The covers album seems to be that most frequent hot potato to bash where pop music is concerned. Somehow, years of elitist rock critics have had open season, pouring scorn on such releases for being a mark of coasting on a ‘safe’ or more commercial banker at the expense of being ‘cooler’ or more worthy of their plaudits, and have educated swathes of people that songs are there not to be reimagined or celebrated through a cover, but to be untouched like some royal deity on high.
But for every release like the genuinely dreadful ‘A Whole New World’ album of duets covers by Peter Andre and his then wife Katie Price in 2006, which fully deserve such scorn, there are others which wrongly find themselves tarred with the same brush of derision as a result.
Twelve years after ‘Life in Mono’, her critically lauded third album which was only a disappointment in strictly commercial terms (it topped out at #65 the very same December that the Katie and Peter travesty was released), Emma Bunton has re-established herself as a solo entity with just weeks to go before she dons her Baby Spice gladrags once again for the Spice Girls’ summer stadium tour.
‘My Happy Place’, her fourth solo album, is, she states on the sleeve credits, the easiest album she’s ever made, and that the title refers to the fact it was made in her comfort zone. Keen pop fans of the 00s will remember that of all the girls, it was she who actually ploughed the most rewarding furrow when it came to carving out her solo career away from the all girl power pop phenomenon of the 90s.
First came the breezy acoustic pop of her 2001 debut ‘A Girl Like Me’, which spawned off the still brilliant chart topper ‘What Took You So Long?’ and her cover of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’ late 80s favourite ‘What I Am’ in collaboration with dancefloor aficionados Tin Tin Out.
Then on 2004’s ‘Free Me’ and the aforementioned ‘Life In Mono’ she hit a groove that made respectful yet timeless nods in the direction of 60s Europop, Motown and bossa nova on the showstopping likes of ‘Maybe’, ‘I’ll Be There’, and spirited covers of Astrud Gilberto’s ‘Crickets Sing for Anamaria’ and Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’.
Emma simply got on with the business of releasing instantly likeable, easy yet captivating pop music. Nothing more, nothing less. And regardless of only two of the album’s ten tracks carrying her name as a writing credit, that’s precisely what she’s done again here.
Our former #SongoftheWeek ‘Baby Please Don’t Stop’ and ‘Too Many Teardrops’ are the two tracks in question that are all new material, written and produced in collaboration with the team at the award winning Metrophonic. You can close your eyes and hear touches of Sandie Shaw here, and flourishes of Helen Shapiro there. It’s the sound from a golden age of pop long passed that’s remained a touchstone because it has a universal appeal. Emma has long stated her love of the music from the 60s, and it happily shows both in her original songs and her choices of covers.
It’s a mix of both the more contemporary and the more sonically fitting to the overall sound and feel of the album. ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’, the legendary Motown hit first recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell back in 1968, is performed by Emma with her partner Jade Jones, a former member of British R&B group Damage. His soul led tones are a perfect contrast against Emma’s ear for a sweet melody.
The same is also true for her re-reading of Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’, her collaborator in this instance being Will Young, with the perky shuffle of Dusty’s original being given a more laid back, lounge-esque feel that really allows the beauty of the sentiment in the lyrics to be focussed in on. Madison Avenue’s 2000 chart topper ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ is similarly given a laid back Saint Etienne-esque makeover from the cocktail bar house of the original.
Only once though, is there a small slip up – chiefly on her dusting off of a much loved Spice Girls classic in ‘2 Become 1’. As this is both one of their singles that fans love the most, and one she featured most predominantly on, it’s a track that she’s performed to fine effect on her own in the past (see this acoustic performance for CD:UK back in 2003).
But something about the sweet yet suggestive all female charm of their 1996 Christmas chart topper is lost in translation to a male/female duet here, and Robbie Williams in truth sounds a little like he wandered into the studio and somehow ended up on a Spice Girls song with an actual Spice Girl and just carried on even though he clearly sounded uncomfortable doing so.
But fortunately that’s the only slip on one track out of ten. Others like her rendering of 00s neo soul pop chanteuse Candie Payne’s ‘I Wish I Could Have Loved You More’ (a track which we cited as being one Emma should cover when we reviewed Candie’s album for the music website we wrote for back in 2007) and ‘Emotion’, the Bee Gees written sad face ballad recorded first by Samantha Sang and then latterly Destiny’s Child, are flawlessly done and more than highlight the album’s strengths.
It’s strengths lie in Emma being one of British pop’s most solid and reliable players. ‘Safe’ the notion of a covers album may be, but when the songs are delivered so lovingly and with such class as they are on ‘My Happy Place’, then snobbery be damned, because it’s a beautiful thing to hear.
STREAM THESE: ‘Too Many Teardrops’, ‘I Wish I Could Have Loved You More’, ‘Emotion’, ‘I Only Want To Be With You (feat. Will Young)’
‘My Happy Place’ is available now via BMG. Twitter: @EmmaBunton