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Oct 14

MARTINE McCUTCHEON – “Perfect Moment”

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#821, 17th April 1999

MartineM 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.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    flahr on 9 Oct 2014 #

    I am reasonably sure I was pop-cognisant enough by this time to remember “Perfect Moment” happening, although my main memory of Martine is the line from Mitch Benn’s “Rock and Roll Hall of Death” (collected on album in 2002 but presumably older) speaking of a space being reserved for her in the titular gallery – presumably there was this sense that the press were circling her like vultures, which is probably true given that she was a female celebrity.

    She was quite good in “Love Actually”, I thought.

  2. 2
    mapman132 on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Never heard of her so I read her Wikipedia article – wow, what a terrible early childhood. Hope her jerkass dad got what was coming to him.

    As for the song, it kind of bored me. Started as a 5 or 6, dropped to 4, by the end 3/10 sounded about right. Yawn.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 10 Oct 2014 #

    the song is a bit bland but the orchestration sounds rich and adds an added dimension that has been missing from the dull synth washes heard on some of the recent boy band ballads from this era. Martine’s voice doesn’t sound overly stage school either which is refreshing – she sounds (and looks on the video) glad to be singing which suits the sentiment. A generous 5 from me

  4. 4
    AMZ1981 on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Knowing this entry was on its way I also checked up the Wikipedia entry (#2) and having learnt some things about her childhood I never knew before I don’t begrudge her having her moment of glory. Listening to the record for the first time in ages there’s nothing particularly wrong with it; I wouldn’t have bought it then and I wouldn’t buy it now but then I was hardly the target audience. As the genre (ballad by female vocalist) went however – and bear in mind that Celine Dion’s biggest hit was only a year old at this point – it felt a bit Primark at the time. For such a drab record to take and hold number one was an indictment of the era really.

    She also topped the charts with a relative lack of competition. In her first week the second highest new entry only just grazed the top ten. Her second week amazingly marked the first time since Heartbeat/ Tragedy ruled the roost that there wasn’t a top two entry; in fact you had to go down to number five to find Suede with Electricity.

    Bunnying now – but brace yourself, here we go!

  5. 5
    iconcoclast on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Not a lot to say here; it’s pleasant enough but rather dull. Just about a SIX.

  6. 6
    Steve Williams on 10 Oct 2014 #

    This was on the Radio 1 playlist, which I remember being totally amazed by because in previous years they would have never had anything like this on it. I remember they playlisted End of the Line by Honeyz around the same time, and nice record though that is, it also seemed a bit of a turnaround from the last few years when those records were staples of Radio 2 and ILR. Disappointed me a bit, actually.

    This was big news at the time, though, the release was accompanied by an ITV documentary. It’s another of those songs nobody knows the name of, though – hence the talent show This Is My Moment.

  7. 7
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Oct 2014 #

    I wonder (having previously considered the impact of the initial phase of radio deregulation in the UK in the early 90s), how much the consolidation of the newer radio stations (which, to be sure, went a lot further later on) had on the success of a track like this – because to me this sounds like a “Heart FM” record: or indeed a “Magic Radio” one (the latter having just come into being , in London, a few months earlier.). It’s interesting to read at #6 that Radio 1 playlisted it as well – as it is, all, really, rather middle of the road. Not quite bland enough to be only muzak, but close. And a bit cheap in the way backing vocals are handled too.

    Pros: yes, she has a nice voice (no Whitney or Mariah though), with a certain character – it really sounds like she is smiling while singing, which suits the lyrics. And I don’t think the song is at all bad either, especially in terms of how develops and is structured- it does seem to nod in the direction of being “a song from a musical” rather than a mainstream pop number though, which may have tied in with her acting roots. It is of course a cover version, too, the earlier version by Edita Gorniak being slightly less potentially twee.

    More interesting to me, though, is the identify of the songwriters – Wendy Page and Jim Marr. I just read recently they also wrote “Because We Want To” for Billie – which again has a kind of drama/pop crossover aspect. But more to the point, in the band Skin Games (who I think narrowly scraped the top 100 a few times in 1988-90, but never the top 75), they put out five singles, three of which stay in my mind as very fine things indeed: the power-poppy “Brilliant Shining”, the fairly uncommercial and brilliantly, angrily, feminist “Tirade (Everything Must Change)”, and, best of all, the beautiful and understated “Your Luck’s Changed” (all on You Tube, check em out….) . While different in genre to this (being guitar driven pop that nowadays, but not then, would probably be categorised as indie), I can just about imagine “Perfect Moment” as B-side of theirs (and they were a band that did high quality B-sides)…the slightly unconventional structure of the song certainly fits with this past, too.

