Pop Essays #21: Cathy Dennis, ‘Fickle’

Good afternoon and welcome to this week’s Pop Essays, where we bring you our thesis on another entirely brilliant lost gem of pop goodness from our old music library. This week: a deep cut from one of our all time favourite pop songwriters back when she was a popstar herself…

  • Artist: Cathy Dennis
  • Song: Fickle
  • Release Date: 10/03/1997 (on ‘Am I The Kinda Girl’ album)
  • Writers: Cathy Dennis / Guy Chambers
  • Producers: Mark Saunders / Cathy Dennis

It was always pretty evident that Cathy Dennis would become the pop music legend that she is regarded as today – even if the source of it wasn’t immediately obvious in hindsight.

Having started the 90s with a chart slaying career on both sides of the Atlantic with her album Move To This and hits like ‘Touch Me (All Night Long)’ and ‘Just Another Dream’, by the middle of the decade she was one of those rare cases of British artists who were a bigger deal over in the States then they were on home turf.

In fact, after her second album – 1993’s Into The Skyline – very little was heard of her after its singles charted modestly in the UK, save for her guest appearance in an episode of US teen drama Beverley Hills 90210. In that time, she laid the foundations down for her career to come, with an album that was very far removed from the dance pop sound she’d started out in.

The resulting album, Am I The Kinda Girl, was guitar based, and heavily indebted to the sounds of the 60s, even down to employing the services of one Ray Davies of The Kinks, whose 1967 classic ‘Waterloo Sunset’ was covered by Cathy as the album’s second and biggest single (it peaked at #11 a couple of weeks before the album came out).

But unusual melody and lyric ideas were in hearty abundance across the album, through collaborations with Mark Saunders, XTC’s Andy Partridge and most notably of all, one Guy Chambers, who within just six short months after the album’s release would get his breakthrough working with Robbie Williams. And it was Guy that co-wrote with her on one of its key tracks.

As the name might suggest, ‘Fickle’ is about… well. It’s interesting really. On the one hand, it could be viewed straight ahead as a sassy swipe at a rubbish boyfriend blowing hot and cold: ‘Fickle / You’re so fickle / You’ve always got to change your mind / And leave me with a riddle … Thursday night I made your grade and we were fine fine fine / Yesterday we were naming kids but / Today I close the door and someone else is on your amplifier’.

But listen more closely, and the verses seem to be vocalising Cathy’s grievances as a performer and songwriter in her own right, reacting to an old boy’s club industry that was very much still in charge: ‘You love me, then hate me / Do nothing but frustrate me / You stalk me, then leave me / You patch me up then leave me be / You wed me, divorce me / You chase me then ignore me / You drop me, then sign me / You kneel to pray then say cor’ blimey’.

Now forgive me, for I am looking at the sleeve from my copy of the album as I write this, and the lyrics don’t appear there, so I may have got that last one wrong. Cathy, if you are reading this, I heartily apologise in advance. But several facts still stand about this song and the overall themes on the album – particularly on songs like this and also on what was the lead single, ‘West End Pad’.

Firstly, it showcased what a truly brilliant songwriter she was. Secondly, on songs like ‘Fickle’, you are hearing the very blueprint of the quirky and unusual approach that has always defined her songwriting, from the heady highs of her work with Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears on ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and ‘Toxic’, through to songs like ‘Catch You’ for Sophie Ellis-Bextor and ‘Sweet Dreams My L.A Ex’ for Rachel Stevens.

And whilst the commercial indifference to Am I The Kinda Girl (it peaked at #78) was to prove the catalyst for moving her into songwriting full time, it was one of those happy instances where what was always due to come her way and work out for her just happened sooner rather than later. But if you’re looking to where that transition truly started, then listening to this album and this song in particular is your best place to retrospectively start.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.

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