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Dec 14

FIVE – “Keep On Movin'”

Popular29 comments • 2,062 views

#839, 6th November 1999

FiveMovin Between the smothering devotion of the Irish boyband model, and the slick looks and top-dollar sounds of the American one, a glut of likely British lads struggled for an angle. In general, the Take That vs East 17 rulebook still applied. Groups continued to split between street-smart loverboys (Another Level, Damage, Blue) and wholesome but cheeky (Let Loose, 911, A1). More often than not, bands rose and ebbed with hardly an idea to their name.

Five (aka, sometimes, 5ive) are from one angle the most typical 90s boyband, and from another the most likeable. They were managed by Simon Cowell, but he seemed to hold them in some contempt as feckless underachievers, particularly after they turned down the chance to record Max Martin’s “Bye Bye Bye”. Cowell’s disdain is an immediate point in their favour, but there really is something a bit shambolic about 5ive – a band who never quite convinced as smooth or chirpy, who never settled on a style, whose most consistent musical feature was “J”’s confidently basic Dad-rap, and who ended up having to perform their final videos with one member replaced by a cardboard cut-out.

And yet, a Five Greatest Hits album will give you more fun than any other 90s UK boyband, more famous or less. They made cut-price, supermarket own-label pop-rap that made Will Smith sound like Mobb Deep, but they never skimped on hooks, kept the gloop to a minimum, and didn’t come across as arseholes. “I know it’s not much,” as “Keep On Movin’” puts it, “But it’s OK”. There was never even a hint they might produce a classic single, but I find their success impossible to begrudge. And, gratifyingly, this first number one is their best record.

Some other 5ive hits stumble by going too far down one or other of the classic boyband routes – “If Ya Gettin’ Down” glowers unconvincingly at you; “Got The Feeling” heads winsomely in the opposite direction and ends up as a primary school singalong. “Keep On Movin’” dodges the decision entirely. It has a simple idea: times are tough, let’s get through them. In itself not unusual – it’s the same basic idea as the first two Westlife singles. But in 5ive’s case the problems aren’t romantic, they’re more existential. And the solution isn’t redoubled devotion, but a humble sense of muddling through together with your friends.

The music works, too: a zither-y intro leading into a jaunty, drums and strums confection with an easy bonhomie (that reminds me, pleasingly, of Haircut 100). It’s all packaged up in a typically Five-ian way, with goofy and whiskery rhymes and ramshackle lads-together harmonies, but at its heart “Keep On Moving” sounds to me like a clumsy, sincere attempt to get people cheered up. And, what’s more. It succeeds on me. No, this song isn’t much, but it’s more than OK: it’s a tonic.

7

Comments

  1. 1
    JLucas on 14 Dec 2014 #

    What I love about this song – and what sets it apart from almost every other boyband hit of the time – is how effortless it sounds. Five always seemed so much more *fun* than any of their contemporaries; they always came across as likeable chancers who could never quite believe their luck.

    As such, they’re the perfect vehicle for Keep On Moving’s laid-back optimism. If Backstreet Boys or *N’sync had done this, they’d probably have killed it with misplaced sincerity. There’s no excess on this record – no standout vocalist shoehorning in big runs and ad-libs, the low-budget production gives the song a lightness of touch that could have been flattened out by a Max Martin type. I know nothing about the recording sessions for this song, but I imagine it was done quickly and without too much over-thinking – it sounds like one of those one-take affairs that accidentally became a classic.

    I like a lot of 5ive’s music for similar reasons, but this is easily their best song, so it’s gratifying that it’s also their first and most famous number one. Unfortunately, their next appearance here will indicate that graduating to the big leagues didn’t suit them at all. Remember them this way.

    8

  2. 2
    Mark M on 14 Dec 2014 #

    I agree wholeheartedly – I’ve always found this extremely likeable. The nods to hip-hop are, as you say, so hopeless as to be endearing.
    (And maybe it was because you used the trigger word ‘shambolic’, but when I relistened to it just now the combination of that opening ultra-trebly riff and the flatness of the voice of whoever sings the first lines made me think of Love’s Going Out Of Fashion by Biff Bang Pow).