    So, all that said, no this is really not my thing, but there are enough good things about it for me to appreciate it to the level of a FIVE. A pity, as her voice and character are appealing, that the other singles she put out, with the notable exception of “I’m Over You” (perhaps wrongly held off the top by a mediocre, but in its way not unimportant bunny, and which looked as though she might have been reinvented as some kind of “disco chick”, down to the styling in the video), are almost the dictionary definition of mediocrity (or, in the case of “You’ve Been Talking In Your Sleep”, taking a great song and making it almost dreadful).

    Also, if the expression ” Après elle, le déluge” belongs anywhere in the popular story (both in terms of TV stars crossing over to song; and, in other, more directly chronological terms), it is here, alas.

  8. 8
    punctum on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Pop music as Chingford Tor Ascender* would recognise and understand it; the second EastEnders-related number one actually charted after McCutcheon’s character Tiffany had been rapidly and unceremoniously written out of the show when she had expressed her wish to pursue a career in music; the 1998/9 New Year episode saw Tiffany accidentally knocked down and killed by a car driven by Frank “Freezin’ Cold In 89 Twoso” Butcher, followed by roughly two months of Mike Reid clasping his left hand to his forehead in unfathomable anguish (just what I needed to see to cheer me up over the holiday, two months after I’d been knocked down and nearly killed by a bus and three days before I was due to return, weighed down by dread, to work, a self-imposed decision that was both premature and stupid).

    So there was a certain amount of sympathy voting in play with the song which Mr Ascender was in the habit of calling “This Is My MOMENT.” The song itself is a bit of an opaque mismash, lush strings alternating with cloudy, staccato synthesiser, like “Drive” by the Cars attempting to interrupt a Lloyd Webber recital, and never really gets going; McCutcheon’s vocal is rather timid, not really prepared to break free, to express the unfettered joy which she would have us comprehend (and the transitional key change near the end is botched in both timing and delivery). Add to that the guitar line from “Lady In Red” and a general feeling of family-friendly balladry and we end up with a less than inspiring sum total; at song’s end, a keyboard trickles away to fade, like a career sliding down the drain. This isn’t quite what happened with McCutcheon, although it may sometimes seem as much. But given her vocal resemblance to Emma Bunton, “Perfect Moment” does sound scarily compatible with where the Spice Girls might have ended up if they hadn’t been careless. 2, not quite becoming 1

    *Chingford Tor Ascender was one of the numerous pseudonyms I used in the early-doors days of ILx. Like the other ones, it was probably a coping mechanism.

  9. 9
    Mark M on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Soap star to pop star vs pop star to soap star is an interesting question, but it takes us deep into bunny territory. The master of being both simultaneously – although he made comparative little impact in the UK – was Rick Springfield.
    There was an assumption that McCutcheon was settling herself in to be a big figure in the (pop) cultural landscape – TV, films, the West End (and a novel, obviously). She’s done it all, and yet she hasn’t sustained the early success.

  10. 10
    Mark M on 10 Oct 2014 #

    And, to bait a far-distant bunny, these days it’s sons-of-soap stars as pop stars who plague us.

  11. 11
    JLucas on 10 Oct 2014 #

    This song always puts me in mind of a sort of late-90s approximation of a classic Barbra Streisand record. The sweeping strings, the general air of tastefulness, the sense that it could very well have been lifted straight out of a musical. Given her stated love of showtunes and the way she managed to balance an impressive all-media career during her heyday (TV, Pop, Film with Love Actually and even an Olivier award-winning run in a West End production of My Fair Lady), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was exactly what she and her producers were going for. Her debut album even contains a cover of ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret.

    I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff so I like the song, although I think the follow-up ‘I’ve Got You’ was better, nothing earth shattering but very pretty indeed (and yes, exactly the sort of thing Emma Bunton was doing early in her solo career).

    It did all fizzle out quite quickly though. She did have a #2 hit from her second album with ‘I’m Over You’ (something of a forgotten gem, although her voice isn’t nearly a suited to turn-of-century pop as it is to stately ballads and acoustic-y midtempos, and she comes off rather shrill on it) and a final top ten with a middling cover of Donna Summer’s On The Radio. A full album of showtunes really tested the public patience though.

