Bathing in good reviews and – according to whispers on Twitter dot com – looking like a lock for a Top 2 placement on next week’s album chart; Steps‘ What The Future Holds is one of the last exciting album releases of 2020.
Now, being a pop-loving gay means being a sucker for a good ranking, so – based on first impressions over the last 24-or-so hours – how do the record’s 12 songs stack up? (Yes, the extended version of the title track has been omitted).
Here we go. Watch me change my mind dramatically over the coming days and weeks.
12. Father’s Eyes
There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with this song; I respect it, I enjoy it, I like the deep dark synth that plods underneath the second verse… But on the first couple of listens, it’s dwarfed by more exciting things happening elsewhere, and on a collection that’s so joyfully robust, this is the closest it comes to having a ‘skip’.
11. Under My Skin
A nice big chorus, a couple of contemporary flourishes in the production, a pleasing amount of yearning in the vocals… it’s just that weird echoey oboe-fart that stops it from being higher up. Still, it makes much more sense here, in the context of the full album, than it did as an isolated buzz single a few weeks ago.
A slick, dreamy little song with a cute message about “[keeping] your head in the clouds”, its strength is its sweet parent-talking-to-a-kid energy. With that in mind, it would probably hit harder for me personally if I wasn’t a childless homosexual, but I know a likeable heartfelt ditty when I hear one, and this is certainly that. Plus, you should never scoff at anything with a post-chorus!
9. Hold My Heart
Oh, a PROPER downtempo moment, this. A good torch song is always welcome, in my eyes (ears?); and while a couple of these lyrics and rhyming couplets are a little on the basic side, some of them are great (Lee’s verse is probably my favourite) and it’s delivered with an endearing amount of #emotion. Do you think when they do it on tour they’ll sit on a staircase and look at each-other meaningfully? I hope so. I’m a sucker for earnest shit like that.
8. Don’t You Leave Us Halfway
Put “you do what you do, then you get what you get” in a squiggly font over an arty photo of a meadow, stat!! I like this; the topline and the prominent piano remind me very much of Neon Blue. While it doesn’t quite have that song’s instantly uplifting firepower, it’s a loveable bop that lends itself really well to repeated listens.
7. Come And Dance With Me
You can just SEE the sun-scorched video for this, can’t you? A natural 2020 successor to Summer Of Love. It makes me want to wear something skimpy, neck a trough of sangria and make a disgraced spectacle of myself.
6. What The Future Holds
Following Scared Of The Dark in the lead single department was always going to be a tough job, and while What The Future Holds does feel like it might have sounded fresher six or seven years ago (“one foot in the past, and one foot in the slightly more recent past”), it’s still an undeniable banger with a pleasing amount of DRAMA in the production. And I love the video.
5. One Touch
Firstly, One Touch is a great name for a pop song (Mini Viva, Julie Bergen and Sugababes 1.0 send their regards!). Secondly, this is one of the big feelgood moments of the album, with huge Eurobanger energy – never not a good thing. The “hold me through the rain!” bit is Pop Euphoria 101, and I feel like it’ll properly take off in a live show.
4. Heartbreak In This City
This is a such a classic Steps deep cut. Do you know what I mean? It just sounds like, with a couple of tweaks, it could have fitted nicely on to any one of their previous four albums (yes I said four, Light Up The World is not canon in this house!). Excellent ‘repeat one’ potential, and a great title, too.
3. To The One
I read someone, somewhere (soz to whomstever that was) saying that this reminded them of turn-of-the-millennium Kylie Minogue, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s wistful but danceable, euphoric but tear-stained… it’s everything a 30+ gay could want from a pop song.
2. Something In Your Eyes
This has been compared to ABBA a lot, but if we’re talking about “contemporary songs that could be ABBA”, I think we’re actually in A*Teens territory, which is an extremely good thing. Originally released by Jenny Silver as a potential Swedish Eurovision entry in 2011 (Popular by Eric Saade got the ticket in the end), it’s a sparkling, Push The Button-friendly belter with strong harmonies, a huge chorus and, most importantly of all!!!, a gay-as-balls key change. Glorious.
1. To The Beat Of My Heart
This chaotic Xenomania ~vibe is a really fun fit for Steps: it’s a great stablemate for, say, Saara Aalto’s My Touch, the binned Amelia Lily album, or – yes! – Mollie King’s Hair Down (fitting, seeing as this was apparently written for her solo record). As with the best Xenobangers, it’s a cracking patchwork of wild ideas: the high pre-chorus, the massive refrain, the bit that goes “in the DARK“… it’s just an instant shot of serotonin, a song BEGGING for some lively choreography, and – in my view – the standout moment of the lot.