Dubstar – Goodbye

Twenty years ago this week, and just a year and a half after their popularity had exploded with Not So Manic NowDubstar returned with their second album, the huge pop collection Goodbye.

It opens with third single I Will Be Your Girlfriend, an edgy, acid-infested, guitar-driven piece which would sneak to number 28 on the charts six months after the release of the album. Then the curiously baroque Inside comes next.

Dubstar were always prolific – each single came with at least two or three b-sides – and this is the album where they seemed to have decided to push as much as possible onto the album, so you get fifteen tracks here in total. A lot of them aren’t too great, bluntly.

The opening single No More Talk is not one of them – easily the best of the three singles on here, it was actually one of their biggest hits of their career. Rightly so – it’s fantastic. This is what Dubstar should be: creative, inventive, and unapologetic pop music.

Polestar is pleasant, and then we get the catchy pop of Say the Worst Thing First, followed by the jaunty second single Cathedral Park, which just missed out on a top 40 placing shortly before the album’s release. Unfortunately its lack of success isn’t entirely surprising – it’s a fun 1960s pop-styled song, but it’s a little lacking in memorable hooks, and pop wasn’t exactly fashionable in 1997 anyway.

One of the most interesting things about Dubstar‘s first album had been its unique and provocative sleeve design, which was explored in more commercial terms across the singles as well. Goodbye continued this theme, with the somewhat disturbing electric armchair sleeve design.

In spite of the message, It’s Over is probably my favourite song on here – there’s something about the delivery, the creepy warped synth sound, and the rhythmic bass and drums, that come together to make something rather beautifully twisted.

Next we get an updated version of The View from Here, previously one of the b-sides to Elevator Song. Now fully perfected, it’s another great pop song – there are definitely plenty of them on here.

But there’s a lot of filler too – none of My Start in WallsendIt’s Clear, or Ghost are anything particularly special. Eventually we make it to track 12 of 15, the catchy Can’t Tell Me. Surely this could have been a single? Although quite what the sleeve artwork might have ended up looking like is anybody’s guess.

There are three more tracks after that – the entirely forgettable Wearchest, the catchier and snappier When You Say Goodbye, and closing track Let’s Go, which isn’t too memorable either. It’s definitely pretty much over by this stage. It’s not even a long album, either – but somehow there are a few too many tracks.

So Goodbye is a strong second album, even if it certainly could have done with a little more time being taken to get it right and trim out some of the filler. Where Disgraceful was a perfect slice of 1990s pop, and Make it Better was a challenging work, Goodbye definitely occupies the middle ground. For better or for worse.

You can still find Goodbye at all major retailers, such as this one.


Retro chart for stowaways – 15 May 2004

I’m off on my holidays at the moment, so here’s the album chart from twelve years ago this week!

  1. Air – Talkie Walkie
  2. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  3. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  4. Dido – Life for Rent
  5. Erlend Øye – Erlend Øye – DJ-Kicks
  6. Zero 7 – When It Falls
  7. Sugababes – Three
  8. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of Dubstar
  9. Bent – Programmed to Love
  10. Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven

Technique – Pop Philosophy

This week fifteen years ago saw the somewhat belated release of Technique‘s debut album Pop Philosophy. A two-piece consisting of infamous Creation Records boss Alan McGee‘s wife Kate Holmes and singer Xan Tyler, they secured the production talents of Stephen Hague, supported Depeche Mode on their Exciter tour in some parts of the world, and were pretty close to finding fame when everything seems to have gone a bit wrong. But more on that later.

The album opens with Sun is Shining, a sweet and simple pop song which is every bit as good as anything else that was on the charts in the mid-1990s. It’s uplifting, cheery, and frankly brilliant. This was also their first single, peaking at number 64 in 1999.

The second single follows, You and Me, which followed a few months later and peaked at number 56, and is another great pop song. So what went wrong exactly? Honestly, I suspect they were just too late. They weren’t alone – Peach suffered similarly by trying to enter the “clever synthpop” realm in 1996, and they failed to capture the popular imagination. Why would Technique have fared any better?

Ultimately, the only reason this album seems to exist is a 2000 Cantonese cover version of You + Me, which caused enough interest in the original for people to want to own the two singles, the five other complete tracks, and two remixes by Matt Darey. Those other five tracks are good, although there isn’t really anything up to the standard of either of the singles here. Unity of Love is a pleasant enough song, as is Wash Away My Tears, but there isn’t a lot else that you can say about them.

There are others which show potential – There’s No Other Way is pretty good. Deep and Blue is pleasant enough, although lyrically it’s a bit… well, I want to call it “wet”, but the lyrics are about the deep blue sea, which makes me even worse. Quiet Storm is bloody awful, but it’s the only thing on here that is.

I had always assumed the somewhat makeshift track listing was due to the band not having finished much else, but it turns out that there’s an earlier version of the album with a whole load of other songs on it. Maybe they just picked out the least bad ones for this release. Who knows?

Either way, history may have forgotten Technique, but this one little album isn’t at all a bad way to remember them. If nothing else, it’s worth having for Sun is Shining and You and Me, as well as the remixes of each of them. Honestly these are both fairly typical Matt Darey trance mixes – they start off with just a kick drum on every beat, and slowly grow into something enormous. They’re nothing particularly groundbreaking, it’s true, but they’re great nonetheless.

Oh, and if you were wondering what happened next… well, Xan Tyler was unable to turn up for the Depeche Mode tour, so Dubstar‘s Sarah Blackwood was draughted in at the last minute. Technique then rebranded as the briefly brilliant Client, and gained a sizeable cult following before eventually Xan Tyler turned up again in 2011 as Sarah Blackwood‘s replacement. Yes, I know it’s confusing – just nod politely…

You can still find Pop Philosophy on import from major retailers, such as here.

Looking back at 2015

As always, we started the year with some bold predictions about what 2015 might hold. Let’s see how accurate they actually were!


We jumped into the New Year by marking post number 909, just because…


We finally finished our comprehensive history of the BRIT Awards! You can read the Complete Guide here.


March saw us revisit the archives of this blog and everything that came before it, with reviews of Depeche ModeEnigmaErasure, and others.


In April, we celebrated the 1000th post on this blog. Awesome. Quantity rulez.


May saw exciting new releases from Jean-Michel JarreHot Chip and Leftfield – which is a lot to fit into one month.


June saw us rolling back to the early 1980s, and reviewing a-ha and OMD.


As the official UK charts officially moved to Fridays, we celebrated our third anniversary and gave up on Sunday posting (probably for the sabbath, or something).


August for stowaways saw reviews of oldies from Goldfrapp and Dubstar!


September finally saw the last installment (for now) of our Beginner’s guide series. Collect the full set here!


October this year saw us counting down to the Q Awards and the Mercury Prize!


November saw the introduction of a brand new feature on this blog, Vinyl Moments – which hopefully will be back soon!


Sees us celebrating the Christmas and New Year period yet again. As the Germans say, have a good slide into 2016!

Dubstar – Make it Better

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.