With teen pop trends changing ever more rapidly, the forces behind S Club 7 took action: just ten months after the release of their debut S Club, the inevitably named follow-up 7 arrived. However, in a misguided attempt to make the group's prefab pop sound more mature, 7 ditched their debut's fun, bouncy style in favor of by-the-numbers ballads and a forced eclecticism, both of which muddied S Club 7's sound instead of expanding it. Though their songs were never as recognizable as Britney, Christina, Backstreet, or 'N Sync's, S Club's cheerful, more innocent style at least set them apart from the rest of the teen pop B-list. But by adopting the poses of the style's bigger stars -- as on the Britney-esque "Natural" and the boy-band-lite "Best Friend" -- S Club 7 ends up sounding more faceless than before. Anonymous ballads like "Lately" and "Never Had a Dream Come True" emphasize the fact that the group's voices aren't as strong or interesting as those of teen pop's stars; the would-be dance-pop anthems "Bring the House Down" and "Love Train" (thankfully, not a cover of the O'Jays' classic) confirm just how thin the septet's pipes are. Worse, 7's first half never settles into a comfortable groove. Instead, the album skips from "I'll Keep Waiting"'s fusion of sugary pop, reggae, and hip-hop to "All in Love Is Fair," a lite version of contemporary R&B that whitewashes everything about the style, down to the syncopated, Timbaland-style beats. Wanting to showcase the band's range is understandable, but the disappointing results only prove how little they grew in the ten months between their first and second albums. However, 7 doesn't completely dispose of S Club's fun, carefree sound: "Reach" is a brassy update of the Partridge Family's bubblegum charm, while "Cross My Heart" is a slick pop confection that proves that the group's vocals can have some oomph to them. "I'll Be There" reaches all the way back to the Spice Girls for its fluffy inspiration, and despite its awkward title, "The Colour of Blue" is a shiny pop trifle that sounds like Sheena Easton or Olivia Newton-John could've sung it back in the day. Though S Club 7's fans will undoubtedly gobble up 7 as eagerly as they did S Club, some of them may notice that this time around, the group's candy-coated pop is considerably blander. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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