    I think one reason her career didn’t really endure after the early 00s is that her Jack-of-all-trades approach meant she didn’t really put enough ground work into any of them. Pop felt like one more box to tick, and she didn’t do anything to justify people’s extended interest after the initial goodwill fizzled out. If she’d pushed harder in theatre she could have had a respectable afterlife there, but I think when Love Actually happened she thought she could be the next Catherine Zeta Jones – which patently did not happen. Kudos to her for not (yet) going down the reality TV route, but the last I saw of her was a cameo being crushed to death by a giant cheese in one of the more bizarre episodes of Midsomer Murders…

  12. 12
    Cumbrian on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Wasn’t Martine a “pop-star” before she was a soap star before she was a pop star? I have a vague recollection that she was in a minor girl group some time in the 90s…

    This is not much cop – seems like the type of thing that would nowadays be foisted upon an X Factor winner for the immediate Xmas #1 push before the hard work of trying to get a career going begins. A bit of glurge really and not my sort of thing at all. 2 or 3 seems fair.

  13. 13
    JLucas on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Bit of obscure pop trivia: as mentioned, Perfect Moment was originally recorded by Polish singer Edyta Gorniak – a big star at home (she almost won them the Eurovision Song Contest on their first try in 1994, outrageously blocked by Rock N Roll Kids, the worst of the Irish winners and the inspiration for Father Ted’s ‘My Lovely Horse’), who got an international push in the mid 90s.

    Nothing much came of it, but her self-titled English language album is one of those little-known flops whose tracklisting was liberally cherrypicked by other artists. In addition to Martine, Robert Miles and Maria Nayler had a big hit with a remake of her ‘One & One’, and Mel C recorded ‘Soul Boy’ on her ill-fated second album.

    I prefer the Martine version of Perfect Moment, but the original take on One & One is worth hearing – it’s more of a midtempo powerballad than the whispery trance hit Miles turned it into, and Gorniak is ten times the vocalist Maria Nayler was.

    http://youtu.be/mA1Vwbok76M

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 10 Oct 2014 #

    TIFF’s earlier pop venture was ‘Are You Man enough?’ with Uno Clio which nicked its chords from Bizarre Inc’s ‘Playing With Knives’ – not really worth bothering with though.

  15. 15
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Oct 2014 #

    #14 also Wiki says she was in a group called Milan (no hits though)

  16. 16
    James BC on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Perfect Moment found its true purpose in a postscript to Harry Hill’s live show the next year. The controller of Channel 4 (resembling a ventriloquist’s dummy) had tried his heart out to get a part in the show with no success. After Hill left the stage, the lights dimmed and the plucky controller appeared on a balcony for his chance in the spotlight, singing this timeless song. His Perfect Moment indeed. One of the most moving moments of theatre I have witnessed, transcending comedy, drama and music.

    I have a lot of time for Martine as well. This song, as performed by her, not so much.

  17. 17
    Alan on 10 Oct 2014 #

    My main memory of this week (or two?) is standing in a queue for a club – the refreshed stranger behind us engaged us in conversation and claimed to work as Martine M’s P.A. We changed the subject, not wanting to know it was either true or false.

    ISTR Tiffany was in a long line (continued afterward) of people dying in Albert Square on the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve

  18. 18
    Steve Mannion on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Tiff was run over by Frank Butcher iirc. I hated this storyline because Pat had already run someone over years before while DUI.

    On the ‘plus’ side Walford properties have octupled in value since then…

  19. 19
    katstevens on 10 Oct 2014 #

    We all thought Tiff was going to cark it when Grant pushed her down the stairs BUT NO – she survived the fall, ran out into the street and BAMPF. Poor old Tiff, permanently gone ‘Up West’…

  20. 20
    swanstep on 10 Oct 2014 #

    I quite like this apart from its title couplet ‘This is my moment/This is my perfect moment with you’ which is *so* musically and lyrically inert that I find it stops the track dead. I dread the couplet’s recurrence and find myself trying to hum my way to a rewrite of the song that avoids those returns! McCutcheon’s voice isn’t bad and I like it even more after the key change, suggesting to me that maybe the song’s in the wrong key for her. That is, forcing McCutcheon to sing slightly higher with greater tension in her voice might have enlivened the ‘stopped moment in time’ that the song keeps arcing back to. As with ‘Blame It On The Weatherman’ it feels as though with PM that there’s something here that a Barry Gibb, say, could fix or greatly improve in half an hour or so. Get some cats in Nashville to do the backing and something jolly listenable could emerge. As it stands however, for me PM is only a high:
    4

  21. 21
    Rory on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Pleasant voice, okay production (if not to my personal taste), but what a dull song. Per #11, “crushed to death by a giant cheese” is rather the case with this as well. 3.

