Dubstar must have been pretty nervous fifteen years ago when releasing their third album Make it Better. After the success of Disgraceful (1995), their second album Goodbye (1997) had been less accomplished but still performed well, and now they were back with a completely new sound. How would it perform?
Fortunately, the opening track Take It is absolutely brilliant. What a way to kick the new album off! It’s huge, full of enormous synth lines and a great catchy chorus. To call it a return to form would be unfair, as they were always pretty good, but it’s definitely a good start.
Lead single I, here without its subtitle (Friday Night), comes next. In a way, it’s a curious choice for lead single – there are plenty of others which might have been better, but at the very least it really would have made people prick up their ears and listen.
Ultimately this album’s tale isn’t entirely a happy one, just because it would be Dubstar‘s last, and second single The Self Same Thing is a reminder of this – it’s a lovely song, but it was tucked away as a non-chart-qualifying release (admittedly with some great b-sides). But for all its hidden melancholy, this is a great album, as the cover version of Mercury proves. Driven by a catchy guitar riff and full of droning noises, this is a very different Dubstar from the band we knew an album or so ago.
Stay, with its slightly existential statement that Sarah (Blackwood) will Make it Better, is a fun diversion, although it does feel as though the later “Let daddy make it better” line might be a little bit sinister. This is definitely a schizophrenic collection.
Another Word takes you back to the 1960s somehow with its strangely retro sound, and then When the World Knows Your Name is a curious, introspective piece. Arc of Fire is nearly extremely good, but is let down by a rather awkward melody line.
Tucked away towards the end is the lovely Believe in Me, undoubtedly the best song on this album. This is a great little guitar-based pop piece, although it does take you back to 2000 slightly with a reminder that everyone else in the pop world had really “done” indie by this stage and were moving back to electronic music. Dubstar‘s noisy period seems to have come at slightly the wrong time unfortunately.
The previous album Goodbye had suffered a little from including too many tracks, and Make it Better seems to have a bit of filler too. I’m Conscious of Myself is fun, but Rise to the Top is, possibly for the first and last time in their career, really not that great.
Then, finally, we get the lovely Swansong, the closing track both of this album and also pretty much of this trio’s career. It’s a lovely piece about regrets and memories, and it does actually make for a rather sad listen now, so many years later. Their career barely lasted half a decade, but they should definitely be remembered with fondness.
Even now, fifteen years on, there is intermittent talk of a Dubstar comeback, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. But they were great in the 1990s, and even in 2000 they were good, so maybe the time for them to return has finally come.
You can still find Make it Better through all the normal places.