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May 16

S CLUB 7 – “Have You Ever”

Popular29 comments • 2,059 views

#914, 1st December 2001

sclubhave Kylie’s brief glimpse into pop’s realm of platonic forms only made the central issue starker: British pop was in the doldrums. The Spice Years seemed more than ever like a can shaken too hard: a burst of fizz, and only flatness left behind. It’s not that Blue’s “If You Come Back” or S Club 7’s “Have You Ever” are especially bad songs. In fact that was the problem – each saw their group at full strength, delivering the best ballad they could. It’s not enough.
Both are vignettes of love and regret. Blue’s is weaker and smarmier, a jilted dude trying to understand what he did wrong, professing that next time it’ll work out. Ghosts of better – or at least more famous – songs flicker through the mix: “I Swear” is in there, and there’s a hint of “Always On My Mind” in the bridge. It only makes you notice how thin Blue’s porridge is. Mush-mouthed, the group make “If you come back to my life” sound like “if you come back here alive” – more exciting, but in any case the song isn’t short on the usual hyperbole. Everything is eternal in boyband songs, all loves last all time.

It brings my biggest gripe with this sort of songwriting into focus – there’s so little specific to grasp onto. Great love songs are made by tiny details of place or situation or action – the “forever! Forever!” in Aretha’s “I Say A Little Prayer” is earned by the banality of “coffee break time” just before, for instance. Or they’re improved by odd little bends in language – “Back For Good” doesn’t work without that weird “twist of separation” phrasing. A few years ago I read a study on innovation in car design. The most successful cars, it concluded, matched high prototypicality of design – in layman’s terms, they looked like a car – with high novelty of features. Something similar applies to ballads. Beyond the looks and even the hooks, there has to be some tiny nugget of the unexpected in there. “If You Come Back” has nothing.

Nor, honestly, does “Have You Ever?”, S Club getting a second go at the annual Children In Need song – but it has a better hook, and in Jo O’Meara a singer who’s obviously trying to put a measure of recognisable heartbreak into a rote song. She’s never a subtle performer, but in flashes – her desperate “TELL ME!” heading into the final chorus, and her humbler “I’m sorry” in that chorus – she’s making an effort to force-fit memorable moments into a track that doesn’t really deserve them. It’s the best vocal on an S Club number one, and a reminder of why this is their last. When your strongest songs are clearly solo turns, a seven-person outfit becomes a liability.

5

Comments

  1. 1
    Andrew Hickey on 28 May 2016 #

    Yeah. I read an interview with Randy Newman once where he said that “Brown-Eyed Girl” was one of the greatest songs ever, because of “behind the stadium with you” — a detail so specific and so weird that it had to be true, which sold the entire rest of the song as being real.

  2. 2
    weej on 28 May 2016 #

    I always confuse this with ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’ – even having just listened to it the two don’t seem that distinct, both designed as a soundtrack for uplifting montages of sick children being helped by your donations. Still, a good vocal performance from Jo lifts it a little, it’s true, and a shame she did nothing much as a solo artist, her only single (the pretty good) ‘What Hurts The Most’ stalling at #15 in 2005.

  3. 3
    Rufus Headroom on 28 May 2016 #

    Could Simon not be arsed to send more than one invite to the recording session? The rest of S Club is only just barely perceptible, Salad dressing on somebody else’s table. By comparison, Blue are all still nommin’ at the same table, grabbing at scraps from the S Club plates when Jo’s not looking. Blue to S Club is like an underwhelming appetizer leading into a blandly inoffensive main course. Fill your pockets with mints, pay the check, and get out. On the way home stock up with several weeks worth of Hot Pockets. You’ll not be going out again for a while…
    4 and 5 seems about right for these dishes.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 28 May 2016 #

    I much prefer Never Had a Dream Come True to Have You Ever personally. It just has a much prettier, more memorable melody to me, whereas Have You Ever just strikes as a decently-sung retread. By this point, everything S Club was doing felt half-hearted. ‘You’ was a chintzier version of Reach, and ‘Alive’ a very poor man’s Don’t Stop Movin’. The moment was passing, and their literal replacements were already being lined up by the ever-ruthless Simon Fuller.

