From the second the disco-inspired string flourishes of ‘Scared Of The Dark’ begin, it’s clear that Steps’ first album in fifteen years isn’t going to be one to shy away from their history of the camp, carefree pop they were known for during their late-nineties/early-noughties heyday. It would have been foolish for Steps to attempt to pass themselves off as anything but a novelty act that defied all expectation, ultimately bagging two number-one singles, shifting millions of albums and becoming the best-selling UK live act of 2000 claiming an honourary BRIT award in the process. Not bad for a band signed to release one novelty line dancing single in 1997.
Steps’ success is testament to their tireless work ethic, and their willingness to not take themselves too seriously. The ninties were a wonderful time when a variety of music could break through to a wider audience in a multitude of ways. It’s safe to say – thanks to the state of the industry – Tears On The Dancefloor won’t match the success of their similar albums, but how does it stand up against them in terms of quality? Not bad at all, actually.
A brilliant A&R job has crafted an album that reflects every part of Steps’ history. The ABBA-inspired harmonies and bittersweet melodies of ‘Happy’ reflect the “ABBA on speed” sound producer Pete Waterman aimed for on the band’s incredible debut, Step One. ‘I Will Love Again’ would sit perfectly on Steptacular with its soaring vocals, and Europop beat. ‘No More Tears On The Dancefloor’ could have been lifted from Buzz, by which time Steps had fought their way toward a cooler, more contemporary pop sound to compete with the onslaught of the teen-pop boom of 2000.
Tears On The Dancefloor lacks only one thing that would have made it a perfect Steps album: a beautiful ballad. Despite being known for their throwaway pop sound, Claire & Faye were always able to hold their own vocally, with Lisa’s voice providing a sweet and necessary backing. The album would have benefited greatly from a counterpoint to the club-ready pop, but I speak only as an ever-so-slightly disappointed fan. ‘Stay With Me,’ ‘You’re Everything That Matters To Me’ and ‘Wouldn’t Hurt So Bad’ are some of my all-time favourite deep cut Steps ballads, and a new one to add to the collection would have been wonderful.
‘Story Of A Heart,’ despite not matching the original version’s warmth, is a solid effort – a perfect Steps cover, a tradition it’s great to see continued. ‘You Make Me Whole’ is addictive as hell, and utterly Eurovision-ready. ‘Neon Blue’ is a surprisingly mature mid-tempo pop track that stands out – mainly for Claire’s vocal that channels the bittersweetness of ABBA’s best hits. ‘I Will Love Again’ is a euphoric end to an album that exceeds (almost) every expectation for a Steps album twenty years after they first burst onto the scene.
Tears On The Dancefloor is available to stream and download now from iTunes, Spotify & Apple Music.