Feb 15

ALL SAINTS – “Pure Shores”

Popular55 comments • 6,908 views

#849, 26th February 2000

pureshores Scroll through the YouTube reactions or the positive reviews of this record and one word keeps recurring: “Pure Shores” is relaxing. All Saints’ bath bomb voices meet William Orbit’s hot tub production and the result – by comment consensus – is a few snatched minutes of bliss in a careworn world. At the turn of the millennium, the stock of relaxation in music was never higher. In an earlier entry I talked about the turn of the 00s as a “self-satisfied, low-stakes” era in British pop culture, a lull between the self-consciousness of the mid-90s and the defiant fixed grins of the mid-00s. A contented kind of time embraced a contented kind of music: chillout thrived.

It wasn’t just the times, of course: the success of chillout brands like the endless Cafe Del Mar compilation series also spoke to the unshiftable fact that the original generation of British ravers wasn’t getting any younger. There was a little of the old ambient house DNA in the chillout mix – Air’s proggish synth explorations, or the puckish whimsy of Lemon Jelly. But you could draw a stronger line back to the serious-minded atmospherics of trip-hop. More importantly, the success – and global pretensions – of chillout saw it travel on paths broken by the likes of Sasha or Paul Oakenfold. Dance music culture embraced the DJ jet set, and the idea of a shrinking planet – one where you might play downtempo beats in Montevideo before hopping to Kyoto for a big room set – played a big part in establishing superstar DJ mythology. Chillout music offered the sun-kissed day to superclub nights – and its easy, weightless, cultural blends were just as much a soundtrack for a globalised world. So what did you do with your days as a traveler in Ibiza, Goa, Sydney or Madagascar? You went to the beach.

After all, the Thomas Friedman style dream of a flattened Earth didn’t end with the music. British pop and British travel are intimately linked. The story of Popular has tracked British holiday destinations and aspirations, from the exotic dreams of the Shadows, through Cliff Richard in France and naff Spanish souvenirs and onto Ibiza. That British party Empire reached its widest extent as the 90s ended and backpackers spilled out into India, Asia, South America, gluing trinket signifiers of local culture onto dance music as they did. The Beach, the Alex Garland novel that became the film All Saints were writing for, is a creation nailed to its times, a fantasy of self-discovery through strife on a perfect beach in a world freed from geopolitics. Temporarily, as it happened.

In other words, a song about a beach, flecked with chillout bubbles and ripples, called “Pure Shores” is about as 2000 a pop-cultural object as you could possibly imagine. Add in the fact that it’s very good, and no wonder it became one of the year’s biggest sellers. All Saints, from the beginning, kept answering very similar questions: what if girl group pop grew up, got sophisticated, became fashionable? Having ended up at sleek R&B with their final 1998 singles, you could easily imagine the group keeping on in a more American direction, trying to become the British TLC. As the Spice Girls would find out later in the year, this was no easy mission. The choice of William Orbit as a co-writer and producer – a man with very firm roots in techno and ambient music – helped All Saints dodge that particular trap.

And it’s as a pop take on ambient music that “Pure Shores” works. This is a beautifully unified song, as much like “Good Vibrations” as any contemporary pop – form, mood and content all pushing in one thematic direction, an evocation of paradise, soothing spiritually and physically. The lapping of the rising and falling synths, the vocal lines swirling around one another, the patient, strolling pace of the song, the chorus’ giddy surge, and ultimately the crash and spray of the bridge – it’s all going to the same place. It’s not an especially thrilling record, more one that settles quickly into comfortable familiarity. But comfort and relaxation are good things, nourishing things, as long as they aren’t all pop (or culture) aims for. From the vantage point of 2015, where the rest of the world is more often approached with sorrow or fear than touristic zeal, the year 2000 is itself a vanished country, half blessed, half naive. “Pure Shores” is a traveller’s daydream of it, a torn-off scrap of map.



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  1. 31
    flahr on 13 Feb 2015 #

    “But it ain’t this. It’s ‘Ooh, Stick You’ by Daphne and Celeste…”

    *The viewer is invited to imagine a zoom in on flahr’s pupil as a zoetrope of primary school memories flicker uncontrollably through his mind*

  2. 32
    weej on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Re: “At The River” – I think this may be a genuine example of the oft-derided “guilty pleasure” – i.e. it stands for a lot of things I don’t really like (inappropriate re-appropriation, chill-out compilations in general, its use as background music in lifestyle TV, “quaint little villages”, etc) but it just seems so atmospheric and seductive that I can’t resist it, and why should I anyway?

