressed and totally mystified when she came straight in at 2 for her first ever week in the chart, an artist I’d never even heard of. It’s a passable song, nice groove but nothing all that special.

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    lockedintheattic on 20 Apr 2012 #

    The week this came out, Gabrielle performed this at Gay Pride in London – I had just turned 18, and it was my first time there. She came out on stage, late afternoon, to a huge crowd – given the stage of her career, this would have been the biggest crowd she had ever played to by *miles*.

    And then the backing track failed to work. So she sang the whole song a capella, to huge cheers for from the crowd, and with very little hint of nerves. I think everyone there warmed to her instantly.

    (it’s only as a type this now that the cynical older me is wondering if that was a deliberate ploy to showcase her voice; it didn’t feel like that at the time, and even if it was it showed a lot of confidence and talent to do that)

  17. 17
    lockedintheattic on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Oh – and a quick YouTube search has finally turned up that original mix featurning Fast Car – and a much more noticeable 90s beat too.


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    thefatgit on 20 Apr 2012 #

    #12 Haha! I was referring to her contribution to the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” franchise. I had no idea she was a child star as well. You live and learn, eh?

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    anto on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Nothing wrong with this at all. This kind of homegrown pop soul doesn’t seem to fare too well on Popular but I admit to a bit of a weakness for it. I was completely unaware of its connection to Fast Car and certainly wouldn’t have picked up on any resemblance. There is an all-star number one coming up in about 4/5 pop years where I think Gabrielles 7-word contribution is the best thing about it.
    All in good time.

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    Izzy on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Ah, you’re all wrong except Lex – this is a ten easy. It’s a marvellous piece of songwriting above all; just slides off the tongue from first to last, and works in any setting*. It’s so classy and uplifting.

    * speaking of which, has it been reissued or revived recently? I’ve heard it a few times while out & about, and always fun to sing along to.

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    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Not “wrong” but “have different opinions.”

    Apologies to Popular regulars for keeping harping on about this but words are important.

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    Izzy on 20 Apr 2012 #

    In your view.

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    Alan not logged in on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Recently a close relative of mine, who was very much ‘into’ pop and an amateur musician, told me this was his stepping off point for taking an interest in the charts. I had to sympathise – it’s got one (borrowed) hook, and nothing else but the mystery of what raised it beyond mid-chart oblivion. (Answer the original bootleg chapman-sampled ‘underground’ness). meh squared.

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    AndyPandy on 20 Apr 2012 #

    re 14 ‘Dreams’ by Quench – lovely track from the place where Trance met early hard house and not surprisingly regularly dropped by Tony De Vit and you can see similarities between it and his “The Dawn”.

    re 15 and Civil Servants: Fish was also quite near with ‘Kayleigh’.

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    chelovek na lune on 20 Apr 2012 #

    I seem to recall Gabrielle, at the time of this single, being marketed as something like “the new Crystal Waters”- which (given that HER career had effectively petered out after two singles and countless remixes thereof), if that was so, is really a rather underwhelming way to introduce anyone… And there’s another really ghastly female dance singer (whose big hit had a silly dance to go with it) we’ll encounter soon who seemed to be presented in a similar way (down bunny).

    None of which is quite fair. As Gabrielle can sing reasonably well, if not outstandingly, and just a few of her singles (especially “If You Really Cared” and “Give Me A Little More Time” were pretty top drawer of their genre and time – yes looking backwards a little too blatantly perhaps, but well-crafted pieces still).

    But on the basis of “Dreams” – and indeed the three follow-up singles to it, all inferior to the debut – we wouldn’t have known that she would produce some singles of more than passing interest.

    This is alright, but a little insipid. Must have over-hyped to make no 1. Just checking, I’m surprised to see that “Give Me Just A Little More Time” wasn’t a number 1. That was of a different class to “Dreams”- which is basically pleasant but unremarkable. Probably a 5/10 for me.

  26. 26
    swanstep on 21 Apr 2012 #

    Didn’t know this one (or Gabrielle more generally for that matter) until a couple of weeks ago. ‘Salright I suppose. Feels a little underdone lyrically and backing-track wise (compares unfavorably with EBTG’s arrangements and lyrics around this time I’d say), but the voice is OK and the melody’s not bad. So probably 5/10 from me (but I’m feeling the tug of Tom’s 4). By the way, I never would have guessed Gabrielle’s eye-patch was there for an actual reason. I just assumed that she was doing a bit of an Adam Ant/Pirate thing.

  27. 27
    Billy Hicks on 21 Apr 2012 #

    I remember this ridiculously well for a song that came out when I was 4…like ‘No Limit’ it must have had countless airplay. I’ve never really got into it though…it just bores me, whereas I’m really happy to see fellow love for ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ which, agreed, is awesome and seems like a massive forgotten classic, #5 was as high as it got in 1996.

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    lonepilgrim on 21 Apr 2012 #

    this features on a ‘Number Ones of Dance’ CD that I picked up at a charity shop a few years ago. It’s the penultimate song chronologically and the least urgent track. In that context it works well as a break from the bangers, largely due to Gabrielle’s sleepy drawl.
    Nowadays this would probably be released in a variety of mixes – ft. RapperX,Y and/or Z – which might add the extra dimension that the song lacks. I’d still rate this higher than 4.
    In subsequent years it was ‘humorously’ observed that Gabrielle’s later songs weren’t a ‘patch’ on this one….

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    wichita lineman on 21 Apr 2012 #

    Out Of Reach on Radio 2 rrrright now, on Pick Of The Pops 2001 (very enjoyable double bill with 1958 in case anyone fancies the ‘listen again’ option).

    First time I heard it, on a car radio if that’s an excuse, I was convinced it was called Calorie.

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    Billy Smart on 21 Apr 2012 #

    #15. Musicians have passed in the other direction, too. Pop stars turned civil servants: Gaye Advert, Amelia Fletcher.

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