NME (Magazine) - "They return to their roots for the addictive '90s swing of `Make U Love Me'..."
Photographer: Alice Fisher.
All Saints' fourth album Red Flag -- their first in a decade -- is both a step forward and a step back for the British-Canadian group. They've moved past 2006's lackluster comeback Studio 1, while simultaneously resurrecting the authentic spirit that brought them fame in the late '90s. For the first time, the songs are all arranged by the group without label input (Shaznay Lewis wrote all but one of the tracks here). As such, the women sound liberated and joyful. The quartet's harmonizing is in top form -- an essential part of their allure when they debuted as street-smart, down-to-earth alternatives to the Spice Girls -- allowing the Appleton sisters, Melanie Blatt, and Lewis to shine in a way that was lost on Studio 1. Red Flag revisits the soulful vibe of early hits "Never Ever" and "I Know Where It's At," updating it with maturity and focus, like on "Puppet on a String" and "Make U Love Me." The album's biggest successes are grand pop statements, like the fierce one-two punch of openers "One Strike" and "One Woman Man," a pair of highlights concerning Nicole Appleton's split from Liam Gallagher. Life's heartbreaks pop up elsewhere, like on the powerfully cathartic, midtempo numbers "Summer Rain" and "This Is a War." Despite the reflective content, Red Flag isn't entirely bogged down by sadness; rather, the mood is elevated with a live-and-learn attitude that makes Red Flag all the more empowering. While front-loaded with potential singles, the second half sees All Saints stepping into new territory. The dancehall vibe on "Ratchet Behaviour" is their take on No Doubt, while the title track amps up the intensity with tribal chants and an earth-rumbling trip-hop throb. The starkest moment sneaks in on the Blatt-penned "Who Hurt Who," a stripped-down heartbreaker that recalls the sadder moments of Natalie Imbruglia's Come to Life. "Tribal" floats off on a stream-of-consciousness journey that flows into the closer, "Pieces," a triumphant swell of orchestration and harmony. Rather than clinging to the past and nostalgia, All Saints' sound has matured with confidence -- much like Kylie Minogue's or Melanie C's -- resulting in an album that is both secure and content. ~ Neil Z. Yeung