11
Feb 15

ALL SAINTS – “Pure Shores”

Popular52 comments • 3,689 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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Comments

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  1. 26
    Shiny Dave on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Contrasting experiences of this time from #20/#21 influencing viewpoints on the song are interesting to see, and add a nice couple of supporting bits of anecdata for Tom’s excellent review.

    I was 13 at this point, so the signifiers of those two are not in my life at all. However, the period we’re covering now on Popular *are* life-changing weeks. After a bout of anaemia in November 1999, the fatigue that characterised that period came back with a vengeance at some point during Westlife’s reign of terror, and it turned out that was glandular fever. I spent weeks on end sleeping through part of the day, doing what schoolwork I could from home, generally feeling miserable. I think I returned to school at some point just before this song was #1, but I was frequently having to leave halfway through the day, easily exhausted, sleeping in class. Full physical recovery would take months, and that was just the beginning of the story; in that time, my academic performance went from the top 2% of my year group to more like the top 20%, and with my entire self-esteem predicated on being an elite student at that point, depression was very quick to set in. It never left; there isn’t a calendar year this century, up to and already including 2015, where I haven’t had suicidal impulses. My carefree year was 1999, my carefree nostalgia is for that year’s Eurodance (as I noted in the “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!” entry), and I hadn’t heard “Pure Shores” for years until just now.

    And it’s a heck of a song to have forgotten about – I’ve taken to using “Frozen” as endearing mood music even though the song’s clearly not trying to do that, and this particular Orbit production clearly is trying to do that. The whole “beach” thing did nothing for me – that’s what living in the least desirable suburb of a declining seaside town will do for you – but as pure stimmy mood music for my late-20s autistic self, it’s an even bigger “how did I forget THIS?” rediscovery than “Flat Beat.”

    Throwing out the waiting/anticipating line in the first verse for all to hear is the only reason I’m not going higher than an 8.

    Incidentally, I know one person from university whose mid-2010s life is straight out of this era. She’s a drummer for a touring collective whose marketing hook is being comprised entirely of women – except, this being a group with one foot in club culture, it’s comprised entirely of women who could be models. Or, in the case of my friend, actually is one, including for her own label of floaty dresses hand-crafted in India and sold online from Cornwall. I’ve no idea if she actually likes “Pure Shores,” but she’s still living the fantasy it epitomises, fully exploiting her extensive privilege.

  2. 27
    Shiny Dave on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Also, re: “At The River,” my most definite memory of hearing it in childhood was at a fairly upscale restaurant I got dragged to once. I’m not at all sure when it was though, other than that it wouldn’t have been in 2000 because I was sleeping through the evenings for most of that year. A classic signifier of the rave generation becoming a lucrative middle-class consumer group.

  3. 28
    Tom on 13 Feb 2015 #

    “At The River” annoyed me so much BECAUSE I was kinda seduced by it and didn’t want to be. Luckily I then heard “Old Cape Cod” by Patti Page, which it lifts its vocal from, and decided I could like that instead (I’m now happy to admit my fondness for the Groove Armada song too). Of course as a song about moneyed New England harbour life Old Cape Cod probably represents an even more exclusive holiday lifestyle than any South East Asian beach fantasy…

  4. 29
    swanstep on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Orbit was a beast during this period and it’s only fair, I suppose, that Madonna shouldn’t get all the glory. Madonna could easily have had another 3 or 4 #1s from the collab: all of Ray of Light, Power of Goodbye, Drowned World/Substitute For Love, Beautiful Stranger got very close and would have been deserving – this was a third career peak for her and Orbit was a huge part of that. Notably, Orbit’s mixes of this stuff are so well-judged they’re essentially unimprovable. E.g., every remix of ‘Ray of Light’ feels lumpen by comparison, and the main BT-Sasha remix of ‘Drowned World/Substitute For Love’ is dire. The optimality and insusceptibility-to-being-remixed of Orbit’s productions sets him apart and in my view marks him as more continuous with Echoes-period P.Floyd or maybe J-M Jarre than late ’90s DJ/remix culture.

    So, what can All Saints do in this sonic playground? Tweak it towards TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ (but with no discernible personality) seems to be the answer. The track builds and builds to, well, nothing really (rather like the movie!): a sub-par middle eight followed by a just OK double chorus with the ‘Take Me to the Beach’ overlay feeling a little too much like product placement (I suppose the ‘Beautiful Stranger’ vid though not the record does this sort of thing rather well with comic dialogue between Mike Myers/Austin and Mad. at the end).

    For me, then, PS is front-loaded with its best stuff; it declines as it gets more airless. Thus, mostly on account of a rather glorious first 2 mins or so, I give PS a:
    7

  5. 30
    Billy Hicks on 13 Feb 2015 #

    By now I’m back at school for the start of Spring Term 2000, quickly irritating everyone in my year 6 class with “Lol I haven’t been here since last MILLENNIUM!!” style jokes. First on my mind are the terror of SATS exams, the search for a secondary school and the general fear what on earth my life will involve after I say goodbye to the friends I’ve known all the way back to infant school, and going from being one of the oldest kids in primary to one of the youngest in secondary in the September. Enter a February charting song which truly gives me the biggest and most nostalgic memories of this forthcoming end of an era, making the most of stability while I can.

    But it ain’t this. It’s ‘Ooh, Stick You’ by Daphne and Celeste, charting at #8 that month. Learning as many lyrics to this, and the less-remembered followup ‘U.G.L.Y’ (though equally as huge in my North London school) became something of a badge of honour in the Pokémon Card-filled playground though I was only able to get as far as the chorus of both. ‘Pure Shores’, meanwhile, struck me as boring in comparison – music for boring old grown-ups in the same league as something like Martine McCutcheon. Even through my teens I never rated this, seeing it as not representing my childhood era in the same way the likes of the Vengaboys or Steps did.

    Not until about a decade later did it start to resonate with me, being overplayed so much I wasn’t in any hurry to hear it through most of the noughties but it finally hooked me enough to add it to my iTunes in 2012. As mentioned, it sums up that wonderfully optimistic, forward-thinking era (which I would put at starting around Blair/Britpop’s arrival in 1994 and going up to the obvious 2001 date) very well, my favourite bit being that sudden gearchange about three minutes in leading to the final chorus. I’ll go with 8 too.

    In comparison, ‘Ooh, Stick You’ remains firmly off my iTunes to this day. Best to leave that one in the playground past…

  6. 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*

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbbwgnXpoCY

  10. 35
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #

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

  11. 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.

  12. 37
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #

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

  13. 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!)

  14. 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 >:-(

  15. 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.

  16. 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.. :-/

  17. 42
    Ed on 16 Feb 2015 #

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

    Where is that? Skegness? Southsea? Margate?

  18. 43
    Another Pete on 16 Feb 2015 #

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 47
    Alan on 25 Feb 2015 #

    (This has sneaked into the FT reader top 100)

  23. 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.

  24. 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.)

  25. 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?

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

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