  3. 3
    AMZ1981 on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Five were (rather appropriately) the fifth individual boy band to reach number one in 1999, the peak year for the genre – we also had two mixed gender acts selling to the same audience and two boyband alumni (one bunnied for this year). They’d served a surprisingly long apprenticeship with a chart trajectory of 10-4-3 and then did a Sash with a trio of number two hits. Of the rival boy bands only Boyzone managed higher first week sales than Five and along with Westlife they are the only two to trouble the bunny in the 21st century.

    I’d debate whether this is their most famous song – a 2001 bunny managed a two week run and appeared to eclipse this at the time although I’ll concede this may have aged better. I’d certainly disagree about coming across as arseholes as I thought Sean Conlon came over as extremely obnoxious in interviews. What I would say is that more than any other boy band of the era Five (both in music and in image) come over as extremely dated and belonging to the nineties. This is their most universal song and even then you could find plenty of songs from any genre that give the same message so much better.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 14 Dec 2014 #

    I concur. Five were a refreshing break from grasping-thin-air-clutching-fist-to-chest sincerity. KOM is easy-going fun. You could imagine going out for a drink with the Five lads and actually enjoying the evening. 7 is about right.

  5. 5
    enitharmon on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Another one that didn’t mean very much to me and sailed over me when I had a listen. But it does raise one thing that I find profoundly disturbing: the semiotics of the artwork in this and a lot of other stuff of the period.

    The five young lads in black don’t look like the sort one would fancy bumping into on a dark night. I’d say they don’t look like the sort I’d want to invite in for breakfast at the end of the evening either but as I don’t kick with that foot anyway that’s probably not a valid point of view. But it is point of view that bothers me: the point of view we are invited by the camera to adopt. The point of view of somebody on the floor looking up at those rather menacing figures. A woman about to be gang-raped? The guy in the foreground seems more likely to be about to stifle a scream than to administer cunnilingus. A man being robbed of his fashionable trainers and about to be given a good kicking for the lolz? Perhaps a hapless Iraqi about to be waterboarded (the guy in the background clutching his lapels being the MI6 observer)?

    I wonder who the target audience was? The pop of my youth was squarely aimed at teen and pre-teen girls and was predominantly sexual, and I include the likes of Suzie Quattro in that. The pop, or at least some strands of pop, of the nineties seems to become increasingly aimed at boys, seen as a previously untapped market perhaps, and thus increasingly macho. I don’t read sexuality from the image; I read violence, and specifically male violence and dominance. What do others think?

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Good spot on the Haircut 100 feel. I remember hearing this in late ’99/early 2000 at the birthday party of a Sarah Records stalwart, and it didn’t seem out of place. It’s breezy and easy, nothing forced apart from the hilariously weak scratching sample (what’s that word at the end of it? It sounds like “Scooby”).

    One mark off for flat and uninteresting vocals. It’s clearly in the wrong key for the boys, which makes me wonder if it was written for someone else.

  7. 7
    swanstep on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Opening reminds me of openings on Lloyd Cole’s first album (esp. on the singles, Perfect Skin & Rattlesnakes), but the vibe is pure 1998/1999: New Radicals and Smashmouth and Len had big hits with this sunny party hearty vibe, but those were much better records I’d say. Song itself is very ordinary, esp. the verses, but also it’s lack of a middle 8/anything approaching a third idea – by 1m 30s the thing bores, just beating its pretty good chorus into the ground. Frankly, KOM just isn’t finished – this is a demo from which only the chorus would survive with a good producer. For me, this is a 4 or 5.