    Speaking of, for the purposes of Freakytrigger it’s a shame S Club Juniors never scored their own number one, because they’re surely cynical pop-as-product at their natural conclusion for the time. That said, I do have a soft spot for the Kylie-apeing ‘New Direction’ and the peppy ‘Fool No More’, both of which deserved to be released by less, for want of a better word, icky, groups.

    Blue, by comparison, were reaching their apex here, scoring their second consecutive #1 from their first three singles. Sadly, each consecutive release got less interesting, and If You Come Back just gives them a chance to indulge in the kind of aggressive vocal showboating that almost always has me reaching for the skip button. The Spice Girls get a lot of stick for their vocal limitations, but listening to their best ballads and then listening to noise like this just makes me grateful that there were fewer wannabe Mariah’s in the group. A horrible honking noise, and their material only became blander and more forgettable from here on in.

    4 for S Club, 2 for Blue.

  5. 5
    ThePensmith on 28 May 2016 #

    #4 – we will however, much later on mind, meet a couple of the Juniors on another bunny. I did always love ‘New Direction’. Like the lost great ‘Fever’ era Kylie B-side Cathy Dennis forgot to hand onto her.

    As for S Club…well it’s undeniable they were at their peak commercially at this time, what with the brilliant “Don’t Stop Movin” being the success it was, going onto win ITV Record of the Year and the BRIT for Best Single the following year. “Have You Ever” was almost guaranteed to sail to the top by proxy. I will concur and say that out of their two Children in Need singles, ‘”Never Had a Dream Come True” was the stronger of the two by far, but this was nonetheless a pleasant effort and Jo O’Meara sang it beautifully. Definitely a 7 for me.

    Of course however, this was the S Club party before the rapture, as after they wrapped up their Carnival arena tour in March 2002, Paul Cattermole pulled a Robbie/Geri and left to front his nu metal band Skua (he and Hannah Spearritt were dating by this point also), although he worked his notice up until they performed for the last time as a septet at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee party at Buckingham Palace.

    A shame really he left when he did, as this single’s parent album “Sunshine” was a great pop album. The dancier Hannah/Tina led numbers “Dance Dance Dance” and “Stronger” would have been awesome singles, likewise the Rachel led “Show Me Your Colours”. Of course however, down to six instead of seven, simply as S Club (five in some cases when Jo suffered from a slipped disc that rendered her out of action from promotion of their fourth album for a couple of months after filming their movie ‘Seeing Double’) by 2003 the jig was all but up and they had split.

    As this is the last time we’ll encounter any of S Club seniors on Popular, I feel it necessary to mention and guide readers towards Rachel Stevens’ brilliant but commercially underappreciated solo career that gave us such gems as “Sweet Dreams My LA Ex” (which Cathy Dennis who wrote this bunny had a hand in), the Richard X helmed “Some Girls” and of course her brilliant “Come & Get It” album from 2005. A lost pop gem if ever there was one.

  6. 6
    crag on 28 May 2016 #

    ‘Negotiate With Love’ by Rachel Stevens is a great lost 00s pop single.

  7. 7
    Tommy Mack on 28 May 2016 #

    I once ‘went home with’ a friend of a friend who insisted on playing Some Girls (and Pictures Of You by The Cure) over and over again throughout our liaison. It was some time before I learned to love either song again.

  8. 8
    Kinitawowi on 28 May 2016 #

    Isn’t Some Girls the one that’s basically a rehash of Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine?

    So Good, with its infamous gloveless fingers video, probably whomps it.

  9. 9
    ThePensmith on 28 May 2016 #

    Also re: “Some Girls”. Perhaps the most intriguing tidbit about it was how desperate Geri Halliwell was to record it, to the point of writing a bemused Richard a love letter whilst locking herself in her car outside his studio. Needless to say, thank God she didn’t, but it did however inspire Richard and his co-writer Hannah Robinson to pen “Me Plus One” for Norwegian electronic singer Annie, which was a tongue in cheek affair about Halliwell and the whole saga – even sampling the bark of her Shih-tzu dog Harry!

