13
Apr 14

ALL SAINTS – “Never Ever”

Popular108 comments • 5,552 views

#780, 17th January 1998

NeverEver You’re in the car with the radio on and no expectations, and suddenly you hear it: a song that stops everything around it, breaking through the playlist and announcing itself as a hit. More than a hit, a classic, a song you’ll be hearing for the rest of your life. And the feeling when it happens is a kind of classic itself, one of the iconic freeze-frame moments of loving music. As a self-conscious pop fan it’s something I knew was meant to happen, and every time I was listening to the radio a part of me was willing it to.

So when it did happen – when, for instance, I was in my girlfriend’s car at the end of 1997 and I heard a song start with the chords from “Amazing Grace” and a hesitant woman tiptoeing across them, talking out of the radio, asking for help turning fragments back into a life that might make some kind of sense – how much could I believe my reaction? I’d spent the back half of the year getting my own head together, and the glue I’d used was 60s pop and soul. I’d listened – a lot – to Motown, Philly, Spector, girl groups. I was ready for “Never Ever”. I needed it. Right then, I loved it.

But could I trust it? I grew tired of “Never Ever” before long. And listening to it now, the Shangri-La’s style opening monologue – so stark and startling on the radio – is horribly uncomfortable: the singer sounds abject as she begs her ex, not even for reconciliation or explanation, but just grounds to blame herself. It’s not just the styles of the 60s in play here, but their emotionally abusive attitudes too: women choking back romance comic tears, accepting that deep down it’s all their fault. “Not only will your answer keep me sane, but I’ll know never to make the same mistake again”.

It’s particularly hard to deal with given the context All Saints emerged in. The Shaznay Lewis/Mel Blatt team had been scrapping around on pop’s fringes well before the Spice Girls hit, but the renewed interest in All Saints in 1996 was born from the record industry’s sudden need to find new groups to tap the girl band market. With hindsight one of the most remarkable things about the Spice Girls is how clear a run they had, free of real competition – so that by the time alternatives did emerge the problems and strains in the Spice model were really starting to show. All Saints’ positioning as a more sophisticated option – more style mag than tabloid friendly, at least at this point – was clever and natural. But the Spice Girls hadn’t always been overworked sloganistas – if Girl Power meant anything, on the evidence of those early singles, it was about attacking situations (particularly relationships) by assuming a position of autonomy and strength. For the cool alternative to be something as apparently supine as “Never Ever” is troubling.

But while the intro of “Never Ever” may have been the cut-through moment, a dog-whistle for pop classicists like 97-era me, there’s thankfully more in the song than that. If I treat the intro as something for the rest of the song to react against, not build on, I like the song a lot more. “Never Ever” opens at its lowest point and across its five minutes at least begins to build on that and recover some kind of poise, shifting blame to the ex not on the singer: “I’m not crazy, I’m sure I ain’t done nothing wrong”.

Those lines are also when the singers begin to get loose from the straitjacket of “Never Ever”’s metronomic vocal rhythm – which finally shatters on the closing seconds, as the song shifts style entirely: a breakbeat and R&B vamping jumping “Never Ever” forward in time. And finally redeeming the song: Shaznay Lewis takes some of the most desperate, feeble pleas from the intro – “You can write it in a letter, babe” – and repeats them as a sneer. The soul-searching ends, the singer moves on, and “Never Ever” starts as a grovel but ends as a kiss-off.

Is this reading of the song useful? I’d like to think so. It suggests that “Never Ever” is a very clever record, one that draws on the past but – by using genre-play as emotional development – engages critically with it too. That’s something too few Britpop-era records managed. But for me it also recovers a little of the pleasure I felt hearing this song for the first time, stepping coolly out of the context of the radio and hoodwinking me completely.

6

Comments

1 2 3 4 All
  1. 76
    Tom Ewing on 15 Apr 2014 #

    Yes, I’m intrigued too! Didn’t realise one of their later hits was The One.

  2. 77
    ciaran on 15 Apr 2014 #

    #75 – All my opinion of course.And sliightly linked to another chart topper we have yet to get to here.

    #76 – You may have already written about it in prehistoric era FT! It will sound like ‘I Feel Love’ or ‘Telstar’ compared to what follows Never Ever…..

  3. 78
    Auntie Beryl on 15 Apr 2014 #

    I still wear combat trousers to this day, at festivals. Before All Saints I was wearing jeans, which was foolish.

    Anyway, this is not quite a 10 but most definitely a 9, in context and in absolute. There is a 10 to come.

