All Saints – ‘Red Flag’ Review

The London four-piece are back – again – with a fourth album that thrills and disappoints in equal measure

The fact that All Saints were formed 23 years ago – Londoners Melanie Blatt and Shaznay Lewis started the band in 1993 and recruited Canadian sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton a couple of years later – means that to still call the slick four-piece a girlband would be something of a misnomer. A womanband seems far more appropriate, and probably did even in the late 1990s when they were lucratively pitched as the grown-up, hip hop-loving alternative to the Spice Girls.

Neither assumed sophistication nor the tasteful pairing of crop tops and combat trousers could protect them from ludicrous infighting, however. Following the success of 1997’s ‘All Saints’ and 2000’s ‘Saints & Sinners’, the band split in 2001 following a Spinal Tap-worthy argument over who was going to wear a particular jacket at a photoshoot. Five years later they reformed to release the lacklustre ‘Studio 1’ before swiftly disappearing from view yet again.

A decade on, their decision to get together for a third time comes somewhat out of the blue, but with Nicole Appleton fresh from a messy divorce from Liam Gallagher, they’ve certainly got some juicy life experience to draw upon for inspiration.

All the tracks were written by Shaznay Lewis, the group’s key songwriter, who revealed that conversations with Nicole about her split informed the 12-track album’s pulsating first single and opening track ‘One Strike’.
As comebacks go, the song is a near flawless piece of glossy pop, complete with pointed mentions of a “poisoned tongue”, aiming a direct hit at the ego of the younger Oasis brother. He gets more s**t thrown at him on ‘One Woman Man’, with synthy string stabs elevating its towering trip-pop chorus. “Are you ever gonna be a one woman man?” they ask mock-innocently of the guy who impregnated an entertainment reporter while married to Nicole.

They return to their roots for the addictive ’90s swing of ‘Make U Love Me’ but – frustratingly – after the sultry ‘Summer Rain’ the album quickly slips off piste. ‘Who Hurt Who’ is a wet Disney ballad, while the limp dancehall and incessant pitch-shifting of ‘Ratchet Behaviour’ grates. Third time lucky it might not be, but it’s not a million miles away.