The album you never knew you needed...

Things you hope you’ll get from a new Steps album in 2017:

1. A title with a terrible pun on the name Steps
2. Um…

Having apparently failed at the first hurdle, we’re then forced to confront the question of what we want from the first album of original material in 17 years by the pop quintet. Frequently derided in their commercial heyday, Steps nonetheless had a long run of consecutive hit singles and have had three chart-topping albums (okay, two of them were greatest hits compilations, but let’s not split hairs).

The most successful comeback from a 1990s pop band is obviously Take That’s, but that’s not really a template Steps can follow. Pop paradigms can be fairly rigid, and while boy bands can grow into sensitive man bands, the same can’t be said for a mixed gender group who were always more about out-and-out pop tunes. Plus, no-one wants brooding, insular ballads from Steps, a statement that holds particularly true for those of us who still bear the emotional scars from being subjected to their losing-your-virginity confessional, ‘Experienced’, nearly 20 years ago.

Similarly, trying to keep pace with current trends would be just as embarrassing. Four fifths of Steps are in their forties now, and while that shouldn’t theoretically matter, the thought of them attempting to duet with Drake or incorporating a guest verse from Migos is utterly cringeworthy.

So does that leave Steps pigeonholed into attempts to repeat the formula of their biggest hits, which were, let’s not forget, a whole generation in the past? Well, yes and no. Somehow they pull of the trick of being unmistakably Steps while conjuring a feeling of welcome nostalgia rather than sounding naff and dated. In short, ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ is packed to the rafters with absolute bangers. Opener ‘Scared Of The Dark’ sets the mood with a thudding four-to-the-floor beat, replete with a bass drum that reassuringly whumps like a sledgehammer, and a killer chorus. And then it just goes on like that… and on… for ten tracks.

And the best thing is that it’s tremendous fun. Steps are under no illusions or pretensions and, at this point in their career, they’ve probably made the best album they could make. Sure, it’s got “drunken office Christmas party” written all over it, and it’s probably aimed at a fanbase who now spend a disproportionate amount of their time worrying about primary school catchment areas, but the hooks are so strong and the melodies so joyous that it’s a welcome reminder that there’s always time to switch off.

Like Pet Shop Boys and arguably Saint Etienne before them, Steps have shown that there is a direction for dancefloor-oriented bands to go once they’re deemed too old for Radio 1. They’re continuing a fine disco tradition and, at this point in time, are probably the closest thing we have to ABBA. ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ doesn’t rewrite any rules, it doesn’t make you think and it doesn’t address the current state of the world. But sometimes, none of that matters. Now if we could just get an awful play on words into the name of the LP, it truly would be mission accomplished.

7/10

Words: Joe Rivers

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