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May 15

ALL SAINTS – “Black Coffee”

Popular70 comments • 6,976 views

#876, 14th October 2000

saintscoffee All Saints’ final number one is their most oblique, their most grown-up, also their finest. The song barely glances at its title – a pair of words out of a hundred in the lyric – but the whole record is a glance or a quiet smile, a celebration of tiny satisfactions, and of finding yourself with someone who conjures them so easily. “Each moment is cool / freeze the moment”. It’s a song, most of it, about feeling contented – a rare subject for pop, which prefers to nose out conflict (the video finds some anyway, staging “Black Coffee” as a post-Matrix bullet time break-up drama). There are songs – cousins to this, like “I Say A Little Prayer” – that capture the way love makes the everyday blush with significance, but “Black Coffee” is after something more comfortable. A day with your lover, as casually sweet as all the other ones. Nothing’s perfect, but “Black Coffee”’s rippling, overlapping melody lines make even the quarrels sound blissful.

It’s a lovely record, two late 90s takes on pop meshing and peaking: All Saints’ idea of a British female harmony group, and William Orbit’s gorgeous dissolve of pop into ambient bubbles and flows. (Both now disappear: All Saints split, to largely unsuccessful ends; Orbit, jilted by his primary collaborator, stepped back from the charts.) The combination, as on “Pure Shores”, is irresistibly of its time: unlike that record, “Black Coffee” isn’t pure escapism. Around the edges of this playful song snaps another, one with a harder bite. The opening and breakdown of “Black Coffee” – crunching drums, radar synths – is like a more unforgiving world which our couple spend the mid-song cocooning themselves away from.

The snap and turn of those opening beats makes me think of catwalk photography; the video feels more like a magazine shoot than a relationship. Probably more than anyone since the early 80s, All Saints were a band who felt like they belonged in fashion, a style press imagining of what pop could be like. They always looked the part, but often the music strained too hard to live up to its references. Finally, with the Orbit collaborations, they got there, and “Black Coffee” is the greatest realisation of the All Saints concept – their most perfectly glossy exterior, and only warmth inside.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Mark G on 21 May 2015 #

    #56 funnily enough, I’d nominate Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel’s performance of “Another Day” as the most miserable duet of modern times. Entirely in context, of course.

  2. 62
    lonepilgrim on 21 May 2015 #

    not sure what category ‘Starfish and coffee’ by Prince falls into

  3. 63
    innit on 21 May 2015 #

    As usual Natalie Appleton’s vocal talents are ignored. she makes the song.

  4. 64
    Paulito on 21 May 2015 #

    In ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’, Joe Jackson’s reference to this ubiquitous beverage helps to conjure a scene of everyday frustration. Joe’s coffee slowly cools at his side, neglected, as he gawps incredulously out his window at passing lovelies and their Neanderthal consorts.

  5. 65
    Chelovek na lune on 22 May 2015 #

    “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee”

  6. 66
    ace inhibitor on 22 May 2015 #

    “I drank a jar full of coffee, and I took some of these!”

  7. 67
    Phil on 22 May 2015 #

    From what I know of MES’s lifestyle, that is a celebration of the mundane and everyday.

  8. 68
    Ophir Zemer on 22 May 2015 #

    There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream and a lack of real spice in your life

  9. 69
    Tom McKennan on 12 Mar 2016 #

    The Guardian is advertising an interview on the All Saints reunion describing them as ‘pop rebels’. (annoyingly I can’t find it to link) Needless to say there are scores of old punks spitting feathers at the description but for all that it did strike me as odd: It’s not a label I’d ever have stuck on them. Was rebellion part of the package with All Saints? Grown-up, classy sophistication surely? I was never a fan so I’m quite prepared to imagine I’ve missed something.

  10. 70
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Really like Pure Shores, but not keen on this at all I’m afraid. Monotonous and at over 4 3/4 minutes way too long in my opinion. Sorry, but a 3/10 here.

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