Released: 3rd April 2000
Writers: Mark Topham / Karl Twigg
Peak position: #4
Chart run: 4-10-12-18-23-32-38-48-60
With their second album, Steptacular, a certified chart-success, Steps has established themselves as one of the UK’s A-list pop groups. They had a formula that worked and didn’t need to do anything differently at this stage. However, such was the momentum behind the group, that it was the perfect time to take calculated risks, and Deeper Shade Of Blue represented the first significant shift in Steps’ image and sound.
Remixes had long formed a part of the overall package for Steps; the majority of their singles contained a slew of them and the recent digital re-release of The Last Dance shows they hold enduring appeal. Sonically, Deeper Shade Of Blue was the group’s first attempt to create a track that contained remix/club elements within its very DNA, and it stood out like a sore thumb on Steptacular, in the best possible way. It was no coincidence that the song was there, either and it’s presence on the album was not a victimless crime. Deeper Shade Of Blue had initially belonged to Tina Cousins but was never released because – presumably – it was quickly earmarked for Steps. Even in its original form, with a prominent Flamenco flourish and less aggressive production, the track showed potential as one that could steer the group in a bold new direction.
It’s an immediate switch of gear, for several reasons. Firstly, it set out a new status quo for Steps, where H and Claire split the lead vocals; a dynamic that would guide the group through the remainder of the Steptacular campaign and into their next album. There is, however, also a continuation of the shift we heard in Say You’ll Be Mine with the entire group audible on the chorus. H and Claire are more prominent, but there is nonetheless a sense of Steps performing as a collective.
The other notable difference is in the tone that Deeper Shade Of Blue strikes from the off. For the first time, the moroseness of the lyrics was reflected in the sound of the song; the thumping club beat creates a brooding darkness that was quite unlike anything Steps had attempted before. Perhaps even more surprising was just how naturally the group adapted to it; there is a real sense that this was more akin to the kind of music they would have preferred to be making if they had the choice.
Lyrically, Deeper Shade Of Blue is up there with Steps’ very best; it’s deliciously and unrelentingly miserable as sin, and all the better for it. There are some really great lines, particularly the opening gambits to each verse: “Into each life some rain must fall, I didn’t know I would catch it all” and: “Into each life some sun must shine, well someone else must be getting mine”. Disco-heartbreak may well have been familiar territory for the group, but for the first time, it wasn’t offset against a cheery production. The track instead wallows – unashamedly – in self-pity and resigned despair; it’s a total mood-piece and one that showed Steps could reach far beyond where they’d been neatly pigeon-holed.
As if to further prove that point, while Deeper Shade Of Blue is perfectly realised in its original form, it also gave birth to some phenomenal remixes that are among the group’s very best. The Sleazesisters Mix turned to the song into a hyper-energetic trance anthem, while the W.I.P. Mix took the core elements of Deeper Shade Of Blue and explored them further in an epic, extended atmospheric version of the song. Needless to say, the vocoder applied to Claire’s: “You’re so fa-a-a-ar away” remains an absolute high-point within the group’s oeuvre.
The music video for Deeper Shade Of Blue was brilliantly executed and the perfect accompaniment to the song itself. It finds Steps initially kitted out in PVC flight attendant outfits – blue, of course – that look incredibly uncomfortable. Indeed, far from being the high-camp affair that such a concept would usually demand, the video is shot in an over-exposed manner that makes the aesthetic feel harsh and cold. It all starts to make much more sense when the concept becomes clear; this was Steps as they’d never been seen before, with each member of the group undergoing a dark, trippy transformation.
It’s the antithesis of the image they typically portrayed, and their alter-ego personas are not flattering (except Lee, who looks incredible). For a mainstream pop group, Deeper Shade Of Blue brought Steps perilously close to boundary-pushing. Even the dance routine is stylised; it’s still easy-to-follow, of course, but the movements are much more angular than usual. There’s a spikiness to it that is almost robotic in its performance. In terms of scope, this was one of the most self-contained music videos from the Steptacular album campaign, but it was easily one of the most adventurous and ambitious.
Deeper Shade Of Blue was another solid hit for Steps, peaking at #4 in the UK. It was a relatively modest performance by the group’s usual standards. But that’s somewhat unsurprising given the huge sales of Steptacular (which returned to the Top 20 in response to the single) and the fact that the song was mostly unchanged from the album version. However, in terms of the group’s legacy, Deeper Shade Of Blue was a significant moment. The aesthetic and sound were one of adults making music for adults, which piqued the interest of critics who had been otherwise dismissive of Steps. Moreover, it set a template for future forays into the moody dance-pop genre; the likes of You’ll Be Sorry, Glitter and Gold and H & Claire’s own Nothing At All inherently cut from the same cloth.
But there is only one Deeper Shade Of Blue. What started life as the curio of Steptacular has gone on to become an iconic and integral part of Steps, and they wouldn’t be quite the same group without it.