  4. 79
    daveworkman on 16 Apr 2014 #

    Sorry, nothing particularly pertinent to add other than I discovered Popular last week, and it bizarrely coincides here with the point at which I became a music ‘fan’ – at the beginning of ’98 at the age of twelve I started writing down the Top 40 (and recording the new entries on cassette – I can admit that now, can’t I?), a habit which continued for a good eighteen months before my musical tastes moved away from the charts. My first single was MMMBop, and up until September 1998 I only bought the occasional cassette single and compilation, not buying an album until I got my first CD player, so I’m now hugely looking forward to wallowing in my memories of this major year for me.
    Sorry, I realise this is fairly irrelevant – so to keep things on track, listening to this again, and reading some of the thoughts in the post and the comments, I’m intrigued as to whether anyone thinks this would work as a cover version sung by a male singer/singers?

  5. 80
    Erithian on 16 Apr 2014 #

    #74 #75 #78 – of course we could all be talking about different songs! We’ll know when the time comes…

  6. 81
    wichitalineman on 16 Apr 2014 #

    Re The One: A future AS number one was much-acclaimed at the time, and I quite liked it; another kinda sneaked out, and quickly disappeared, which I thought was an absolute gem. But… both ages away! Looking forward to 1998, a very jolly year for me.

  7. 82
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Apr 2014 #

    #81 sounds like we have the same gem in mind….I’ll drink to that. Some good stuff on the way first tho…

  8. 83
    Patrick Mexico on 17 Apr 2014 #

    Nah. Never liked it then, never liked it now. A stage-school appropriation of soul classics, not a million miles from what made Punctum very angry indeed on the Eurythmics – … Playing With My Heart thread.

    If the Spice Girls, for better or worse, were the sound of pop eating itself, this is the sound of pop thinking it’s better than the riff-raff next door because it owns more than three types of pasta. FOUR.

    They’d redeem themselves later, though. And earlier than most people here think!

  9. 84
    James Masterton on 17 Apr 2014 #

    #73 Interesting to note that at this point in time we are but a few months away from Hot N’ Juicy singing “I sent a message on the internet but it rejected…” which was the first ever pop music reference to bounced email.

  10. 85
    Steve Mannion on 17 Apr 2014 #

    #79 Dave your interesting reference to ‘writing down the Top 40 and recording it on cassette’ got me thinking as 1998 seems quite late on for doing either of those things. I’m not sure at what point the Beeb started publishing the chart on their website but perhaps around this time (from the mid 90s I’d stopped listening to the chart as broadcast and would just check it on Teletext a few minutes after 7pm each Sunday but I’m sure I was looking at it online by the very end of the decade). I wonder also how many people were recording the chart to MiniDisc (mono of course) or even directly to a hard drive around that time (not that many I’m sure).

  11. 86
    daveworkman on 17 Apr 2014 #

    #85 Steve, yeah it does seem a bit quaint now, but my family were never at the cusp of technological change – I was the first to get a CD player and first went on the internet at school! However, I think things did change relatively quickly, indeed in my lifetime have changed at enormous speed, and I think I would have been riding that wave. I do remember copying down the charts from Teletext initially, but towards the end of my endeavours scribbling down the charts, I do think I was just getting them off the net. And in terms of cassettes, did anyone read this yesterday? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/27036235)

  12. 87
    Tom on 17 Apr 2014 #

    #85-86 re cassettes – through most the 90s I made “cassette diaries” of any songs I liked – mostly taped off CDs borrowed from work, often from CD singles I bought. I added a song at a time with no thought of theme or flow, simply starting a new tape when I’d finished one. It gradually tailed off, I finally switched from Walkman to Discman towards the end of ’98 and that finished it. But by that time I had 60 or so tapes of randomly accreted favourites.

    (& hello Daveworkman, good to have you commenting!)

  13. 88
    Cumbrian on 17 Apr 2014 #

    I’ve worked out what the sleeve of this reminds me of. It’s the scene in Almost Famous where the band T-Shirts arrive, the band aren’t happy with them and the guitarist remarks, “I can see by your face that you want to get into it” to which the lead singer replies “How can you tell? I’m just one of the out of focus guys”.

    In fairness, the rest of All Saints probably didn’t mind at this point – though I believe that they split up originally over a jacket one of them was wearing, so maybe they did.

