The Anti-Spice Girls?

I read about All Saints long before I heard their music. Some of the

band's press coverage had me believing they were the next

Luscious

Jackson or the anti-Spice Girls. They were depicted as funky,

street-smart and talented. They looked kind of tough in the photos,

and

there was even a rumor that one of them had thrown up in a potted

plant.

But after hearing them on the radio, I know where it's at. They're a

packaged product more than a music group. The four women in All

Saints

-- Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, and Natalie and Nicole Appleton

-- have

better voices than the Spice Girls, but the comparison is

unavoidable.

As far as I know there aren't that many popular music groups that

consist of spokesmodels and drum tracks. Popular, I said. I know

that in

hotel lounges across the world you probably see this kind of thing

a

lot. And on the French equivalent of MTV it's not uncommon. But

after

the success of All Saints and the Spice Girls, girl groups could

give

the music industry the boost that electronica never managed.

Especially

if adolescent girls are driving the entertainment industry --

something

many executives are banking

on.

No musicians are listed on the All Saints' self-titled debut. Instead,

there are six photos of the singers -- sometimes with sleeves,

sometimes

without. So if you take the CD for what it is -- background music for

styling your hair -- it's not that bad. I only wish some of the photos

of those girls with their off-center parts came with step-by-step

instructions for achieving that look.

The first song on the CD, and the big hit in Europe (I moved to

Brussels

three months ago), is "Never Ever." It opens with a melancholy

spoken

plea to a former lover asking why he left, while the electronic

keyboard

pretends to be a piano and the other Saints hum in the

background. It

has a bittersweet, retro girl-group sound -- the combination of

innocence and passion that melted hearts in the 1960s. The

repetitive

lyrics add to the song's charm. They make it easier to sing along.

As soon as the second track ("Bootie Call") starts I'm transported

from

that high-school heartbreak to the studio, and the machinery

overtakes

the sweet voices. This is the problem with most of the CD. It's

definitely well-produced and the band has a nice collective voice.

It's

soulful and sassy. But they're often competing with the drum

machines.

Tracks such as "Alone" and "Trapped" could have been pretty,

light-jazz

songs if only the group had brought in some live musicians.

But when you're styling your hair, you're not listening to the

particulars. Sometimes the blow dryer is on. Sometimes you're

lost in

thought: Do I want a sleek look or do I want curls? So you listen

with

one ear. And with All Saints, this is the perfect way to listen...

There are a few covers on this CD. The Red Hot Chili Peppers'

"Under the

Bridge," which was originally a gritty ode to Los Angeles, takes

on a new shine in the hands of All Saints. It opens with the

beginning

of the original song playing on a turntable (you can hear the snap,

crackle, pop) with some stops and starts. Maybe one of the Saints

is a

DJ. Instead of evoking the post-industrial desolation of Los

Angeles,

these women are singing to a completely different city: one with an

Urban Outfitters and a Virgin Megastore. The end of the song, with

the

mysterious verse about what happened under the bridge, has

been dropped

from this version. This is curious, because unlike the Spice Girls,

All

Saints aren't trying to maintain some kind of "nice" image for their

preteen fans. In the song "Bootie Call," they sing, "I like playing

games and if it's all the same, you can bring it on with the rough

stuff

... I don't want to be tame." All Saints also cover Patti LaBelle's

"Lady Marmalade." Or the song that taught the world to sing

"voulez-vous

coucher avec moi ce soir." It's one

of the better songs on the CD; it's got a great beat and there's a lot

of texture. And it serves as a kind of study aid for me, now that I live

in Brussels and need to learn French. In fact, the CD is like an

audio

version of Glamour magazine, with tips on how to hang

tough after a

sudden breakup, how to cope with loneliness in a big city and how

to

flirt in French. This is why spokesmodels with drum machines just

might

have staying power.