  8. 8
    Lazarus on 14 Dec 2014 #

    #5 They do look a bit threatening I suppose, but a bit of macho posing was par for the course with these groups, and as stated above they’d released several records by this point, so many of us felt we knew them pretty well. While one or two could be a bit up themselves, they generally came across as quite likeable – and after so many big hits from across the water, a bit of home-grown success wasn’t to be sniffed at. I agree with pretty much everything in #1 really – I certainly wasn’t the target audience (though I was once light-heartedly rebuked for nodding along and tapping my feet to it in a public place) but it did seem a bit more ‘musical’ than a lot of boyband efforts – a proper song, not just a load of numpties shouting over a beat.

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Apparently Five had a few US chart entries with “When The Lights Go Out” being the biggest at #10. I don’t remember it though. Seeing the title “Keep On Movin” made me think of the Soul II Soul song, but alas, no relation. Appropriately I’ll give it 5/10.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 14 Dec 2014 #

    the guitar figure at the start of this sounds a little like a speeded up REM and, whereas (I suspect) they did ‘Shiny Happy People’ as a piss take of this type of pop, 5ive sound refreshingly uncynical and chirpy here. It also helps that they haven’t gone down the gloopy ballad route and that the rhythm track has a bit of syncopation that helps the whole thing to keep on movin’

  11. 11
    DanH on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Mapman – I do remember “When the Lights Go Out”…was played at a junior high dance at the time and was a huge come-out-of-shell moment for me…not like I had the moves like Jagger or anything, but still… I didn’t know 5ive was British at the time, thought it was just another boy band in the mould of BsB and such.

    This one is pretty harmless, I can’t be bothered.

  12. 12
    Musicality on 14 Dec 2014 #

    This song was ok and a good track to listen to unlike the majority of Westlife output that year.

  13. 13
    Izzy on 14 Dec 2014 #

    I liked Five well enough. ‘Shambolic’ is the word though – and yet surely that’s precisely what every boy band needs a bit of? Waxed, choreographed perfection is not representative of teen boyhood in the slightest, at least the way I remember it.

    What was the story behind the cardboard cutout? I love that it happened, and can hardly believe that it did. (6) for the song, (11) for the cutout.

  14. 14
    Michael McMikey on 14 Dec 2014 #

    @5 and @8 – I’ve not much to add, but, as a gay teenager in the 1990s, most boy bands, so often mocked for being “gay,” did absolutely nothing for me, when they weren’t actively repellent. Five, who were indeed that bit more blokey, were the only boyband of the era that did occasionally turn my 17-year-old head.

    I wonder if this was a conscious marketing choice – most boybands are non-threatening and earnest because they are supposedly designed to appeal primarily to young girls. These guys had just the tiniest hint of . . . well, even to call it ‘edge’ sounds silly. But maybe they were a boyband that was intended to be appreciated by a slightly more mature audience?

  15. 15
    Tom on 14 Dec 2014 #

    #13 the cut-out is (IIRC) directly relevant to the later Five #1 so we can tell its story then. An extraordinary “am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” moment.

    #14 yeah, ‘edge’ isn’t quite right – others tried to be a bit edgier – but maybe it’s what Izzy was saying about “shambolic” – the consensus on this threat seems to be that there’s a realism to Five that I can imagine being a bit more appealing.

    I agree the sleeve is weird, and oddly unrepresentative of the song and its mood.

  16. 16
    Andrew Farrell on 14 Dec 2014 #

    Happy with a 8 for this – extra points for a) Only being 3:15 long b) being the name of the (second) best pop music club in London c) being a lot of fun to jump around to at that club with your friends.

  17. 17
    Ronnie on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Am I the only one who hears a bit of Britpop in this? Perhaps all British things sound a bit Britpoppy to these American ears. But yes, otherwise the obvious comparison for me is the same as swanstep @4, Smashmouth and the New Radicals. I don’t hear a bit of any other boyband in this, this is late ’90s sunshine pop that has zero to do with the crushing style of Max Martin and thankfully even less to do with Westlife.

