A heroic return for one of the grandest totems of 90s popular culture after split so fractious that nobody had hitherto dared to dream it could ever be mended. And now, from the precipice, 2011’s most long-awaited and controversial reunion. But enough about The Stone Roses. We are living through extraordinary times, because Steps are back. And not even just back, they’re Number One on the album chart. In October 2011, more people like Steps than like Ed Sheeran, Adele, Evanescence and James Morrison.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Pete Waterman protégés he quite brilliantly dubbed ‘Abba on speed’ chose to return. Today of all days, the reunion fever in the air could not smell more pungent. After all, Pulp were able to steal the summer of 2011 without even the whiff of any new material and the Take That reunion has led to Gary Barlow’s terrifying rampage across the music world that has seen a steely determination to turn all of reality beige.
But Steps? The five colour-blocked goons who looked like refugees from never-made childrens’ television shows? The people responsible for ruining most wedding discos ever since with the onslaught of ‘Tragedy’? The band who rose to fame with a doomed attempt to fuse techno and line-dancing with ‘5,6,7,8’? Surely the prospect of a Steps revival succeeding where, say, the All Saints one failed signals of a schism in the temporal rift that might one day swallow up all of popular music entirely?
Well, no actually. I say this without irony, and even less regard for my personal safety, but certain of the Steps oeuvre have held up quite shockingly well. Witness eurodisco hyper-ballad ‘Deeper Shade Of Blue’s magnificent attempt to dance away heartbreak through the power of poppers alone. Or ‘One For Sorrow’s rather successful execution of the Abba brief. Or ‘It’s The Way You Make Me Feel’s impossible feat of making a classy Steps track. And since ‘Chain Reaction’ counts as one of the greatest pop songs of all time, it follows that no cover version of it can be all that bad, so it also follows that theirs was not. Okay that’s only four, but in pop terms that’s gigantic. And I’ll fight anyone who tries to argue that Take That have any more.
But let’s not worry ourselves too much with music. As we know, the true catalyst behind this revival is the Steps Reunion documentary currently airing on Sky Living. It’s one of the most cringe-inducing, horribly compelling things you will ever see on television – and has fast become the cult hit of the year. In it, the five members try to iron out their differences and reunite over a series of dinner parties and awkward social encounters in Spain, before heading to a hastily booked studio to record a cover of ‘Dancing Queen’.
Legend has it that ten years ago, two hours before going onstage, H and Claire resigned to the rest of the band by shoving a letter in their hands saying they were going off as a duo. Karma insisted that their bid for duo stardom failed. “I’ll never get over the way Steps ended,” seethes Lisa, still bitter over Claire getting all the lead vocals. Claire herself just offers blithe looks that say “but I was the better singer!” Lee (the comparative alpha-male) gleefully remembers threatening to pin H up against the wall and deck him. H, now living in a country pile and planning a surrogate baby with his boyfriend, can barely summon up the energy to look like he wants to be there. Faye, the only really likeable one, is still prone to tearful outbursts of “did you really hate us?”
It’s all dramatically edited and everyone plays up – although, actually, having witnessed the way most indie bands interact with each other, there’s nothing so unusual about any of this. What is remarkable is how refreshing this shot of honesty comes across. And what’s a genuine masterstroke is that in this reality-pop age, when fly-on-the-wall cameras and pained backstories are all – then of course this was going to be the way to get the public on side.
I wouldn’t like to predict what this means for the future of society, but I can’t take my eyes off it. Today we learnt that The Stone Roses have up their sleeves, but for now, advantage Steps.