If ‘Red Flag’, 2016’s superb renaissance album (we don’t like saying comeback, it doesn’t seem right in this context) was the sound of All Saints rediscovering their musical identity, then ‘Testament’, its follow up, is almost certainly the sound of them taking that rediscovered, timeless sound, and running full tilt with it.
Although even ‘full tilt’ as a descriptor implies we are dealing with a much more high octane album. On our first few listens to this new album, the following three adjectives would be more appropriate: lush, harmonic and ambient. Not least because the man behind two of their most famous hits has worked with them once more – which we’ll get onto in due course.
Let’s first turn our attention to ‘Who Do You Love’. As the album’s opener, it sets the tone wonderfully with Nicole Appleton’s softly spoken intro about choosing between the men who give you the life you want, and those who give you the love you desire, and to choose love first always. It gently nods back to ‘Never Ever’, but in a really classy, and genuinely charming way.
‘Three Four’ that follows it immediately, is in complete contrast, matching soulful, almost Tamla Motown-esque piano to squiggly electronica bits as they sing of the anguish in being a non-reciprocating relationship. It carries on into tracks like ‘I Would’, where the moody intensity of the verses is off set by the softer, piano led choruses. If anyone can nail the theme of love under pressure in pop music, it’s these girls.
But, if it’s sounding a bit dark thus far, then rest assured that isn’t the case for the whole album. Our former #SongoftheWeek (and still very much our anthem of summer 2018) ‘Love Lasts Forever’ is, it transpires, a song Shaznay Lewis wrote for her son as he leaves to go to secondary school, about the unbreakable bonds of family love and support – a subject not often covered in pop music, but one done to perfection here.
Similarly, ‘Glorious’ is an anthemic, empowering and genuinely uplifting call to arms about the people in your life who ‘just like magic’ come to ‘save your fall from grace’. It’s one of many tracks that reminds you of what a great ear for harmonies they have. I can’t say it enough, but it’s true.
And that’s before we’ve even got onto their new collaboration – and first in eighteen years – with one William Orbit, who worked with them on ‘Pure Shores’ and ‘Black Coffee’. Few words (certainly intelligible ones) can describe our reaction to one of his productions on here, ‘After All’, but we’re just gonna say it: this is one of the top five best singles All Saints have ever recorded. Don’t just take our word for it.
Recalling the work on his 2006 album ‘Hello Waveforms’ – specifically, a track on there called ‘Spiral’, that was a collaboration with US hip hop artist Kenna and the second incarnation of Sugababes – ‘After All’ is wistfully signposted by it’s post-chorus: ‘All the reasons why we said it’s over / Doesn’t seem to matter after all’.
It’s a lyric worth pointing out, because here, over two decades on from their debut release, is the sound of a band who, even with all their well publicised ups and downs, are at their most potent and self assured on this album, finally getting the focus and credit they always deserved, as being one of the finest purveyors of smart, credible and honest pop music that the UK has ever produced. Now that’s a truly exceptional testament.
STREAM THESE: ‘After All’, ‘Who Do You Love’, ‘I Would’, ‘Glorious’
‘Testament’ is available now via AS Recordings/Absolute. All Saints are touring the UK again in November, starting at Cambridge Corn Exchange on 29th – tickets on sale now. Twitter: @AllSaintsOffic