28
Jan 16

ATOMIC KITTEN – “Eternal Flame”

Popular24 comments • 2,500 views

#904, 4th August 2001

kittenflame I feel I was harsh on “Eternal Flame” last time we met it. That may be because the Bangles’ original sounds like a masterclass in dynamics, production and passion next to the Kittens’ effort, which has the romance and mystery of a freshly starched Tesco uniform. In Atomic Kitten’s first appearance here, their glum ex-svengali Andy McCluskey lamented the way his pop experiment was derailed by success: here’s the proof, as the square peg of “Eternal Flame” is forced into a round “Whole Again”.

You can see why the song was picked – it’s well-known, a proven winner, but old enough to be marketable again. These last pre-YouTube years are the heyday of the risk-free cover version, and the success rate of the strategy makes for too many dispiriting, forgettable hits. But in every way bar the strictly commercial, this is a terrible choice of song. The power of “Eternal Flame” is all in its vocal and arrangement – the progress it makes from uncertainty to conviction, and the way Susanna Hoffs’ phrasing makes rote sentiments (“I watch you when you are sleeping…”) feel lived. Tinny production aside, it’s a much stronger recording than I gave it credit for.

And Atomic Kitten learn nothing from it, letting the song fall back into being a ditty, a pleasant hook or two with no prominent qualities. The biggest offender is the production, a “Whole Again” style drum loop that makes “Eternal Flame” a steady jog without particular highs and lows. That worked for “Whole Again”, lent it a naïve simplicity which matched its primary-colour sentiments. But it makes “Eternal Flame” sound like the pop equivalent of a paint-by-numbers book. Every record is someone’s first, but they don’t have to sound like it. The smoothing affect applies to the vocals, too. Atomic Kitten had been an erratic band – much promotion, little success, until lightning stuck. The priority with “Eternal Flame” was to integrate new member Jenny Frost and steady the band, but they do too good a job: the singers’ vocal lines are barely distinguishable, and nobody has an ounce of character. The joie de vivre of the slapdash Katona days has drained away, the eternal flame is an energy-saving bulb, and Atomic Kitten are the most boring pop group in the country.

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Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2016 #

    Krap Karaoke Pap

  2. 2
    AMZ1981 on 28 Jan 2016 #

    Obviously this wasn’t Atomic Kitten’s first number one and it wouldn’t be their last. It had the shortest number one run of their three chart toppers, despite being a two weeker. It was also number one when Brian Dowling won Big Brother and he would prove to have a more enduring career!

    The only slight mitigation is that it was a follow up single that nobody involved probably expected to have to make. On the other hand Whole Again was six months old at this point, Shaggy and Hearsay had followed up their early year chart toppers, so it could hardly have been impossible for the band to get into a studio and put together something original.

    In one of the interesting chart battles the era used to throw up Eternal Flame did beat out Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child and break their number one run although Beyonce & co had the handicap of an available album.

    Otherwise the only other interesting (and depressing) thing about Atomic Kitten’s Eternal Flame is that the fourteen year distance between this and the present at the time of writing is longer than the 12 year gap back to the Bangles original.

  3. 3
    Ronnie on 28 Jan 2016 #

    Don’t hear the differences in production you mention; seems pretty similar to me. Only difference is the rote, uninspired singing, and it’s quite remarkable how “rote and uninspired” becomes “the worst fucking thing ever” to my ears when I mentally compare it to Hoffs’ original vocals.

  4. 4
    Chelovek na lune on 28 Jan 2016 #

    “I don’t wanna lose this feeling”.
    This time round, it wasn’t there in the first place. Dross and disrespectful.
    (2)

  5. 5
    Kinitawowi on 28 Jan 2016 #

    Sadly not the last “take a classic song that works largely because of the power of one almighty vocalist, and strain it so thin among umpteen group members that it has absolutely no meaning any more” that we’ll be meeting.

    Possibly the worst, though. 1.

    (Also, Jenny had none of the character, danger or features of Kerry; Liz and Tash always looked vaguely similar if you squint and Jenny looked like they went for somebody of the same mould. And post-Kerry Kitten is really not that good at all.)