  18. 18
    punctum on 15 Dec 2014 #

    “The best number one Haircut 100 never had” opined Tom some years ago. I can see his point up to a point, though the bluff post-East 17 mock-street approach to the “when the rainy days are trying” pre-chorus sequence is something Nick Heyward would have avoided. Nonetheless it’s an agreeably inventive romp through the sunrise/better things are coming trope with an original arrangement; the belated late summer canter underscored by a cheerily plucked banjo with some old-style scratching and even crowd rave noises, like Marmalade covering “Buffalo Gals.” There are also some nicely naive lyrical counterparts; the dreamy “All the bees and birds are flying” (echoed by a harmony strawberry Cresta bottle of “ahh ahh ahh”s) squats next to a happily ludicrous “Non stop ’til the break of dawnin'” as well as a more serious undertow implied in lines like “Feels like I should be screaming/Trying to get it through to my friends/Sometimes it feels that life has no meaning/But I know things will be alright in the end.”

    The record seems to have escaped in part from a concealed 1972 (the “baby take a good look around” chorus would have been right up the street of the New Seekers or New World) and had it been recorded by, say, Toploader, it would have been tickertaped in critical acclaim; as it stands, it’s a slightly more rueful variant on the sunny side upness of “Bring It All Back.” “I know it’s not much, but it’s OK,” they sing, in the full knowledge that “OK” more often than not means everything; they want a world and in their own quietly industrious way they’re doing their best to build it.

  19. 19
    Cumbrian on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Someone who knew more about music than me once remarked that men liked Five more than other boybands because they sing in baritone as opposed to tenor, like many other boybands, and are thus easier to sing along with. I have no idea whether this is true or not – someone with a better musical background than me can doubtless fill in the facts – but, certainly amongst my friends, they were looked on more favourably than Blue, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync and the like. Anyway, I enjoyed this enough – not enough to go out and buy it but certainly enough that I wouldn’t turn the radio off when it came on. The pre-chorus is probably the bit that stands out for me most – trying the “ah’s” on for size, realising that they probably don’t fit but doing their best anyway.

    18: I am with you except that bit about Toploader. My memory of them is that they’re one of the most critically derided bands of the era (though I could well be wrong about this in point of fact). Having seen them live in a support slot earlier in their career, I never heard anything from Toploader which changed my initial opinion of them (that it would be better for all concerned if I went to the bar and had a conversation with my friends over there rather than spoiling it for those that seemed to be into it). I doubt churning this out would have helped them at all – it wouldn’t have with me at least – due to the weight of the other stuff that they were putting out.

  20. 20
    punctum on 15 Dec 2014 #

    You’re misreading my second paragraph.

  21. 21
    Cumbrian on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Am I? Apologies in that case.

  22. 22
    Tom on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Certainly I can think of a critically derided band (and the feeling was mutual) that put out a halfway-adequate record a few Popular years from now and got really outsize acclaim for it.

    Thanks for commenting Punctum – sorry the piece went down for a bit yesterday, we seem to still get these occasional glitches after a post goes up.

  23. 23
    James BC on 15 Dec 2014 #

    I’ve always found this song enjoyable and am pleasantly surprised that others do as well. Much like East 17, Five are remembered as being pretty bad but when you start naming the songs that were OK you find there are surprisingly many. I even like Got The Feeling – another song where the charmingly realistic goal is not brilliance but only to make you feel “alright”.

    NB Please do not ruin perfectly agreeable and uplifting threads by mentioning Toploader.

  24. 24
    chelovek na lune on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Haircut 100 is indeed a good spot – slightly naive-sounding boyish jollity is something shared with this. But still, this is rather too bland to really appeal, while being enough of an earworm to demonstrate that the occasional incoherence of the track (some parts of which are almost endearingly naff) doesn’t detract from its overall fluency. Indeed, FIVE.

  25. 25
    ciaran on 17 Dec 2014 #

    Five felt like the gatecrashers in comparison to other boybands.A group remarkable for me in the boyband era for being just themselves. No tailored Bond suits or waistcoats allowed thank you very much.

