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Aug 17

LIBERTY X – “Just A Little”

Popular11 comments • 1,286 views

#927, 25th May 2002

liberty x The remarkable speed with which their public turned on Hear’Say left things open for readymade rivals to add a twist to the story, and Liberty X – a band of Popstars runners-up – stepped up. Their angle was obvious – you, the discerning pop connoisseur, would show yourself a better judge of star potential than “Nasty Nigel” et al, rewarding the group with the real chemistry and talent. Hear’Say had been so popular they quickly became embarrassing: Liberty X would be reality TV pop done right.

This position was greatly helped by “Just A Little”, which really was a lesson in how to build a good pop single for a lashed-together group. It did two things that winners’ singles tended to botch. It sounded like its writers had bothered to listen to music from the last few years, and the group was blessedly unable to take the dire metatextual route of singing about their gratitude for winning.

Instead “Just A Little” sounds up to date, is built around a strong concept, and has things for different singers to do. This should all have been a baseline for reality TV hits. Instead this single was a rarity, a song aimed at catching the ear of people who liked pop instead of people who wanted to tie a bow on a show they’d liked.

The single could have gone to anyone with a couple of strong women singers, which Liberty X had (though the Pop Idol judges had been broadly right on their individual star quality). It’s a simple record, and doesn’t actually need a lot of intra-band chemistry, since it’s all about working to break down barriers to intimacy: the scenario is an woman seducing and educating a shy and inexperienced (though hot) lover, so a little awkwardness might have been on-message. In fact there’s none: the bridge (“It’s so exciting…”) brings down the walls, and the song bumps enthusiastically to its end. It’s a stretch to actually call “Just A Little” sexy, or great – but its basic competence is put in a very good light by its reality TV peers and their delibidinized blandness of output.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Riffit on 31 Aug 2017 #

    I’ll comment from this point onwards, as while I had already been exposed to pop music in the 5 years of my life up to this point (Baby One More Time, Livin’ La Vida Loca, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head), this song was probably the first instance where I become aware of a tangible concept of music that wasn’t aimed primarily at toddlers.

    So partly for that reason, I can’t really be very objective about this song. Everything about it works in terms of what I see as a throwaway but comforting party song (which seems to set the mood perfectly regarding the lyrics Tom mentions about girl and boy being attracted), but also instantly for me brings me back to long car holidays up and down the UK listening to CD2 of the Brit Awards 2003 CD. Life was so much better in my day, you youngsters with your Twitters and Snapchats etc etc…

    I’ll give it a 9. I don’t feel like I can give justice to this song from a critical perspective, but I will be far more analytical regarding the merits of later entries (up until we get to a November 2002 pop-trance bunny where all objectivity will fly out the window, but anyway…)

    Liberty X were ultimately (on the whole) very bland in the cold light of 2017, but I remember being a huge fan around the “difficult second album” for some inexplicable reason, as when I listened back to the singles from that a few years ago the music appeared to turn from superficial on the first album to actively abrasive.

    Two other things to mention – they followed that album up with Song 4 Lovers, which looked likely to (relatively) bomb but actually ended up Top 5. It’s a collaboration with Rev Run from Run DMC (which based on the evidence of the song seems to relegate the group to featured artists rather than the lead bill) and is as bizzare as you might take this as, but yet wonderfully joyous at the same time. Secondly – they mangaged to make the best version of Ain’t Nobody, which still sounds as magnificent today as 15 years ago. Richard X’s finest work imo.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 31 Aug 2017 #

    This still sounds pretty good – in fact I remembered it when I heard it whereas Hearsay’s efforts have (thankfully) disappeared. I also remember feeling slightly aggrieved when (IIRC) Jessica was sidelined from the winning group on the Popstars series after she admitted having smoked weed. She came across as one of the most talented of the contenders and it just seemed prudish and petty to dismiss her. I’m glad she enjoyed success and credibility. She seems to have ended up married to Kevin Pieterson so she really is living the dream ;-)
    This gets a high 6 from me too

  3. 3
    AMZ1981 on 1 Sep 2017 #

    The benefit of sixteen years hindsight means we can be a bit kinder to Hear’say than we were at the time. I don’t think the makers of Popstars realistically expected them to have much life after the initial single, hence the quickie album of hand me down fillers. If a bit more care had been taken over the branding and the second single the Hear’say story might have been quite different.

    Which takes me on to Liberty X. Nobody seems to have noted yet that Just A Little was actually their third single. Thinking It Over made it to number five in September 2001 when they were still in the slipstream of the TV show and the follow up only made number 14. In this context Just A Little is another Whole Again; a second division act striking gold with the right song, as opposed to a Freak Like Me explosion of talent. It did allow Liberty X the luxury of a longer career than Hear’say (who might have salvaged a few more hits had they not disbanded) but the follow up was a cover and I couldn’t sing any of their later hits.

