The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Is it stretching things to say that Footprints, the debut album by Holly Valance, is exactly the album which All Saints would have gone on to make if they still existed? The crucial involvement of Nellee Hooper on several key tracks would certainly confirm this (are Massive Attack the most important British musicians since the Beatles? Their influence permeates everywhere), but also the general feeling of closure; for a debut album there is much doubt and uncertainty, and one cannot help but think that a lot of the evident frustration on Saints And Sinners has somehow seeped into this record.

It might not be what you expected. The dynamic opening trilogy of tracks suggests a far more playful Valance – considerably more playful than either Minogue or Imbruglia – with the already noted Eastern influences which sadly don’t seem to be investigated further from track four onwards.

The first track, and chart-topping debut single, “Kiss Kiss,” is an open invitation to consummate, though given the album’s subsequent development, the teasing element is paramount – aural kisses, not touching skin, are used as a motif for the title in the chorus. It is of course borrowed from a Turkish hit and is irresistible. The momentum continues on “Tuck Your Shirt In” (song title of the year?) which gives a palpable nod to “Get Yr Freak On” as well as Eminem (“My name is…Holly”), but already she is stipulating that sex is not necessarily on her agenda. Then we move into the more compressed raga of “Down Boy” which may be interpreted either as an instruction to back off or to, ahem, go down and satisfy her thus. The distantly echoed chorus vocal of “if you want me to love you” suggests some vulnerability.

Valance works best with this upbeat ambiguity. The track “Whoop” is tremendous and emphasises that her priority is to love herself. Hear the formidable repeated stabs of sound which are almost aural self-relief. Similarly, in “All In The Mind” she instructs the Other to be no more than the take-off point for her flight of imagination, in which he is to play no active part. The sensuality in this track, with its “French Kiss”-style slow organic liquid grind, is purely self-referential.

These are musically the boldest tracks here. The others are more conventional and not always satisfying. “City Ain’t Big Enough” (“…for both of us”) starts off promisingly as a possible “Don’t You Want Me” from the viewpoint of the waitress, but quickly sinks into a quicksand of cliché. “Cocktails And Parties” essentially is “Pure Shores” with a standard “you’ll never see the real me” lyric hardly merited this early in her career. “Hush Now” is standard R&B, though again we see the Other as a passive object who is instructed to dance, move, turn her on but not get involved. “Harder They Come” utilises a familiar R&B harp motif (a tone away from “Twenty Four Seven” by the Artful Dodger and Melanie Blatt!) and yes the title is meant that way. It is as if she is erecting her own emotional barbed-wire fence which no man can cross. In “Help Me Help You” there is the possibility of her opening up to the Other if he remains willing, but the balladry here is uninspired, and the next, similarly lumpen song “Naughty Girl” is a disappointingly flat “please forgive me, I’m not a saint” atonement which is completely out of place with the rest of the album.

In “Connect” she outlines her requirements for a proper relationship, but realises that by existing the former deny the possibility of the latter (“Can’t we just learn to like each other?”), and by the time of the rhythmically stumbling closing requiem “Send My Best,” she does not stop the Other from trying but warns him of likely disappointment (“I’ll always be an unknown part of your equation…you’ll be a slave to my frustration”). She concludes by intoning “If I’m on my way to your heart/Send my best to your heart…and heaven help you.” For a debut album it is truly a chilling end.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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