  6. 6
    Izzy on 28 Jan 2016 #

    It was only after I’d mentally corrected you for a “Whole Again” style drum loop that I realised that you weren’t reviewing Whole Again, and that these are actually two separate records.

    How I hated them at this point. Why did they strike such a chord?

  7. 7
    JLucas on 28 Jan 2016 #

    I’ll forever stand by Whole Again as one of the great pop ballads of its era, but this was a dreadfully uninspired follow-up, the success of which sadly set the template for the rest of their careers. Commercially, it was clearly the right move at the time, but there’s a reason they’re held in far lower regard today than the likes of Steps and S Club 7, let alone the Spice Girls.

    Another mark against them is their reliance on variations of the same cheap backing track for virtually all of their songs from here on in. The Bangles version may have its issues, but there’s far more going on than the bland and synthetic production that instantly marks this as a song of its time. It’s of a piece with the general air of passion-free rush-job here, but it really marrs some of their better releases to come, particularly ‘The Last Goodbye’ which is almost a top drawer pop ballad, if only somebody had spent a bit more time giving it the kind of lovingly rendered production the best Spice Girls love songs received.

    3 for a good song delivered with no soul or spark whatsoever.

  8. 8
    katstevens on 28 Jan 2016 #

    Speaking of Steps, their cover of a mid-80s classic (out around the same time as this) was much more lively, a cheerful chug through ‘Chain Reaction’ by a group fully aware that there was not much left in the tank, but determined to make the most of it nonetheless.

  9. 9
    AMZ1981 on 28 Jan 2016 #

    #8 Steps’ Chain Reaction didn’t come along until two months later. If not for a towering bunny we’d be discussing it in due course.

  10. 10
    Iain Mew on 29 Jan 2016 #

    This not only has a similar title to the previous #1, but also the same first three words: “close your eyes”

  11. 11
    James BC on 29 Jan 2016 #

    This is a bit harsh, both on Eternal Flame and on Atomic Kitten post-Whole Again. I don’t think they do a bad job with this song – I quite like the guitar figure and if you ask me, nicking the beat from Killing Me Softly (or nearly, I don’t know if they’re identical) shows some of the same audacity they had in the Katona era, just in a subtler way. I’d call this fun. It’s got to be worth a 5 or 6.

  12. 12
    Mark G on 29 Jan 2016 #

    #5, unfortunately there are worse to come, particularly in the “lose the meaning” sense, isn’t that right David Bowie?

  13. 13
    AMZ1981 on 29 Jan 2016 #

    In Eternal Flame’s second week the highest new entry was Geri Halliwell at eight with Scream If You Wanna Go Faster. Not only did this break a run of four straight number ones in spectacular fashion but it was unusually low for a highest new entry. I was sufficiently sad to go back through the records to find out when there was an advance on this. Although the chart of 26th May 2001 was close (highest new entry number seven), if static post Christmas weeks are ignored 15th Jan 2001 saw number eight equalled (Pet Shops Boys taking advantage of a quiet sales week, the same could be said of the re-entry of Prince’s 1999 at ten two years earlier) but the last time a mid year chart saw a lower higher new entry was over three years ago in 30th May 1998 (Smashing Pumpkins at 11 with Ava Adore).

  14. 14
    Cumbrian on 29 Jan 2016 #

    I am not a fan of Eternal Flame for a number of reasons – not least that it was symptomatic of a direction that The Bangles were encouraged to go down by their record company that played into tensions that already existed in the band and ultimately led to them breaking up. There’s also that “funny” but actually horrendous story of Susanna Hoffs being encouraged to sing the song naked in the studio by their producer or some such. The type of thing with which no one should have to put up – and if it is urban myth, the fact that it is plausible says enough about attitudes to women in the music industry.

    This version, though, is terrible. I don’t like the song, so not off to a good start, but it’s all so cheap and lazy. Thinking about it, production wise, it’s only marginally an improvement on those Robson and Jerome songs from the mid-90s.

    They got rid of Kerry and replaced her with someone who looks exactly like the other two as well. Which seemed a bit odd at the time and even still now. Were they going for the clone look?

    #5: I’ve heard Susanna Hoffs called many things before but an “almighty vocalist” is not one of them.