    #8 – ah yes, ‘So Good’ and THOSE gloves, they were infamous. That was a happy time.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 28 May 2016 #

    this sounds like it should come from an ‘original cast recording’ album. It has a staginess that I find off-putting and most of the group are a shadowy chorus in comparison to the spot lit star.

  11. 11
    Phil on 28 May 2016 #

    I don’t remember either of these & can’t say I feel inspired to (re)discover them now. I wonder if 4 is the worst mark of all – whatever a 4 is like, you just know it’s not going to be interesting.

    #8 – I don’t know how Some Girls could be any closer to Strict Machine without actually including the words ‘strict’ and ‘machine’. The videos for that & (especially) So Good look very post-CGYOOMH now, but don’t really bring off Kylie’s weirdly unslutty appeal*; I guess that really was a one-off*.

    *or it may just be me

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 28 May 2016 #

    This, though, is banal in the extreme. Beyond suburban in its plainness. Oh, a pretty voice, sure, but the song (from a group who, at their best – and when uptempo and working as a group, generally – , were really good fun) is inane and devoid of all complication. Painful, in fact (3). (I retain great affection for their subsequent and final single, “You”, which has a bit of pzazz and charm, but “Have You Ever” is worthy only of the skip button)

  13. 13
    Steve Williams on 29 May 2016 #

    Despite the fact it’s more or less all Jo, odd how Hannah is the most prominent member on the sleeve. Hannah seems to have had the most successful post-S Club career anyway.

    I might have mentioned Rachel Stevens’ solo career before because I think Sweet Dreams, Some Girls, Negotiate With Love and, especially, I Said Never Again, are all brilliant records. It was interesting, though, because when she went solo they seemed to try and market her as a pop star for adults, so the album was called Funky Dory and they played up all the Bowie samples. This was the era of a genre I invented called Observer Pop, pioneered by the Observer Music Monthly which was running at the time, who would regularly lavish praise on bands like Lorraine and people like Annie, and thirtysomething men like me would find it all very clever and rush out and buy all their records. But no young person seemed especially interested, certainly in Rachel Stevens’ case, where they re-released the album with a load of disco covers.

    It also didn’t help that Rachel Stevens seemed quite a dull pop star, she got short shrift on Popworld because she didn’t engage in any of the silliness, and then failed to join in sufficiently when she appeared on Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. Which was not on.

  14. 14
    MikeMCSG on 29 May 2016 #

    # 12 “You” wasn’t their final single. That was “Say Goodbye / Love Won’t Wait For You” the latter probably my favourite S Club track.

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 29 May 2016 #

    If nothing else you have to admire the marketing. By virtue of being the Children In Need single the song gets a commercial boost well in advance of Christmas (and the race for number one) but not so far in advance that the song isn’t still kicking around the top ten in festive week and as a result is prominently displayed in shops as a potential stocking filler.

    While I can remember most of S Club 7’s hits I couldn’t tell you how this one goes and I couldn’t be bothered to remind myself via youtube.

    An interesting non bunny at number three this week was Riva’s fine dance track Who Do You Love which featured the other Minogue sister on vocals. Given how quickly Dannii’s pop career sank into ridicule she surprised her critics in 1997 with All I Wanna Do, a strong comeback that made number 4, her biggest hit up to that point (and interestingly the year her sister had her commercial nadir with the renamed Impossible Princess album). With the RIVA collaboration she improved one on her previous best and she’d get one better in years to come but the Bunny has yet to award her a top prize.

