Released: 22nd July 2002
Writers: Jewels & Stone / Terry Ronald / Madhoo
Peak position: #2
Chart run: 2-5-9-15-20-22-27-35-41-48-51-67-71
Let’s play a game of pop roulette. A stamping clop-clop intro plays…what song could it be? Where Did Our Love Go by The Supremes? It’s usually that. Always Have, Always Will by Ace Of Base? Sometimes, but not today. Could it even be It Must Be Love by Mero? No. It’s never that.
Then by process of elimination, it must be Automatic High by S Club Juniors (even if the excited chatter in the background is a bit of a giveaway). Entirely why that intro made such a prominent comeback in the ‘90s/’00s is unclear. But on this song at least, it’s employed with metronome-like regularity for the duration of the track.
Automatic High is arguably the ugly duckling of the S Club Juniors’ opening triumvirate of consecutive #2 singles. It’s not as rebelliously disco-tastic as One Step Closer, nor does it boast the pulsing electro-pop of New Direction. Instead, this is a cheery, retro-tinged summer holiday effort that makes such a success of being lightweight, it could well blow away on the gentle seaside breeze it evokes so well. Although sandwiched between two bigger, better songs, Automatic High is a somewhat unfairly maligned effort, for there is something adorably quaint about it. Indeed, the track is arguably a more fitting representation of S Club Juniors as a group of young teenagers.
Two major factors likely determine the degree of enjoyment to be gleaned from this single. The first is to acknowledge that what the song lacks in colossal pop hooks, it compensates for with more subtle ones. Secondly, is to consider the S Club Juniors as a group of performers, rather than a conglomerate teen posse, which is a concept some may have struggled with.
The bright, breezy veneer of Automatic High may give the impression of a track that is somewhat throwaway. But dig a little deeper, and the real beauty is the sincerity and exuberance with which the S Club Juniors engage with it. They wholeheartedly sell every moment of the material, even if the likelihood is that they do so by stepping into character, rather than reliving a profoundly personal experience. Whatever the group’s method of performance, it works. One of the best moments comes during the: “Every step, every breath, every beat of my heart coming on like a new sensation” verse. It’s delivered with such precision and shifts the song up a gear, leading into the only real big-ish vocal moment: “Automatic HI-I-I-I-I-IGH, HI-I-I-I-I-IGH”.
The climax of Automatic High is a somewhat understated affair (well, as understated as an S Club Juniors song can be). The final chorus is subject to some echoed backing vocals – and a few “Oh-oh-OH”s for good measure – but overall, it’s a relatively subtle conclusion. Perhaps that’s why the single has fared somewhat unfavourably compared to those on either side of it. However, in the right context (mainly one involving the summer months), this song still has the propensity to evoke a lot of enjoyment.
The music video for Automatic High sees the S Club Juniors jetting off to Málaga sporting some incredibly desirable branded baseball jackets (that seems like a missed merchandising opportunity…). Presumably, adult supervision was occurring somewhere off-camera because there is absolutely no way a gaggle of kids in the ‘00s has ever been that well-behaved on an overseas trip. The video is framed like a mini-musical number way before High School Musical did the exact same thing, where the girls and boys split into rival groups on the beach for a sing-off. Well, almost. The boys don’t have any prominent vocals in the song, so their role in Automatic High mainly consists of provoking the girls. There are some nice touches here though; the solo cutaways featuring members of S Club Juniors jumping against the lush oceanic backdrop are referential of the iconic ‘S’ shots from S Club Party.
There’s also a more macabre subplot, which sees miniature versions of Aaron and Jay occupying sandcastles built by Stacey and Hannah…who run away as the tide comes in, engulfing their creation, and presumably sweeping the boys to a watery demise. Questionable plot twist aside, Automatic High fits very comfortably into the sun-drenched aesthetic of the S Club franchise and gives the group ample opportunity to start developing personalities around themselves.
Automatic High peaked at #2 in the UK, firmly cementing the S Club Juniors as a chart force. With the group enjoying considerable success, questions were beginning to form about the implication for their older siblings following Paul Cattermole’s recent departure. Was it viable to have two S Club’s ruling the charts since it was now clear that the Juniors were more than a novelty spin-off? It’d take a little longer to see how that panned out (spoiler: not well), but in the meantime, Automatic High was an enjoyable addition to the S Club cannon. And one that is a worthy entry on any summer holiday playlist.