  14. 89
    Rory on 17 Apr 2014 #

    Steve @98: MiniDiscs were always a relatively expensive option, so I’m not surprised that a twelve-year-old wouldn’t have been using them (I was thirty in 1998, but still couldn’t justify the expense, and never used them). Tapes were still in use: CD players weren’t universal in new cars at this point, and many were still being sold with cassette players into the 2000s. And that’s new cars; many families would have been driving older cars with tape decks, which would have encouraged their use in the home as well, if only to record stuff to play in them.

    As for hard disk recording, no way was that a viable option for a 12-year-old in 1998. My oldest MP3s would date from around then – a handful of rarities – at a time when an album’s worth would have filled up a 100MB Zip disk in no time. 1998 was just before the radical change in hard disk technology that saw capacities increase by one or two orders of magnitude in the space of a year, which in turn facilitated the explosion in MP3 use: before that shift, a typical hard disk was about 2GB, and expensive. As for CD-Rs, burners had only just become affordable for consumers in 1998, but the blanks themselves cost pounds each, not pennies – again, not something within reach of a 12-year-old. Without cheap forms of digital recording, the best way for the average person to record audio in 1998 was still to use cassettes.

  15. 90
    Billy Hicks on 17 Apr 2014 #

    Our house was completely cassette until I got a CD walkman for Christmas 1998, and I didn’t start downloading mp3s until the start of 2003.

    But then in between that I used to just tape the videos from music channels, which I thought was a novel idea at the time as you got the song+video without having to go out and buy the CD.

  16. 91
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    @26, etc I am pleased there is widespread agreement that there is one bunny coming up that is the All Saints’ masterpiece. I am just worried that you might not all be thinking of the right one. After all, some people apparently don’t agree that the best thing the Spice Girls ever did was ’2 Become 1′.

  17. 92
    iconoclast on 18 Apr 2014 #

    Something which has confused me for a long time: were they just plain “All Saints”, or “*The* All Saints”?

  18. 93
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    They’re really just plain All Saints, I think, but like Buzzcocks and Eurythmics they tend to acquire an extra “the” when people talk about them.

  19. 94
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Apr 2014 #

    They’re named for All Saints Road in Notting Hill. It’s not really wrong to refer to say e.g “the ZTT studio where All Saints first met is on the All Saints Road in Notting Hill”, bcz it feels tidier rhythm-wise. But it doesn’t actually have a “the” in the name and nor do they.

  20. 95
    Kinitawowi on 18 Apr 2014 #

    #93: yeah, those missing “the”s totally screw up the rhythm when talking. I have a verbal tripup everytime I talk about Doves. (And more recently Foxes, who is just confusing on every level.)

  21. 96
    swanstep on 19 Apr 2014 #

    Note that throwing in bonus ‘the’s remains a good joke, e.g., ‘We like The Radiohead and The Muse. We also have time for The Gaga and The Lorde… Now, go make 100 cappuccinos, and bring me the best one.’

  22. 97
    Kinitawowi on 19 Apr 2014 #

    Pretty sure there was a Sum 41 video that took the piss out of that. “Numbers are out. ‘The’ bands are in.” They were called “The Sums” for the rest of the video.

  23. 98
    Martin F. on 19 Apr 2014 #

    (The) Germans will insist on calling their first of ten (that’s ten!) Popstars winners “Die No Angels”.

  24. 99
    hardtogethits on 22 Apr 2014 #

    #79. Enjoyed the comments, Dave.* Could this be covered by boys/men? I reckon not. The fundamental issue I have with that prospect is there seems to be a male readiness to pick at the lyric. I once-had-a-friend whose reaction to a conciliatory letter from a girlfriend who had finished with him a few months earlier was to criticise the grammar in the letter. That struck me as being as unattractive as it was spiteful.

    A famous lyricist (whom I admire greatly) at the time queried the use of “questions I need to know” and all these years later it troubles me that someone would do that. The singer is already at a pretty low ebb (at the song’s outset) and I think it’s incredibly unkind to question the words she chooses when, after all she’s been through, she picks herself up and manages to articulate herself.

    I know it’s a bit preachy, but I think it’s important as well (at some level) to (re)consider the possibility that pop songs (such as the one after the one after this) are acted out, and that grammatical flaws can add to the effect of the song. Maybe she said “questions” when she meant “answers” because she’s upset, angry, confused, low.

    *Waiting in for one of your lot at the mo. Never ever have I ever felt so let down by a plumber.

  25. 100
    Speedwell54 on 22 Apr 2014 #

    Seemed the decent thing to do and bring up the ton.