  16. 16
    Shiny Dave on 30 May 2016 #

    13: Putting Hannah front-and-centre on the sleeve, pushing Rachel a lot harder in the solo careers – it’s almost like female pop singers were, and are, sold on something other than their voices. That Rachel’s solo material was obviously aimed at older men is completely and utterly consistent with this. With that said, working around Rachel’s vocal limitations produced some cracking examples of producer-led pop – I Said Never Again (But Here We Are) is so melodically constrained I can give it a reasonable go in the same octave and key as the original, which is actually more than I can say for a lot of male-sung pop of similar vintage!

    15: Controversial opinion alert – I’m not sure Who Do You Love Now isn’t the best Minogue sister single of 2001. An absolute dance stormer.

    As for the actual bunny at hand, I had legitimately forgotten about it, so fire up Spotify, and… ugh, Jo’s best efforts are sabotaged by one of the worst early-2000s ballad drum tracks I’ve had the misfortune to hear, which is some statement amidst a warren of Atomic Kitten bunnies. In other words, with apologies to 10, maybe its problem is it’s not stagey enough, as I’m sure that if it really were in a musical there’d be a vast upgrade in the percussion department!

    (And as far as I can tell there’s not as many “solo spotlight numbers” in musical theatre as is the clichéd assumption – and certainly not many where there’s an almost incidental ensemble backing as there is here, with the ensemble typically involved properly or not at all.)

    In an alternate universe where Jo O’Meara doesn’t tank her career on national television, I could absolutely see her now being a West End staple; she’d have been stunt-casting at first (with a popularity concentrated amongst twentysomething women, not a group the West End can afford not to chase), but with legitimate pedigree that’d have made her castable a lot more than once.

    4.

  17. 17
    ThePensmith on 30 May 2016 #

    #13 – controversial opinion alert, but I didn’t subscribe to the school of theory Rachel was supposedly “boring”, specifically in reference to that Popworld interview you mentioned.

    I think what you have to remember is that she probably had a harder task than most. Most ex pop band graduates are coming from a band with four or five in their number, as we’ve already seen with all the solo Take That and solo Spice bunnies. Rachel was part of a septet, and whilst press wise during the group she bought a lot of their attention and publicity – the FHM polls, that engagement to whatshisface out of Hollyoaks – personality wise it was immediately tougher for her because, at the heart of it, she was a normal girl from North London who somehow ended up in a quite big pop group. She’s even said so herself in the years following she found it difficult.

    But that, for me, was part of her appeal, that she quite liked being a popstar but that it wasn’t be all and end all. The press and music buying public, certainly by the time she came to release her second album, where she was at her critical zenith but commercial plateau, had got rather carried away with the idea that popstars, and female ones especially, had to be gobby and outspoken at all times, the biggest case in point from that year being Charlotte Church, who launched her pop career whilst the gutter press wrote up public “spats” between her and a couple of future bunny holders we’ll meet in due course.

    Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you had Lisa Scott-Lee also in that same year strumping about like a spoilt toddler with no shame in that car crash reality show of hers on MTV where she was told “get top 10 with your next single or quit music forever”. I forgot who mentioned it at the last Geri Halliwell bunny we encountered earlier but an unerring desperation for fame doesn’t an attractive popstar make either. Rachel didn’t hit it commercially as a solo artist, true, but she approached it with far more dignity than her peers.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 30 May 2016 #

    A bit late to the party here, but SC7’s cookie-cutter ballad courtesy of Cathy Dennis isn’t setting anything alight inside. In fact it sounds utterly generic in its presentation, to these ears it could have been anyone had I not known it was S Club. The video features Frank Lloyd Wright’s fortress-like Ennis House, which must have appeared in pop vids before and since, but I’ll stick my neck out and say this location has never reached #1 before this point. (4)

  19. 19
    Mark G on 30 May 2016 #

    Its funny, some No1’s make it seem we’re getting ever closer to the modern day and age, but things like the last three chart toppers make you think 2001 was a very long time ago.

