Reunions are a funny old thing, aren’t they? They either fall into the ITV2 reality-show shithole, or they frustrate us like Mutya Keisha Siobhan (genuflection, RIP, God rest all involved; the word Flatline never seemed more prescient). So when All Saints came back it was a bit of a surprise: an almost militaristic drum beat empowering the scorned-woman stance of One Strike (“Don’t need hindsight, I make my emotions clear/ And then disappear”) and we’re back in the realm of radio-friendly harmonised pop that had all but disappeared with The Saturdays. If The Saturdays’ bubblegum ever burst, that is.
One Strike is a peak the foursome don’t ever replicate on Red Flag, but damn us if the consistency of straight-up hits isn’t at an all-time high. It’s also a damning commentary on anyone in the music industry trying to sideline female artists and groups on the basis of age – All Saints never had any problems with maturity, but the choruses of songs like One Woman Man come with the battle-worn inflections of lives that have played out very publicly.
The funny thing about Red Flag is that, despite any best efforts to stave off the rose tint of nostalgia, All Saints never seem distant from who they always were. Make U Love Me is at once a brilliant guitar-pop road jam that recalls their beginnings yet still sounds perfectly fresh, an indication of both how incisive they were in the 90s and also how much of a drought there is for this kind of thing done right.
Amid some of the cheesier moments (This Is A War, a needless ballad in Who Hurt Who) there is still an obvious question to be asked at the end of it all: if the name All Saints wasn’t attached, would anyone really care? The answer is 100% yes, and it’s all in the songwriting. We’ve all lapped up Shaznay Lewis’s work with other acts but she’s clearly saved a lot of magic for herself (Puppet On A String, the barmy ebb and flow of Tribal). There’s certainly a lot of life in this group yet, and we’re happy to anoint them all patron saints of throwback pop.