  4. 4
    Cumbrian on 1 Sep 2017 #

    Yes, this is fine. Not much more but better than Hear’says’s efforts. Am sure we *can* be more kind to Hear’say at this distance but I’m not certain we necessarily should be, at least with respect to the back room staff that went with them. They almost certainly were let down by the songs that they were given – and I’m unsure how much agency they would have had in their being chosen.

    As ever, when it comes to the reality TV popstars, there’s maybe a lot to be said for what this meant for the evolution of the genre. The success of Liberty X almost certainly led to One True Voice being held within the bosom of the TV show’s aftermath when “The Rivals” happened – indeed the show was likely set up to reflect the Hear’say/Liberty X situation – so as there was no chance of missing out on a Liberty X style bit of success in the aftermath. I dare say we’ll talk more about OTV anon, but the lesson of giving the “other” group at least somewhat decent songs to sing was probably the most salient thing they could have learned from this #1.

    #2: A-ha! A chance to talk about Kevin Pietersen. A colossal ego but what a bat. Of all the batsmen I have seen in the flesh, KP would be in the top 3 (behind Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – the two Sri Lankans who, at least when I have seen them in the ground, appear to have been touched by something otherworldly. I did see Tendulkar bat once – but he didn’t play well and got out for 3). At his best, he was blessed with the ability to seemingly halt time whilst he figured out what to do, imagination to see shots others couldn’t – especially opposing captains vis a vis their field placings, and, yes, the arrogance to attempt things others wouldn’t dare.

    My top memories of him were in his final season playing 4 day cricket with Surrey. He was having one last throw of the die trying to get back into the England team. I was on jury service. After court threw out, I went down to The Oval and caught KP and Surrey v Leics, and saw him go from 198 to 310 in about an hour, smashing the opposition attack to all parts, including two monstrous 6s into the second tier of the Vauxhall end stand. He shared a last wicket stand of over 100 in that innings, in which the #11 batsman scored 4. He was just so far above everyone else it was frightening. A couple of weeks later, it was the annual schools’ day at The Oval. When tea was called, KP didn’t take it, he just wandered over to the boundary where the kids were and signed autographs and took selfies for the duration before play re-started. He’s a bit polarising to say the least, but that put him in the positive side of the ledger in my mind.

    He’s been married to Jessica for 10 years now, so life can’t be all bad, you’d think.

  5. 5
    Mark M on 1 Sep 2017 #

    A rather curious bunch, in retrospect, Liberty X. The blokes were fairly pointless. When I picture the five of them, it’s either fixed grins or stage-school stabs at sultriness. And Just A Little to me strains painfully to sound, well, sexy, to use a word they drain of any suggestiveness.

    On the other hand, their management (I guessing it was their management, rather than them), kept trying interesting stuff – starting with the 2-step of Thinking It Over, and later doing a Richard X quasi mash-up and a Mantronix cover. In that way, they played a John The Baptist role to a reality TV group created just a few months after this single…

    (As for KP, obviously he was incredibly talented and an exciting player, but I never warmed to him. I remain not happy at all at the England cricket team’s continued use of South African carpetbaggers).

  6. 6
    Lee Saunders on 2 Sep 2017 #

    Known this song since the day it was a hit, and played it a lot on compilarions, but must confess my Liberty X ignorance. Only looking them up recently did I see they were from Popstars, and that they were originally simply ‘Liberty’ before legal wranglings interveined with their name and release schedules (sidenote, there’s a lot of ‘X’s around this time, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Being Nobody has a giant ‘X’ on its sleeve). I see the original group name was chosen to reprsent freedom, that they were on V2, and that their first single was a somewhat busy UK garage workout which perhaps sounds about a year too late in my ears to be the top 5 hit that it was.

    But, as I say, my Liberty X ignorance. I don’t remember that song or their next, less successful single at all. And I don’t remember how they go now. Just a Little, arriving half a year later, feels to me almost like Freak Like Me in terms of a group re-establishing itself, name change and all, because first and foremost Just a Little feels less steeped in obvious trends and works up a sound for itself, and also unlike the first two singles, it leaves an aftertaste, a hook or two people remember (or me at least).

    This song is always one of the ones that’ll remind me most of mid-2002, even for just that guitar tone that plays the song’s staccato riff that also seems to double up as its rhythmic pulse. And, chorus melody aside, its precisely that riffhym (I’m sorry, truly) that guides this track above the lyrics, which aren’t so pristine. A song where, for the most part (some parts don’t make sense, to me at least), the group aren’t being so subtle about what they want, unlike the ‘you’ they sing to, who one minute apparently doesn’t know what they have, and next minute are being teasy, not merely inviting the lust but are doing it in such a thrilling way that requires a brief crackle of backing vocals (“I like it when you do it like that, ah ah”). The idea of working it only “just a little” suggests the song’s subject is indeed already half way there. All in all, the singers and ‘you’ work such a strange dynamic that the former settles on wanting to compromise (“meet me in the middle”).