  20. 20
    flahr on 31 May 2016 #

    This was another Singing Assembly staple. CAN’T YOU SEEEEEEEEEE

  21. 21
    wichitalineman on 1 Jun 2016 #

    Re 17: Apathy towards pop stardom is certainly preferable to Geri-style desperation, but S Club seemed to me the most disinterested pop stars of all time. Their reign coincided with Serena Williams treating her tennis career – grand slams aside – as something that was getting in the way of budding acting/fashion careers. At least Serena thought there was something else she’d rather be doing with her time. What else would Rachel Stevens rather be doing than appearing on Popworld? No idea.

    As for Have You Ever, is it the first meaninglessly truncated song title we’ve come across so far?* Someone should have reminded Cathy Dennis what brackets are for: Have You Ever (Loved And Lost Somebody)…. ah, that’s better. I think the subject has been brought up elsewhere on Popular, in relation to Gabrielle’s When A Woman, but it does suggest the whole thing was dashed off with minimal care and attention.

    *(Nancy & Lee’s Did You Ever is an intriguing comparison, with the half-title left intentionally hanging as innuendo. It would have been a Popular entry in 1971 if the Tams’ Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me hadn’t got in the way).

  22. 22
    Phil on 1 Jun 2016 #

    #21 – to this day I still don’t know what Did You Ever is about! Mind you, I found out the other day what Bend It is about & was quite shocked – they sang that on Crackerjack and everything… Different times.

    Agreed on the meaningless truncation wrt this one – no question mark, even.

    Unlike the Blue song, this doesn’t sound like a copy of anything in particular (Back for Good meets Never Had A Dream Come True?), but it does sound rather wearily derivative – an impression supported by the video, which features most of the band sitting around reading magazines and killing time. Like Tom, I want to give Rachel Stevens points for effort, although I want to deduct them again for over-indulgence in ornamentation, on a song that would have benefited from a much plainer delivery. So 4 overall. (I wish all these melisma merchants would go back and listen to what Mariah Carey was actually doing on Vision of Love, because it’s not that. Mind you, I’d have to include Mariah herself in the remedial class – maybe she’s had bad advice.)

  23. 23
    JLucas on 1 Jun 2016 #

    #21 I’d take desperation over apathy any day of the week personally. My feeling with S Club – and to a lesser extent Steps – was always “Well, if you don’t really care about all this, why the hell should I?”

    Sweet Dreams and the Come & Get It album are great, and Rachel seemed like a nice enough girl but the lack of any discernable personality traits made it very difficult to get excited about her. I’d have loved to hear Geri going balls to the wall with Some Girls or I Said Never Again.

  24. 24
    James BC on 1 Jun 2016 #

    Maybe “Have You Ever” copied its truncation from “Will I Ever” by Alice Deejay around a year earlier.

  25. 25
    Auntie Beryl on 1 Jun 2016 #

    …or John Martyn’s “May You Never”.

    I must have sold this S Club single in the shop, but had no recall of the song itself, of it being number one, or the single sleeve. A revisit today didn’t ring many bells. What a limp effort. (3)

  26. 26
    Izzy on 1 Jun 2016 #

    18: the Ennis House just missed no.1 before – it made no.2 in 1996 with 3T’s Why, but had the misfortune of being in the middle of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe run.

  27. 27

    I CAN’T EVEN

  28. 28
    Tommy Mack on 1 Jun 2016 #

    #17/21/23: In John Niven’s American Psycho-lite Kill Your Friends, sociopathic A&R man Stephen Stelfox sez “These indie bands winge if they have to get up before midday once a month to be on Saturday morning TV whereas Geri Halliwell would crawl over broken glass just to do a sixty-second phone interview for regional radio” – his point being that she belongs in his industry and they do not and he’s kind of right. Not that you’d advocate being as brittle as Geri but at the same time, if pop stardom means as little to you as the bloke from Westlife who said ‘it’s just a job’ or makes you as unhappy as Thom Yorke, then really why bother?

  29. 29
    Phil on 1 Jun 2016 #

    #28 – I wonder if anyone’s ever done a misty-eyed, heroic retelling of the elephant sweeper joke (and you know what, that little old man was right). As awful as that would be, there would be a certain emotional truth to it.

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