Soap star to pop star had been an effective route to fame in the late 80s: Kylie and Jason turning their next-dooriness into a ready-made pop identity, the line between their characters and their pop personas as fuzzy as SAW could make it. In the stage-school era of pop stardom you might expect that to be a template – but this is a rare sustained attempt, and it flared and faded quickly: Martine McCutcheon was dropped before her third album (songs from the shows) could come out.
She is still famous, though – no recent achievements to match her stint on Eastenders or her Number One, but none of the small humiliations of diminishing celebrity, either: no Celebrity Big Brother stints, no grisly comebacks. And the reason, I think, was also key to her acting and pop success: in her heyday there was something essentially likeable about McCutcheon – to be cynical, there was no money, or audience, in seeing her embarrassed or made to look bad. Which is not at all true of many celebrities. Bad things happening to her were another matter, though. McCutcheon’s Eastenders character, Tiffany Mitchell, became sensationally popular as a sort of modern-day Little Nell – a kindly soul plot-abused even by the fearsome standards of Walford, E20, who died in a hit-and-run at New Years’ 1998.
McCutcheon had quit the soap specifically to launch a pop career, so all her fans knew “Perfect Moment” was coming, and it’s hard not to feel that some of its huge success came from a wish to give Tiffany a cross-media happy ending. The single even starts with a gentle, gauzy arrangement that suggests some kind of celestial waiting room. Appropriately, on the first few listens I kept getting flashes of pop’s own past lives: a bit of Enya here, a little of the seasonal Spice ballads, and a big Spandau Ballet “True” vibe in the main hook. A firm romantic pedigree, then – and to be cynical again, I wonder if the theme of the song was a go at cornering the first-dance market at the start of wedding season.
Whether that’s the case or not, I don’t like it much. Perhaps I’m too cold: this is unashamedly, open-heartedly sentimental as anything since “Mama”. But “Perfect Moment” feels lopsided, too – it uses its best hook right at the beginning and has to hang around for several minutes following it up. It rings the changes – that lurch into “paradise skies / in your eyes” is a genuine surprise – but the song feels more incoherent for it. Next to “Blame It On The Weatherman”, a ballad that keeps building and revealing ideas, it sounds a mess, a box of chocolates left out in the sun. McCutcheon herself is the record’s best asset – there are oversung bits, but she’s a source of needed gusto and the spine of a limpid song. But try all she might, “Perfect Moment” still sounds more like the end of someone’s story than the beginning.