All Saints – Red Flag
by Yasmine Shemesh
All Saints, you might remember, were one of the most beloved girl groups of the ’90s. The English foursome composed of Shaznay Lewis, Melanie Blatt and Nicole and Natalie Appleton were the sleekest of their peers, with chilled-out hits like “Never Ever” and “Pure Shores,” selling upward of 12 million records before their highly publicized breakup. They caused a bit of a stir in January when they announced that they’d be releasing new music for the first time in a decade, fourth studio effort Red Flag.
When it comes to reunions surrounded by such nostalgia, you never know if a comeback album will live up to past glories, or if they’ll even be relevant. Red Flag succeeds on both counts. With Lewis at the songwriting helm, the album is largely about love, loss, and rebirth — themes relevant to the lives of now 40-something women that also apply to their journey as a band. The album contains some of the most intimate lyrics from All Saints thus far, starting with opening track and single “One Strike,” which was inspired by the collapse of Nicole’s marriage to former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. “I don’t want to be in this home,” the girls coo over an infectious blend of R&B, electronic undertones and pitch-perfect harmonies.
Interacting synths and symphonic instrumentation channel emotional strength on the anthemic “One Woman Man” before Red Flag decelerates to a heartbreaking place on piano ballad “Who Hurt Who” and “Fear,” an album standout with stark arrangements driven by light percussion as it gradually hastens. Vocally, the girls are pristine — smooth as ever and synchronizing in harmonies heavenly as their name suggests. Their sass is firmly intact, too, showcased cheekily on the dirty groove of “Ratchet Behaviour.” The uplifting lyrics and unexpected blasts of brass on closer “Pieces” mark a strong conclusion to a journey rooted in resilience.
The triumph of Red Flag, then, is that it’s entirely contemporary while remaining true to the group’s spirit. This is not just a comeback; it’s All Saints’ best work yet. (London Records / Universal)