    Re:”Ooh, Stick You” – I would rather listen to this than ‘Pure Shores’, sorry Billy, I promise I’m not trying to be contrarian here.

  3. 33
    punctum on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Why I find “At The River” exceptionally moving: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jfk-jr-killed-in-plane-crash

  4. 34
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Their best chart-topper – just pips Never Ever to the post as I’ve always found the “alphabet” line a bit clunky. A definitive chorus, great minimalist video (of the group) and captures the atmosphere of its film, but I can’t push higher than 7. Why? Because the film, and song, has a legacy of people (the Westerners I mean) like this.


  5. 35
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Legacy? What bad legacy? :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4fIL9S57tA

  6. 36
    Rory on 13 Feb 2015 #

    It’s a bit much to lay the whole Thai brides phenomenon at Danny Boyle’s and All Saints’ doors, ICG. That’s quite distinct from the wave of backpackers on Thai beaches that they were playing on, not least because Thailand’s Western-tourist beaches are in the Muslim south of the country, not the Buddhist north. The people in the vicinity of Ko Phi Phi are in many respects more akin to Malaysians than to the northern Thai majority.

    But even when it comes to the north, I can’t bring myself to think of Thailand as “place that produces mail-order brides” any more than I think of the Netherlands as “red-light district with legal dope”. Sure, those things exist, but they’re a small part of the life and culture of the place, blown out of all proportion by foreigners because disproportionate numbers of foreigners come into contact with them. Thailand is a country of 50 million people, with all sorts of things going on – most of them far more important than the dwindling legacy of a 15-year-old Western hit single and movie.

  7. 37
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #

    @36 Pinch of salt, mate, pinch of salt.

  8. 38
    Tommy Mack on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I hated this on principle, thinking I’d never heard it, then when I played it this morning, realised I’ve casually enjoyed it for years. What a knob I am.

    In 2000, if I haven’t already made apparent, I was a self-styled Angry Young Man. I didn’t hate this so much as I hated the teenagers who liked this sort of thing: Ordinary boys (and girls), happy being no-one but themselves… or rather being a more hedonic version of their parents: ‘you’ve got your whole lives to drink lattes in Starbucks and listen to boring music, why are you wasting this brief moment of opportunity to do something exciting’ I thought (where do something exciting probably meant come to one of my gigs!)

    To be fair, I was working a very shit job in a factory in Macclesfield so this sort of sundrenched exotica really didn’t mean much to me. I still hadn’t forgiven Leo for Titanic either so I had another reason to hate this albeit an even pettier one.

    Anyway, it’s not half bad: I think the opening verse does it best for me, once it drops, it’s almost too lively although the progression captures the feel of afternoon into evening into sunset, beach chillout morphs seamlessly into beach party. As others have noted, there’s just a hint of menace lurking in the shadows: good soundtracks that, hinting at the twists without tetelegraphing the ending (which would have entailed cutting to Madge covering The End instead of Am. Pie!)

  9. 39
    flahr on 14 Feb 2015 #

    Actually the shine has gone off this a bit now I’ve heard “Frozen” and it has exactly the same synth sound. Bad Orbit, no biscuit >:-(

  10. 40
    anto on 14 Feb 2015 #

    A high point for both band and producer – Lush and atmospheric but not structureless. The film of ‘The Beach’ features what is probably Leonardo Di Caprio’s best performance, even if he is upstaged by Robert Carlyle and Tilda Swinton.

  11. 41
    Inanimate Carbon God on 16 Feb 2015 #

    @36: But I see what you’re saying. Please, though, bear in mind that as Popular’s pace is accelerating, so is my reviewing. In the Patrick Mexico days, I’d spend hours analysing a song before I finally made a heart-on-sleeve, blood-sweat-and-tears, if often sprawling and verbose comment. As I’d “now” in Popular time be 14, my reviews have become shorter, snappier and written from gut instinct almost in an instant, especially because I can’t imagine there’ll be any chart toppers I haven’t heard of for the next decade, or many I can’t direct towards some kind of memorable personal anecdote. I also simply don’t have the musical knowledge of, say, Punctum – depth, breadth or context, to stretch my thoughts out over ten paragraphs.

