En Vogue - Born To Sing (25th Anniversary celebration)
Buy Born To Sing here (Amazon UK)
Read all my 25th anniversary celebration posts for albums from 1989 and 1990 here
The female vocal quartet En Vogue was conceived and put together by the production team of Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, both former members of Club Nouveau. In forming this group, the duo launched an act that not only embraced the sound that had paved the way for them but also bought something new to the genre by fusing hip hop, r'n'b and soulful harmonies with exquisite precision. Terry, Dawn, Cindy and Maxine were also instrumental in crafting this sumptuous sound through their stunning vocal arrangements and co-penning many of the tracks on their magnificent debut album Born To Sing. Their debut single, Hold On, was released in May 1990 in the UK (following huge success Stateside) and instantly acted as a defining song for the ladies. I first heard it on a Saturday morning music show and fell hard for their a capella rendition of Who's Loving You which opens the song before that deliriously delicious funky bass line kicks in. I was smitten. Featuring a guitar sample from James Brown's The Payback it was a triumph of classic girl group harmonies fueled by passion and emotion, and produced in a way that still sounds as fresh in 2015 as it did in 1990. One of those songs that is an effortless classic that transcends time and will become continue to be an anthem for generations of music lovers to come in the way songs by The Supremes and The Chiffons are now.
Lies was chosen as single number two and gave an elegant shimmy to the tale as old of time of errant lovers doing bad deeds and then being less than truthful about them. Once again, intricate and textured harmonies added depth and pathos to the lyrics while the laid back groove of the instrumental was still potent enough to draw you onto the dancefloor. It wasn't as successful as the all conquering debut single but that didn't mean it was any less accomplished or worthwhile; rather it may have been about the law of diminishing returns now that their album sales had started to take off. I remember being bitterly disappointed that it didn't crack the UK top 40 when it was released! You Don't Have To Worry came next and became their third consecutive US R'n'B chart topper. Cindy delivers a heavenly vocal on this track, taking it to church with her message of trust, faith and fidelity. The rest of the group coo celestially as harmonised duet partners, ensuring that they feel like angels from above giving credence to the words she sings. "I would never cheat on you" has never sounded so organically honest and believable. It was certainly they most club-infused track to date and still sounds like the massive worldwide smash it should have been. (Note - "no fear no shame", although used in the context of fidelity here, seems to be the spiritual precursor to their massive album two smash Free You Mind)...
Don't Go was single number four and found Terry taking lead vocal, demonstrating her 5 octave range on an intoxicating modern-day ballad. It's a stunning performance that is easily aided by an equally beautiful video that sees the group perform in desert backdrop with interspersed storyline images of a couple on the brink of a split. Sometimes a love is worth fighting for and it's done here with such an elegiac grace that you feel every single emotion. "Lay me down on my bed and make me feel the heat" practically deserved an R rating it's delivered with such an intense yearning. It's another of the many songs on Born To Sing that has refused to age over the passing of time. While that song may have signalled an end to the Born To Sing album campaign, it had been enough of a success that a Remix To Sing EP was released - and one of my favourite songs from Born To Sing was released a promo only single. Strange in it's original format was an intriguing dance-pop number that saw the ladies investigate the odd behaviour of their (presumably) cheating lover. I think I was most drawn to the rap in it - some critics say it hasn't aged well but I still find it as charming as I did the first time I heard it. The remix version saw a more house influenced vibe with tremendous stabbing piano chords and punctuated synths underscoring the refrain.
There are many other treasures to be found on the original album and remix EP - Hip Hop Bugle Boy may only be 50 seconds in length but gives a gleefully En Vogue take on the classic track; Time Goes On was another dance smash in waiting (and ergo, was one of the few album only tracks to end up on the remix) with a hypnotic clock ticking beat that all but compels you to sashay your way onto the nearest dance floor; Just Can't Stay Away is a peerless cover that tugs on your every heart string; and Silent Night (Happy Holiday Mix) on the Japan release of Remix To Sing brings a spectacular remake of the holiday standard that surely inspired TLC's Sleigh Ride on the Home Alone 2 soundtrack a year later. All in all Born To Sing remains the standard by which all girl group debuts should be measured - and still offers musical rewards for those looking to reap them. Amazing.