    Actually, now that I track down the Edyta Gorniak original, it isn’t a dull song; I much prefer her take on it, even though it’s still the sort of song I don’t normally listen to. So the dullness of the McCutcheon version seems to be a case of the parts being better than the whole.

  22. 22
    weej on 10 Oct 2014 #

    As a song there’s not much here to say apart from “polite, tasteful and dull” – but I’m marking it down a bit for the concept behind releasing a song like this as a debut release from a soap star breaking out into the pop world. It’s asking us to buy into her “story” in a way that even Simon Cowell would probably consider a bit too on the nose. The exact same gambit was even tried a little more successfully by Rebecca Black a couple of years ago. It’s not an illegal move in a pop career, but when Rebecca Black can pull it off with much greater sophistication then something is pretty wrong. A 3; no more, no less.

  23. 23
    James BC on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Swanstep, I agree that the opening is very static, but isn’t that the point? The song’s about wanting to freeze time so that a moment lasts forever, so the repetition and pause, and the no-sudden-movements arrangement, are quite apt.

  24. 24
    Rory on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @7, re “Après elle, le déluge”: another appropriate reference here would be “Cthulhu R’lyeh fhtagn”.

  25. 25
    weej on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Before I forget, V/VM watch returns – A Perfect Moment from Sick-Love, 2001.

  26. 26
    JoeWiz on 10 Oct 2014 #

    At the time, my 14 year old Britpop clinging to self found this pretty foul and safe. Listening now, I quite enjoyed the key change for the Middle 8, and the strings never get overblown and don’t threaten to drown poor old Martine.
    It’s absolutely right that this is the first of the modern era ‘journey’ songs, we’ve followed Tiff through the ups and downs of life in Walford, and now here she is singing he ‘art out! Gawd bless her! Or something like that.
    Shame it didn’t quite work out for her, she was excellent in Love Actually, but I’d struggle to defend ‘Echo Beach’…
    I’ll give it foive

  27. 27
    Ed on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @7 Reading inattentively, I registered the co-writer as Johnny Marr, who would at least have given McCutcheon a slightly different approach. And given his history of working with English pop culture icons, it’s not entirely implausible.

    I seem to remember Morrissey had strong views on Eastenders, but whether they were strongly pro- or strongly anti-, I can no longer recall.

  28. 28
    Shiny Dave on 10 Oct 2014 #

    I’m a sucker for a prettily orchestrated theatrical ballad, which this absolutely is. And yet this doesn’t quite work, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the structure, deviating from a straightforward verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format too little to be properly interesting but just enough to feel oddly wrong.

    Still, at least it’s trying to be different. There are two infestations of bunnies – the first of which is about to begin, the second of which is at least partly traceable to the first – that will tread this song’s path, and not even try to be interesting.

    A low 5.

  29. 29
    23 Daves on 10 Oct 2014 #

    #13 – The Swarbriggs in 1975 were the inspiration for “My Lovely Horse”, shurely? Right down to the swimming pool shots in the promo video. http://youtu.be/VLiTkF1XvF4 I appreciate that Ireland’s winning entries were often short of the mark, though, and it did sometimes seem as if they might have been desperately trying to lose, and that might have influenced Linehan and Matthews.

    At the time, I always thought this sounded as if it belonged on a cat food advert – it’s so understated and wispy sounding that it feels as if it could be sung about an indifferent but beloved cat rather than another human being. In fact, it’s one of those number ones I can think of so little to say about that I might as well bail. 3.

  30. 30
    swanstep on 11 Oct 2014 #

    @James BC, 23. Yes, I wondered about the point you raise when writing my original note, and thought about trying to argue explicitly that evocations of perfect, static happiness rarely work in pop, risk being smug and insufferable (perhaps because most people are miserable bastards), and so on. But in the time I had available I just couldn’t get those thoughts to gel. Perhaps then I can just raise them now as a pair of questions for everyone: What great classics have ‘momentary perfection’ and ‘unalloyed happiness’ as their subject? [Things like ‘Perfect Day’ and Emotion’s ‘Flowers’ carry stings in their tails so don’t quite count as hymns to perfection in my view. Bjork’s ‘Unison’ is probably my best case at first thinking, maybe also ‘Lovin’ You’.] If PM isn’t one of them, as we are all pretty much agreed that it isn’t, then what’s missing?

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