    At times it was like a borderline Football casuals gang with their designer gear and Air Max 98’s mixed with a Kids from Fame mentality, making for sometmes awkward pop. More Mike Skinner than Gary Barlow.Even at the very end they were takng their cues from Daft Punk! (Slam Dunk Da Funk and all that)

    Their output was about average for the most part. Not as dire as Westlife at their worst or agreeable as East 17 at their best. A take em or leave em act.The only particularly bad number being ‘When The Lights Go Out’. Slam Dunk was the best known title of the day but its all but forgotten now.

    Got the Feeling is as good as they were. Timing was essential. It was massive during Summer 98 outshining even Freak Me. The boyband look is there but they have a bit more energy about them than other male groups and naff moves aside are up to the task.

    Keep On Movin though being something to hum along to is less of a grower.November is not the best time of release for me.March would have been better as its like things may not be great but the summers on its way. Through a winter release its like the soundtrack to the day that follows a heavy drinking session whilst you remain chained to the bedroom and the 4 walls around you wondering what’s the point of it all.Maybe this is too deep meaning for a group like Five but still.

    Its as they say OK and better than their counterparts but it strikes me as being something of a missed oppurtunity.6

  26. 26
    Kinitawowi on 17 Dec 2014 #

    I never hated Toploader (the interminable chart meanderings of Dancing In The Moonlight aside – longest time to climb into the top ten, I seem to recall? – although it has to be admitted that leaving your front man stuck behind a keyboard doesn’t really help your band), and I’d far rather listen to Achilles Heel than this.

    5 (natch).

  27. 27
    Shiny Dave on 17 Dec 2014 #

    #19 – I’m seeing this as tying in with the thread started at #5 re: who this might be aimed at, actually.

    As you noted – pun unintended, promise – an awful lot of boyband singers are tenors, and not terribly easy to sing along with… for most post-pubescent male voices. As #5 noted, a big chunk of the pop market has always been girls. Generally the choruses of pop songs are higher than the verses. Those two combine neatly; “singalong” boyband choruses high in the tenor range are eminently, comfortably singable for the would-be squeeing fangirls, vocally trained or no.

    And, I stress, not so much for men – even tenors invariably have a fairly substantial change, some would say a “break,” in their voice a little way above middle C that is a nightmare to sing over the top of. I spent several years assuming I was anything but a tenor – exaggerated at best, utterly wrong at worst – because I and at least two teachers felt unsafe navigating that bit of my voice, and from what I can tell, that isn’t even that uncommon.

    Writing singalong choruses in a range the male audience won’t easily sing along in is an infuriating trope of stadium rock; we’ve seen it plenty of times already (and there’s plenty more that weren’t #1 but are more famous than many songs that are – “Livin’ On A Prayer” immediately springs to mind), and there’s a warren of bunnies to come where we’ll see it again. It always confused me, and that’s why at the Anne-Marie Speed workshop I mentioned in the “Genie In A Bottle” comments, I asked Anne-Marie why pop and musical theatre for men was invariably so high. She noted that in her experience the physiological “belting” set-up really doesn’t confer any good use until you get really quite high in the male voice – pretty much the “break” point referred to in the last paragraph, actually.

    The trope is therefore justified in musical theatre, because that’s aimed at telling a story and any future singalong value is a usually-unintended bonus; boy bands aimed at girls subvert it, because that range is really comfortable for that audience; 5ive’s laddish baritones completely avoid it, a very smart move indeed in a “boy band for boys,” but one that the kit-built synthetic production wouldn’t get in the way of.

    What happens when the “boy bands for boys” idea meets a rock sound, or at least an approximation thereof? Two such bands will give us an opportunity to find out. And another, and another, and another, and another seven on top of that – they combine for as many 2000s bunnies as Westlife…

  28. 28
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #27: Top stuff. Thanks for this – interesting to me for one. As you’ve mentioned, and I’ve only just remembered, we’re going to run into several boyband bunnies that are paying at least some lip-service to the male audience, so I suppose there will be ample time to discuss this further, if we can remember.

  29. 29
    Duro on 9 Feb 2015 #

    Guys guys guys – listen to this after listening to the Question of Sport theme tune

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