    The spoken intro says to me ‘listen to the lyric’. At the start the writer does play the victim which was something the Spice Girls did not do, but to me it does change through the song, and I think despite the pain she will get through. Good song. 8 from me.

    Re quite a few above
    The original line was “A few questions that I need to know the answers to.” but some male pedant pointed out the criminal preposition at the end of that sentence, so they crossed out the last three words… Well maybe not.

    I’m ok with the grammar stuff, even the THREE options of communication; face, ‘phone or letter followed by “either” though they do correct themselves shortly after giving the “either” option for the two choices of ‘not treating right’ or ‘fight starting’.

    This is poetic license, and if your thinking about it too much, you’re missing the point of the song.

    (having said that I’m okay with it, I wouldn’t go on about the “flexing vocabulary” running right through me)

  26. 101
    Cumbrian on 23 Apr 2014 #

    #2 watch – Never Ever kept off Bamboogie by Bamboo, not quite riding its KC and The Sunshine Band hook to #1.

  27. 102
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 24 Apr 2014 #

    @89 Just to add to all the below, as Popular comes closer and closer to the 00s it easy to overstate the growing influence of the internet over music consumption. While I’m sure it varied from place to place (and the Welsh valleys were hardly at the cutting edge of technology for a variety of reasons) when I was a teenager in the early 00s everyone used tapes to copy off CDs/radio and I don’t really remember the internet being a ‘thing’ with regards to downloading/listening to music until rather suddenly in 2004/2005.

  28. 103
    Garry on 24 Apr 2014 #

    @89, @102 etc I worked over the Uni summer holidays of 97/98 and bought a double cassette/CD player like the one my mother bought at the start of the 90s.

    Before then I would tape my small CD collection to listen to under the covers at night on my Walkman. Similarly I made tape copies of anything I wanted to take to college in my first two years. I only threw out these cassettes recently when I realised everything I had on CD was not digitised.

    In school I would tape a lot of music off the radio – mostly not pop but sometimes it was. Every 6 months or so I would compile the best of these tracks, with the odd track from other sources such as the library, borrowed music or even taped off television.

    I still have these 15 cassettes in their own special case. I gave them names: there’s Leitmotiv, Deja Vu, Everything, Green, Blue (the first side slow, mournful songs, side two release). There were even a couple of themed cassettes, the self-explanatory Places (Prefab Sprout’s Hey Manhattan etc), and Places (side one was Portraits – ie songs about people, side two Landscapes which I can’t tell you what it was about because I didn’t fill in the track listing). Looking at them now there are songs I can’t remember I even taped and the names are all silly but that’s being a music fan in isolation for you.

    I stopped making compilations sometime after I reached the radio station, probably because my radio show was a pretty much a weekly mixtape so the need to create an unchangeable mixtape no longer had any interest.

    The problem with burning CDs was they didn’t always work in other computers, and were especially flakey and often scratched in car CD players. But this was all later again, in the 00s.

    My earliest digital media are MOD files which date from 1990, though I doubt this was when I got them. Jump forward to 1999 and I have a bunch of .ra files which were downloaded from some form of King Crimson fan site (mostly side projects from Bruford) plus an mp3 of The Sheltering Sky.

    So as others have said here tapes were still big in the late 90s due to the costs of CD, burners etc.

  29. 104
    weej on 24 Apr 2014 #

    When my housemate got Napster in 2001 I would actually wire up my mini-stereo system to the headphone socket and record the downloaded mp3s onto cassette. The idea of listening to them through the computer seemed silly, and nobody I knew had an mp3 player.

  30. 105
    Garry on 25 Apr 2014 #

    @104 It took me years to listen to music on the computer rather than burn them to CD. The noise of my earliest computers were too loud for me to bother hooking up speakers or headphones to listen to music. Then at some time or other computers seemed to get quieter.

  31. 106
    Steve Mannion on 25 Apr 2014 #

    And the music got ‘louder’ via compression!

  32. 107
    Garry on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Compession never worried me too much. I grew up with too many cassettes taped of the radio – often scratchy AM radio – and then copied again onto cassette compilations. I could never call myself an audiophile.

  33. 108
    Mark M on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Re: various – likewise, in my quasi-but-not-fully Luddite way, I still only buy songs off iTunes if I’m making a mix CD for a friend or for a very rare DJing outing. Otherwise, I’m happy with legal free streaming or, if I actually want to own a whole album, I’ll either go for vinyl or a cheap CD (a fiver from Fopp works out better value than paid-for-downloads and you’ve a got a thing).

1 2 3 4 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page