    So quite a messy record in that respect. But the rather minimal flow is charming, and benefits their soft voices. The riff plays almost constantly throughout, only dropping out for a post-middle eight chorus-come-bridge, and the less interesting beat behind it never hides, so the subtle appearance of other little sounds and so forth, usually wrapped around lines as opposed to appearing concurrently, are made all the more obvious. Typically these are breathy, or whispered (read: ‘seductive’) backing vocals that sound almost ad-libbed (like a kind of running commentary, or, as I prefer to see it, things whispered in one ear of the subject while the rest of the song is being sung in the other). The one that always comes to mind is that “ah-ah-ah-ahhh” about 30 seconds in or so. Again, like with Freak Like Me, minor details are given light there.

    Its a nice little record, and stands at a 7 for me but is triumped by their Richard X collaboration Being Nobody (again based on an old Girls on Top mash if I’m not mistaken). As with Freak Like Me, Ain’t Nobody was still somewhat fresh in the public mind – though not as recently – thanks to LL Cool J, but the pairing with Being Boiled (again, as with Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, a song without a chorus of its own) is a treat. As for other Liberty X songs, I remember none except A Night to Remember, the completely forgotten about cover done for that year’s Children in Need, and I only remember that because I own the CD single of it. I may have played it only once.

  7. 7
    ThePensmith on 2 Sep 2017 #

    I echo entirely the sentiments above re: Liberty X as a whole being quite an average pop band for their time, fitting in neatly with both Blue and the 2.0 incarnation of the Kittens (although Kevin Simm proved himself to not be pointless on the series from last of ‘The Voice’ before it moved to ITV, which he won. Really talented vocalist indeed, and a laconic, wise Northern soul to boot, who was greatly underused when he was in the band).

    But just as several bunny holders and winners of your Pop Idols/X Factors etc owe a lot to Hear’Say, so too do a lot of runners up on these shows that we’ll meet – around 2009 to 2012 is all I’m saying for now – owe their success to the story of Liberty X. Namely, the narrative arc of the underdog coming along, without any of the fanfare of the winner, but having arguably the longer career and better material on the whole. Without Liberty X, and without this single, I doubt that would’ve happened.

    This was a fine effort though, and much agreed by everyone who was into pop in 2002 as being the anthem of that summer. Only their Richard X collaboration and ‘Song 4 Lovers’ came close to the brilliance of this. Trouble was, they made a habit after their second album, as Popjustice put it when they split, of being more famous for say, standing next to a Scott-Lee or jumping off a diving board in naff shows like ‘The Games’ on Channel 4 than actually releasing music.

    A solid 8 from me.

  8. 8
    Auntie Beryl on 2 Sep 2017 #

    A solid 7, unexpected given the provenance (I had no time for the trendchasing of their first single, Thinking It Over).

    With mashups, Bastard Pop, call it what you like in full swing at this point, this lives on for me via the Orbital Just A Little Bit Lush cut & shut which was one of the best I’d heard at the time.

    Not on YouTube, obviously.

  9. 9
    James BC on 5 Sep 2017 #

    Liberty X seemed destined for disaster, especially when they had to add the X to their name because of legal trouble before they’d really done anything. The answer was simple: get these reasonably talented people to sing reasonably good songs, leading to a reasonable career. Makes you wonder how some of these other groups got it so badly wrong, really.

    This and Thinking It Over are their best songs and I’d give this one a definite 7.

  10. 10
    will on 5 Sep 2017 #

    Holding On For You, their 2002 Christmas hit, was really rather lovely too.

    7 seems to be consensus on this one and I wouldn’t disagree with that.

  11. 11
    flahr on 7 Sep 2017 #

    I like this period of [Popular] time because I can say to myself, “well, I suppose I should actually listen to this song that’s come on Popular that I’ve never heard before” but then, of course, through the mystical wonders of childhood on hearing the first line again the entire record comes spooling back. So it passes that basic hurdle of memorableness, at any rate, and even if it is definitively no “Being Nobody” it’s certainly not a bad little track – its attitude to rhythm over melody feels refreshing (to me at any rate) and if, as Tom says, it isn’t quite sexy or great it is, at least, er, flirty and decent. Apart from the fact that as a mixed-sex group the boys have to have a bit of a sing-song and huff-puff whiningly irksomely through a momentum-killing bridge. But 6/7 mos def.

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