  15. 15
    Phil on 29 Jan 2016 #

    Susanna Hoffs confirms the story in a couple of interviews. Apparently it started as a wind-up, but she got quite into it – & nobody could see her while she was singing, which makes it very slightly less creepy. (Unless it makes it even more creepy, I’m not sure. Any women about who’d care to comment?)

    As for this record, I think it’s the worst cover version I’ve ever heard; it’s not even karaoke, it sounds like somebody singing along to their Walkman. I’ll give it 2, because I don’t want to honour it with a 1.

  16. 16
    JoeWiz on 29 Jan 2016 #

    The Bangles put together a brilliant run of guitar pop singles in the 80s, Eternal Flame not really being one of them, but I always felt it was a well written song hideously overproduced, which did indeed push the very photogenic Hoffs to the front, utterly missing the point of the Bangles; they were a vocals sharing co writing BAND. Hoffs stifled solo career bears this out.
    This is pretty poor all things considered, not that the Kittens were ever going to try anything risky after finally breaking through with Whole Again. But this is stupidly anodyne, a real lack of anything memorable throughout the entire song.
    And I like Jenny Frost. I’d 100% go for lunch with her.

  17. 17
    katstevens on 29 Jan 2016 #

    #9 blimey I didn’t realise Steps had got to #2 with that! Their run of Top 10 hits is really quite something (5678 woz robbed etc).

  18. 18
    Paulito on 30 Jan 2016 #

    I always thought Liz McClarnon looked rather like a female version of Robbie Williams – they both have that ‘cheeky monkey’ phizog. Similarly simian, if you will.

    Like many others at the time, I liked ‘Whole Again’ quite a lot and was very disappointed – though not exactly surprised – by this piss-poor follow-up. I can’t be arsed listening to it again so I’ll go with Tom’s score, as his description tallies exactly with how I remember it (not that there’s much to remember).

  19. 19
    thefatgit on 31 Jan 2016 #

    Having forgotten that this cover version even existed, I rushed off to check the video, thinking it can’t be THAT bad. Well, I watched and came away angry that this dead-behind-the-eyes shite exists in the world.

    Ignore this, I’m grumpy today.

  20. 20
    weej on 1 Feb 2016 #

    Re: Cumbrian @14 – Hoffs may not be an “almighty” singer, but her performance on this song is what makes it – it’s imbued with so much feeling, so much open vunerability, that it utterly transcends the mediocre tune, lyrics and production to make something I genuinely find timeless. Atomic Kitten manage to have exactly the opposite effect, not content with highlighting the song’s weaknesses they actually amplify them. It’s a shame that it seems to have been a one-off for Hoffs, who hasnt seemed to do anything of note since. AK, however, well….

  21. 21
    weej on 1 Feb 2016 #

    Also, this version has a bassline so plodding that it could even be described as condescending.

  22. 22
    JLucas on 1 Feb 2016 #

    #20 – Susanna Hoffs’ series of cover albums with Matthew Sweet is pretty well regarded.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 1 Feb 2016 #

    Yes, I’m with James #11 on this one – OK it suffers from direct comparison with the original, but as an introduction of the song to a new generation, and in the prevailing style of that new generation, it works pretty well – nice guitar sound, pleasing harmonies and notably easy on the eye, particularly Jenny. Right about the backing track being on the lazy side though. But if this was the first time you’d heard the song – and for most of their audience it was – it’d hit the right spot.

  24. 24
    Rory on 10 Mar 2016 #

    I’ve been working my way back through the mid-2001 entries to add my scores to the pile, and realised that either this track or the previous was number one when I moved to Britain at the end of July (a milestone that means I can officially hand the baton of posting the Australian number ones to the end-of-year threads to someone else).

    The cover itself rings no bells for me, and the original was never my favourite Bangles song, so I have no quibble with a 2. But the video is like a welcome-to-’01-Blighty madeleine: the Kittens here are archetypes of the fake-tanned, straight-blonde-haired young women who so stood out to a newcomer on the streets of Edinburgh that autumn – a particularly British look, it seemed to me, as someone who was travelling a lot at the time. The video would have been perfect for a time capsule.

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