    So on paper, it’s a good fit. The downside is, I’ll occasionally come out with foot in mouth disease; there are several number ones in the near future where I’ll be asking for a virtual smack in the mouth. However, I just hope people understand I am only human and like everyone else I have flaws, and one of these is being a straight-talking northerner/Lancastrian to the point where it sometimes becomes too blunt. A droll, warm-hearted, pub philosopher kind of blunt, but still blunt. That’s why I end up sometimes doing things like posting the first video to make some kind of knowingly far-fetched point.

    However, the Thai brides/Monkey Dust sketch link really wasn’t meant to stereotype tourists in Thailand, or worse, indulge xenophobic or racial stereotypes of Thais. I have no particular vested interest in travel to South East Asia, so I wasn’t especially aware of the geography; my “exotic” flights of fancy veer southwest towards Latin America (another potential grab bag of naive cultural stereotyping) but that’s for future threads. I would never be so naive to judge a country on a handful of daft cartoon images; I know there’s much more to your land than Crocodile Dundee, koala wrestling and Operator Please!

    Though on the video, I posted it with tongue firmly in cheek, the intentions being to:

    1. Blow a raspberry at this record’s breezy boho chic. You see, I loved this record, and its film, at the time, but as the years progressed it did become a bit Ultimate Chillout Compilation 14/Gap Yah respectively. Obviously that’s not the demographic in the video, but it’s always fun to tease the hip with dark imagery of the square and blend “high” and “low” culture. I’m not “blaming” Danny Boyle or All Saints for any of the above, it’s just they completely unintentionally (anti)inspired things I don’t find very inspirational.

    2. I have a good friend who’s often been to Thailand and waxes lyrical about his experiences there, though often about his string of girlfriends there.. in rather murky contexts. I’m pretty sure it’s more good clean fun rather than Western exploitation though. What did, oddly, remind me of him in the video was the ironic “Rambo 4: Gook Wipeout” poster.. not that in itself, but unfortunately, a few months ago, he posted a “can’t wait for American Sniper” with similarly unpleasant language referring to Arabs, and though it’s unclear if he was, say, just joking in an un-PC way, and/or just referring to the “terrorist” Iraqis in the film, it made me feel quite uncomfortable, given what I’ve heard about the politics of some American (and British) soldiers who can’t differentiate between obviously horrible ISIS/Al-Qaeda/insurgent types and ordinary Iraqi men, women and children on their way to school or work.. :-/

  12. 42
    Ed on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Extra points for the resolutely un-exotic seafront on the cover.

    Where is that? Skegness? Southsea? Margate?

  13. 43
    Another Pete on 16 Feb 2015 #

    #42 Given where the video was shot probably Wells-next-the-sea

  14. 44
    Kinitawowi on 18 Feb 2015 #

    Looks way too civilised to be Wells (I’ve been there a few times, it’s a shithole). Most likely Sheringham or Cromer.

  15. 45
    wichitalineman on 19 Feb 2015 #

    It’s second week at no.1 meant we don’t get to discuss Artful Dodger’s Movin’ Too Fast. Damn these slow moving charts!

  16. 46
    Izzy on 19 Feb 2015 #

    Oh that’s a shame. Pure Shores is pretty good, and a lot lusher even if I can detect a similar delayed woopiness in the two records’ delayed phrasing, but even so Movin’ Too Fast is a much better record. They had more hits than I remembered, and in fact made it back to the top ten later with an All Saint in tow, but never got as close to the top step again.

  17. 47
    Alan on 25 Feb 2015 #

    (This has sneaked into the FT reader top 100)

  18. 48
    ciaran on 27 Feb 2015 #

    2 big comebacks at once.Di Caprio hadn’t made a film since Titanic and All Saints were on a break for 15 months or so.

    I watched the Beach in late 2000 and found it a terrible bore. The only thing I can recall is the computer game like part where Di Caprio is walking around in a crash bandicoot setting about halfway in.Lof of hype but a massive disappointment.

    Pure Shores though is the best of All Saints Number 1’s by a mile and a lot better than the film. It was out of place for me in the colder wet nights with the frost beginning to bite but it has the feel of a dream of being whisked away to some far idyllic land without a care in the world. Surprised that hardly any travel companies used it.

