Five were a band out of time. In the late 90s they’d made sense as a boyband who could appeal to the post-Spice audience, their Duplo version of hip-hop fitting nicely alongside Billie and B*Witched as pop aimed for youth. I had plenty of time for them – they were pushing a bright, colourful, hooky product that never pretended to be anything else, and in the early days they had a run of entertaining singles. It’s a redeeming feature of Simon Cowell projects – good or crap, and they’re largely crap, they rarely try to dupe you.
But by 2001 that moment for Five had passed – this and the next number one constitute a torch passed, a reassessment of what a British boy band should be doing. And besides, Five were in shambles. Likeable, unassuming Sean, the one who seemed least fazed by stardom in the first place, had quit. Not for Five the charade of the three-month replacement before the inevitable split: the band stayed honest to the last, replacing Sean with a cardboard cut-out of Sean, which was carted along to promo appearances for “Let’s Dance”. It’s one of the stranger episodes in boyband history, a group who clearly knew the game was up and chose this bizarre route to acknowledge it. There was something idiotic but likeable about seeing the four remaining men cavort around the cut-out – there had been something idiotic but likeable about their whole pop career.
“Let’s Dance” was an adequate memorial, a busy, blustery attempt to magic up the carefree likeability of their better moments. It’s trying hard – bounding from hook to hook, but none of them are very good, like they’d gone for a 3 for 2 chorus offer in Asda. It’s also dripping with vocoder, perhaps for a tiny hint of Francophone sophistication (Daft Punk’s “One More Time” and Discovery had brought the technique sharply back into vogue). As usual the elephant on the track is Jay’s rapping, which seemed to get more prominent with every release: “hoping that you people think this sound is unique”, he says, and as he clumps doggedly from beat to beat I think, yes, yes I suppose it is really.