Released: 7th June 1999
Writers: Paul Barry / Mark Taylor
Peak position: #12
Chart run: 12-20-30-39-53-58-73
Still riding the crest of an unprecedented return to the top of the charts, Cher released All Or Nothing as the third single from her comeback album. And while it didn’t quite match the commercial peak of its predecessors, it remains one of her most beautifully melancholic moments.
The strategy behind Cher’s comeback was – until this point – flawlessly executed. Choosing the disco-inspired Strong Enough as the second single was an excellent swerve that avoided any direct comparisons with Believe. But there was an inevitability with which that moment would arrive, and All Or Nothing was it. Actually, the shadow that such an iconic song cast over the track wasn’t quite the albatross around its neck that one might have expected. Believe – by this point – was much more than just a big hit. It was a colossal phenomenon that was scaling many all-time sales charts. Its success was on a scale that few acts ever experience, and the like of which don’t come along all that often. All Or Nothing wasn’t trying to be bigger or better than Believe, and no-one was expecting it to be. Instead, it embraces the disco-heartbreak mood and carves its own identity. There’s no denying the two tracks share similarities. But they’re definitely not the same.
The most immediately striking aspect of All Or Nothing is how much it escalates the sense of desolate melancholy. A decade later and this was almost the default by which pop music was constructed, but back in the late ‘90s, it stood out as quite distinctive. The production is breathtaking; it pinches at the psyche and is easily as evocative – if not more so – than any contribution made by the vocals. That’s to take nothing away from Cher’s performance, but the production on All Or Nothing is sublime. From the aching synths to the juddering, pulsing bassline and the flourishes of blips and bleeps; the instrumental track is an emotional experience in its own right.
Accordingly, the track also dials up to a level of almost poetic misery in its lyrics: “I’ve been trying to get to your heart, but I’m chasing shadows; we keep falling further apart, so near and you’re so far”. Cher’s reading of the song doesn’t quite bring the same degree of hurt; in places, it’s curiously – if deliberately – functional. It appears almost as if the intention was to lay down a vocal track that could be subjected to the same auto-tune treatment as Believe. On the album version, that never happens and the decision to maintain an (almost) entirely human presence on the track shows that Cher’s grasp of dance music extended far beyond the bells and whistles provided by the producers.
During the middle-eight, All Or Nothing develops a palpable sense of gravitas; you can hear the dejection in her voice as she ruminates: “Sometimes when you touch me, I just can’t help myself, desire makes me weak…”. The way the filtered echo then envelops her vocals: “…desire makes me weak-weak-weak-weak…” feels like a tumble into the depths of despair. The rapid drum beat and swell in the music as Cher recovers for the final chorus is utterly euphoric. At that moment, the track is every bit as fist-clenchingly triumphant as Believe.
At this point, you might wonder why on earth we’re focusing on the album version. After all, it was the Metro Mix – with its more liberal application of auto-tune – that was used for the music video and live performances. Indeed, this mix was the one released as a single in most territories. But not the UK. Someone here clearly objected to the fact that the remix drew out All Or Nothing’s similarities to Believe and amplified them. However true that may be, it’s still a brilliant take on the song, with additional: “Desire makes me weak…” vocals at the end alongside an incredible instrumental outro full of misty-eyed yearning. Nevertheless, it was the album version that was played on the radio and released as a single here.
That wasn’t the only aspect of All Or Nothing that was handled in a puzzling way either. To find fault with the Believe campaign at this point was arguably futile. It had confounded – and thoroughly exceeded – expectations against all the odds. But the music video for this single was a bit of a muddle. It’s a tour video (and you know how we feel about those), but that in itself wasn’t the issue. Considering Cher was busy preparing to kick off her first shows in almost a decade, it’s reasonable that filming a music video would not be high on her list of priorities. The problem arose from the fact that the Do You Believe? tour didn’t start until nine days after All Or Nothing was released in the UK and Europe, which meant there was no music video available in the build-up to the single’s release. We got one – eventually – but until then, a montage was compiled from the two previous videos and used as a stopgap. For a campaign orchestrated so magnificently, this all felt like an avoidable palaver that could have been avoided by delaying the release of the single a few weeks. Particularly when the result was little more than a promotional trailer for the tour, which wasn’t due to hit the UK for another four months.
Whether the absence of a (proper) music video – or the decision to stick with the album version – cost All Or Nothing a place in the top ten, we’ll never know. But it came tantalisingly close, peaking at #12 in the UK. Considering the track had neither the novelty of Cher’s comeback nor the surprise of her tackling another new musical direction, it was a decent performance. And perhaps more importantly, it prompted an upsurge in the album, which returned to the Top 20. Unlike the previous singles, however, All Or Nothing failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100 in America (it did top the dance chart, at least) and wasn’t a major hit anywhere. But in terms of the song’s legacy, Cher continues to perform it on her tours, ensuring that however underrated the track might be, it’s certainly not forgotten.
All Or Nothing has aged incredibly well; thematically and musically it embraced a sound and style that pop music really grew into during the proceeding years. Perhaps more importantly, it was a showcase for Cher’s ability to use her new direction – a genre too often dismissed as shallow and superficial – to create a song that could reach inside oneself and evoke an emotional response.