    In Ireland the decade marked a period where people left home to go travelling for a year as opposed to emigrating so I’d associate PS with short term globetrotting as opposed to mass emigration that sadly became a reality all over again by mid 2008.

    It was all too familiar by the end of the year but I would put it ahead of ‘Frozen’ and you just can believe in the All Saints way of life a bit more than Madge. A bit of an Ashes to Ashes like Number 1 in that a big act from the last decade opens the door to a new one. An 8 or a 9.

  19. 49
    Inanimate Carbon God on 28 Feb 2015 #

    Sorry if comment 41 was a bit “UKIP press secretary makes a grovelling apology when yet another member gets foot in mouth disease on social media.”

    So far, it’s been a year of considerable reactionary ugliness in world politics and pop culture, and to fight the good fight against that, unorthodox methods must be deployed by a 29-going-on-16 man like myself with severe social anxiety from a town nobody cares about any more apart from to laugh about it sounding like an Ann Summers version of Guitar Hero. (My real home town, strictly speaking, is also cruelly neglected, but it was where Talking Heads recorded the hit album More Sodding Quotes About Scouse Kids And Milk.)

  20. 50
    Rory on 28 Feb 2015 #

    Sorry ICG, I didn’t mean to give the impression of intentionally not replying to #41 – unfortunately I was off sick when you made that post and not up to writing long blog comments myself. Then the moment passed, as more recent entries came along. Haven’t commented on those yet, either…

    I sympathise with your points there; I suppose my underlying point was that the Thai brides phenomenon predated “Pure Shores” and The Beach, and was essentially at a tangent to both. Wikipedia’s potted history of mail-order brides talks about 19th century antecedents and a history of Japanese brides from 1907 onwards; this wasn’t anything new in 2000. I also don’t remember The Beach being much at all about Thais themselves; it was about Western backpackers playing at paradise on a secret island, which could have been set in any tropical country, really.

    By 2000 I don’t think young Westerners needed a movie to tell them that Thailand was an appealing destination; Lonely Planet had been telling them that for decades, and the 1997 crash of the baht made it even more affordable and irresistible, assuming you could manage the airfare. Tropical beaches, gilded temples, red and green curries, a decent line in pop: what’s not to like?

  21. 51
    Inanimate Carbon God on 1 Mar 2015 #

    It’s fine, Rory, no worries at all. I don’t demand people reply to everything I post on here, sometimes it’s hardly even in English. Thank you for the kind and thoughtful comments anyway.

  22. 52
    swanstep on 20 May 2015 #

    I just got around to rewatching (most of) The Beach and I have to say that its use of ‘Pure Shores’ is half-assed in the extreme: a non-canonical version is used, its level is pushed way back in the overall sound mix, the scene it soundtracks is a rather insipid night-swimming/sex scene (I’d have used it for the daytime azure swim to the island scene and cranked it; maybe played it again over the end credits). The film in general is not Danny Boyle’s finest hour, but his previously reliable scoring/soundtrack instinct seemed especially out of whack.

  23. 53
    benson_79 on 24 Mar 2021 #

    This is a modern classic, I always thought Black Coffee was a pale facsimile so am surprised that some would mark it higher.

    One of my real pet hates is when directors/screenwriters make major changes to the source novel for no discernable reason. Danny Boyle’s Beach makes some very odd choices, eg in the film Leo is shagging everyone that moves but in the book that character is very notably failing to get his end away, one of the many reasons for his descent into paranoid craziness. Maybe in this case the studio just wanted a lot of sex in the movie, I guess?

  24. 54
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Certainly a contender for my favourite girl band single. I’m gonna agree with Tom’s 8/10 here.

  25. 55
    Mr Tinkertrain on 25 Jul 2022 #

    Yeah 8/10 is fair, Pure Shores is substantially better than anything All Saints had done prior to this.

    I was dismissive of this and the film of The Beach at the time, partly because I had no knowledge of the book and the main reason for the hype appeared to be the return of DiCaprio for his first major film after Titanic. I didn’t get to the book or the film until 2009, when I was in the middle of my own backpacking adventure, so I have a lot of fondness for both now as they remind me of that happy time of my life. And, by extension, so does the song.

    Other chart highlights: another big hitter from ’97/’98, Aqua, also made their return, making the top 10 with Cartoon Heroes. Their pop career would ultimately last about the same length of time as All Saints but to significantly less acclaim.

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