Released: 10th October 2005
Writers: Ben Adams / Guy Chambers
Peak position: #13
Chart run: 13-47
When Lisa Scott-Lee found herself without a record deal after her second single Too Far Gone peaked at #11 – and a guest spot on Intenso Project’s Get It On failed to turn things around – she refused to go down without a fight. She landed an opportunity to star in a reality TV show on MTV with the premise that it would be capturing her attempt to stage a comeback. But it came with a very high price…
It’s almost entirely possible to discuss the release of Electric while barely mentioning the song itself, such is the minor role that the track itself played in the whole palaver. On paper, this was a lucrative opportunity; MTV commissioned a show to document Lisa Scott-Lee and her family as she sought to re-build her solo career after it was prematurely curtailed following the release of Too Far Gone. Totally Scott-Lee did indeed lead to some brilliant moments, like Nana Scott-Lee asking Michelle Hylton (who appeared alongside her then-boyfriend Andy Scott-Lee and approached the whole thing with an obvious sense of disdain) “What are you doing now Michelle, I haven’t heard much about you lately”. And of course, there was Lisa Scott-Lee’s now-infamous “But we’re B-list at Capital” response to her ill-fated collaboration with Intenso Project achieving a midweek position of #23. Totally Scott-Lee in its own right was entertaining and would have been a passable mid-decade reality TV venture for Lisa. However, the show came with strings attached, and that’s where it leaves a sour taste.
The obligation attached to Totally Scott-Lee was that Lisa Scott-Lee would launch a new single as the series culminated. Not a problem so far. But somewhere along the line, the fine print suddenly stipulated that if the track didn’t reach the Top 10, she would quit the music industry for good. Consequently, Totally Scott-Lee came to represent the very worst of the mid-‘00s contempt shown towards pop music. From Zane Lowe’s sneering intro (seriously, fuck you) to the ‘light-hearted’ theme tune (“So here’s a story of a family, it’s a game of make or break…’cos they all know how to get dropped”), the whole thing frames Lisa Scott-Lee as deluded and desperate. Absolutely no-one involved in this show – beyond the people starring in it – was looking for it to succeed. This was an exercise in setting someone up to fail and capturing the whole thing on television so that everyone could point and laugh at her before saying “I told you so”. It’s a thoroughly nasty concept that relishes in being cruel. The fact that Lisa Scott-Lee subjected herself to ritual humiliation just for another crack at the charts shows what being a pop star meant to her and how much MTV manipulated the situation to try and score a cheap laugh at her expense.
So, then we come to Electric itself. While the release of a single became the central pillar to Totally Scott-Lee, there was never any sense that the song itself really mattered in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that is, in part, because the show was very transparent about Lisa Scott-Lee not wanting to release it. Her preference was Never Or Now; but with only one label – Concept Records – willing to fund the single, she wasn’t in a position to argue. And either way, it felt as if this was a case of having to make do with what was available, rather than starting from the point of having a killer track.
It’s not hard to see why the label would have favoured Electric. The track had some hefty songwriting talent behind it in Guy Chambers and Ben Adams (of a1), although neither has been particularly forthcoming in claiming this as their best work. It very much aims at the lowest common denominator; and while Lisa Scott-Lee successfully pulled off the sex-kitten image with Lately and Too Far Gone, there’s no attempt at subtlety here: “If you want me then later, I’ll buzz like a vibrator, an energy creator”. For the sake of the single, she fully committed to it, but however great the lyric: “Duracell got nothing on me” is, you can’t help but feel that overall this is far cruder an image than Lisa would have wanted to project if the circumstances were different. Unfortunately, any attempt that Electric made to court controversy was almost immediately thwarted because radio and TV playlisters soon cottoned on to what the song was about and promptly cut it to shreds. Lines like: “Make me come, pull my wire” and even parts of the chorus: “You know you’re turning me on, and I’m-a ready to blow” were soon omitted and replaced with the: “Oh! Oh! Oh!” backing vocals, which wasn’t quite the showcase that Electric needed.
Yet, this is not a song without value. Few capture so vividly the bind that pop music was in during the mid-‘00s, as Electric exists trapped somewhere between a pulsing dance track and a glam-rock anthem. It never sounds entirely comfortable; the lyrics are shoehorned in with awkward phrasing, and the vocals are processed to within an inch of their life, to the point where each part of the song sounds like it’s sung by a different person – and none of them Lisa Scott-Lee. Yet, somehow, against the odds, it works in a completely dysfunctional way. The whispered: “Touch me, I’m electric” hook is impossible to resist, thanks in no small part due to the fact that it’s knowingly showered generously across the track. Similarly, the metronomic beat is hypnotic in its regularity, and there’s a rough, unwashed energy to the whole thing that is entirely befitting of the period in which it was released.
Despite having lost so much creative control over Electric, Lisa Scott-Lee might, at the very least, have taken some consolation from the music video. Having been bluntly told during Totally Scott-Lee that sexualising her image would garner press attention – something she tearfully pushed back on – the visuals are nowhere near as explicit as the song. This is, understandably, a low-budget affair, but one that focuses mostly on performance. Again, it’s somewhat symptomatic of the era and the popularity of indie and rock that the video opted to portray Lisa in this way. No-one was attempting to suggest that she – or Electric – was either of those things, but in terms of image, her team was right in so far as the video needed to fit with the chart landscape. And it does; the occasionally grainy quality and superimposed sound waves help create an aesthetic that emulates the unpolished, authentic presentation of the tracks around it at the time.
It was a long journey to the release date of the single, and after weeks of build-up, Electric peaked at #13 in the UK. The ‘reveal’ came as a surprise to no-one since the midweek chart position was well publicised. Nonetheless, Lisa Scott-Lee duly turned up at the MTV studios to hear her fate. Yet, however visibly uncomfortable she appeared while waiting for the outcome to be announced, things could have been much worse. When Lisa discovered that the plan was for the presenters to read out a list of every act that had finished ahead of her, she was (rightly) livid and refused to participate in such an unnecessary exercise in abject humiliation. The compromise – a reveal of her chart position only – was still portrayed as a failure, accompanied by mournful music and a bouquet of flowers in commiseration. Objectively speaking, sales were pretty low by this point and so by rights, Lisa Scott-Lee probably should have been able to sell more than 8,100 copies of Electric with a reality TV show behind her. But therein lies the issue; MTV weren’t behind Lisa at all; they were actively working against her to create an event where people would tune in to see whether she kept her promise – you know, the one she never expressly made – and quit the industry.
In the aftermath, Lisa Scott-Lee turned her attention to the international market and finally got around to (digitally) releasing her long-awaited debut album – Never Or Now – in 2007. It wasn’t a perfect product; there’s a clear split between the dance tracks salvaged from the abandoned Unleashed project and the newer recordings which were more pop-rock. But nonetheless, it is absolutely right that Never Or Now saw the light of day because few pop stars have ever committed so much blood, sweat and tears into getting an album released.
While Electric marked the end of Lisa Scott-Lee’s solo career, very evidently that was not the end of her pop career. Now that Steps have resolved the differences which drove them apart in the early ‘00s, they’re once again recording brilliant pop music, topping the (iTunes) chart and touring stadiums. For all that Totally Scott-Lee was ostensibly trying to achieve in the mid-‘00s, there is a sense that the only place Lisa Scott-Lee really wanted to be was back alongside her bandmates. And, quite rightly, that is precisely where she has ended up.