S Club Juniors – New Direction

Released: 7th October 2002

Writers: Gary White / Georgie Dennis / Ricky Hanley

Peak position: #2

Chart run: 2-8-9-17-25-33-47-45-51-56-75-72-71

Off the back of two consecutive #2 hits, the S Club Juniors returned with an unexpectedly brilliant third single: New Direction. If their success beforehand had been somewhat unprecedented, it’s here that the whole S Club brand was thrown on its head as the junior branch steamed decisively ahead of their seniors in spectacular fashion.

This was a significant single for the S Club Juniors because it set the tone for the next step of their career before they’d even released their debut album, Together. The overall tone of the project was more consistent with One Step Closer and Automatic High. To label it as pop music for kids isn’t entirely fair; but as a concept, it certainly felt intended to reintroduce effervescence into the S Club brand. And it had achieved that commendably, at least up until this point. New Direction, by comparison, sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s a markedly more credible diversion into electro-pop territory. Indeed, such was the positive reaction to the track, one can’t help but ponder whether, in hindsight, it might well have ended up with S Club 7 instead.

Right from the off, the tracks feels much more considered. Take those dramatic strings (all 13 seconds of them) announcing the arrival of New Direction. You don’t include something like that unless you have a big statement to make. But it’s more than that; the instrumental is accompanied by faint crackling, as though you’re listening to it on damaged vinyl. Even if it’s not to your taste, there’s no denying that a lot of thought has gone into the song. Once the beat kicks in, it’s a vibrant tapestry of blips, bleeps and synthesised popping. But unlike the bombastic production of the group’s earlier singles, it remains simmering and bubbling away in the background, providing appropriate lifts and kicks in the right places (the amplified thumping transition into the first chorus, for example). Yet, it never threatens to swallow the other elements of New Direction.

And you have to hand it to the S Club Juniors because this is a big track for them to take on and they could so easily have ended up the weak link. The lead vocals are split between Frankie Sandford and Stacey McClean; and, while it’s not necessarily a distinctive performance, in many ways that works to the song’s advantage. It creates a cohesiveness to the delivery and allows the producers to manipulate the vocals now and then, which further complement and enhance the overall package. For example, the opening of the second verse: “Needing to rediscover my identity…”, which all of a sudden goes half-robotic, before flipping back to normal. The rest of the group aren’t entirely redundant: the: “A-a-a-a-ah” backing vocals are crucially one of the main hooks in the song. The regimented: “I’ve been looking for a new direction” chants during the middle-eight are also an underrated highlight. Even the final chorus is – by pop music standards – reasonably understated, but effective, with the: “You shouldn’t have LIED, you shouldn’t have PLAYED” ad-libs gently stretching the melody a little.

The music video for New Direction is – bizarrely – Bhangra-styled. There is a faint Middle-Eastern flair to the song, but it’s certainly not strong enough for this video treatment to jump out as the most prominent concept. The main issue is probably that it’s all a bit style over substance: the opening, partially-silhouetted shot of the S Club Juniors dramatically holding a torch to a globe looks excellent, but it’s relevance to the overall narrative is unclear. The choreographed sections are one of the few times during their debut album campaign where the group look – at times – a little unsure of themselves. And then there are the magic carpet scenes. In fairness to the S Club Juniors, here they look more at ease, and it was probably a lot of fun to film. But while the previous videos made the best of a (presumably) modest budget, this one exposes it in rather unapologetic fashion; particularly when the stock green-screen footage moves from mountains and countryside to…a car park! It’s probably more jarring with this song than it would have been with the previous singles given the significant step up in quality here. There are worse music video crimes to commit; it’s not a tour footage compilation, at least. However, it all feels a bit “CBBC” for the S Club brand, which was quite unusual. Apparently, someone agrees because the video appears to have been banished from YouTube.

Nevertheless, New Direction became the S Club Juniors’ third #2 hit in a row. It was a considerable achievement, albeit accompanied by a slight air of grievance that if any of the group’s first three singles deserved a week at the top, it was probably this one. However, nothing was going to stand in the way of The Ketchup Song (Aserejé) after it was finally released in the UK having spent weeks hovering outside the top 40 on import sales alone. The immediate chart returns for New Direction are not necessarily the most significant part of the tale, though. The S Club machine was firing on all cylinders in late-2002 as the Juniors released their debut album: Together. It peaked at #5 in the UK, and just a few weeks after that, the rebranded S Club (now minus Paul Cattermole) released their new album: Seeing Double, which peaked at #17. Suddenly, there was a slightly bizarre scenario where the spin-off act was charting better than the headline group, which can’t ever have been the plan, surely?

However, while it might have muddied the waters between the two S Club acts, New Direction was an unexpectedly brilliant endeavour. The S Club Juniors already had their intended market; they didn’t need to do a song like this. But thank goodness they did.     

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Post Author: cantstopthepop