H & Claire – All Out Of Love

Released: 4th November 2002

Writers: Mark Topham / Karl Twigg / Andrew Frampton

Peak position: #10

Chart run: 10-22-37-51-67-X-71-58-53

All Out Of Love saw H & Claire come full-circle and end up almost exactly where they started as they released one of the best songs that Steps never recorded.

You have to hand it to H & Claire; they tried bloody hard to make their endeavour as a duo work. And there is a sense that they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. They couldn’t just be Steps with three fewer members while maintaining the façade that they’d departed on good terms, since that would raise the question of why they ever left in the first place. At the same time, while both DJ and Half A Heart sought to broaden their sound, neither seemed to convince anyone because, well, they were H & Claire. The nature of their departure from Steps had become the elephant in the room, and it’s unfortunate for them that pop stars were still not allowed to speak candidly about the inner workings of the industry. That meant the duo were feeling the heat (evidently hell hath no fury like a Steps fan scorned) and had only their music as a means of answering back.

Their debut album Another You Another Me was an opportunity to do just that, but they needed something big to launch it. All Out Of Love was never presented as a make-or-break single, but that’s precisely what it was. It reunited H & Claire with Mark Topham and Karl Twigg, who had written and produced some of Steps’ biggest hits. If this didn’t work, then what on earth would?

One of the most striking things about All Out Of Love is just how easy it feels. From the beautifully haunting, melancholic piano riff in the intro to that oh-so-familiar slow-build to the first chorus, this is H & Claire coming home and doing what they do best. In part, one of the reasons it works so well is that it doesn’t matter if Lisa, Faye and Lee aren’t there because this type of song had always favoured Claire’s voice anyway. Yet, even if All Out Of Love is cut from the same cloth as One For Sorrow and After The Love Has Gone, it does more than merely repeat former glories. H & Claire push the sound a bit further again, with a heavier beat and some juddering Darude-esque synths (yes, really). It’s a natural evolution and most importantly, one that is true to the roots of the song.

Indeed, the stakes are higher in every respect here. It might just be the fact that All Out Of Love was presented through a different – slightly more serious – lens, but the lyrics are particularly bleak: “I don’t want to hurt any more, I don’t want to hurt like I did before, you only made me cry, tried to change my mind”. H & Claire had so often been on the receiving end of heartbreak within their music, but here it feels a little more calculated and coercive. That in turn creates an underlying note of desperation in the story that All Out Of Love is telling, which plays perfectly into its context as a single. For there’s no escaping the fact that there was a degree of urgency facing H & Claire here, and whether that was at the forefront of their minds when they recorded the song or not, they give the performance of their lives.

All Out Of Love pulls a final ace from its sleeve, and – brace yourselves – it is a good one. The track drops a key-change of seismic proportions, which elevates it to the next level and serves to underline the frantic energy that’s been building. While pop music is no stranger to a well-timed key-change, the only Steps single that definitively employed one was Chain Reaction (although Words Are Not Enough made a half-hearted attempt). Since their comeback, this has been remedied, but at the time of All Out Of Love, it was still something of a novelty and a genuinely enthralling direction for the song to take. The closing moments: “Enough is ENO-O-O-O-OUGH, you’ve hurt me too MU-U-U-U-UCH, I’m all out of LO-O-O-O-O-O-OVE” are as pleasingly triumphant as anything else H & Claire had recorded, with or without their former bandmates. For our money, if Steps had recorded All Out Of Love, it would be very fondly remembered indeed.

The music video also adopts a back to basics approach, of sorts. At least in as much as it steers H & Claire away from the style over substance aesthetic of their previous singles. All Out Of Love takes the opposite approach and is all the better for it. We find the duo at a stately home telling their friends a murder mystery plot with Claire playing the lady of the manor and H as her loyal butler (spoiler: it was Claire with the candlestick). It’s such a good concept – and we can hardly believe it took so long for a pop adaptation of Cluedo – even if the distinction between the two time periods isn’t quite as clear as it could have been. Perhaps it would’ve been a step(!) too far to have H & Claire decked out once again in period costume, but it feels like the only thing that’s missing.

The video never makes a point of being tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a level of campness underpinning the whole thing, which the pair fully embrace. Claire’s furious napkin toss at the dinner party is brilliantly dramatic, but the sequence that stands out is H’s dance routine with the waiters. A male popstar dancing in a non-ironic sense with a group of men was almost unheard of at the time, so All Out Of Love deserves credit for pushing boundaries in its own small way.

However, the star of the video is the choreography. And no, we don’t mean the obligatory of-its-time extended dance breakdown, which sounds like someone smashing plates while the Jumanji drums play in the background. As a relic of that era of the charts, it’s harmless, although – needless to say – it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song. The final chorus is filmed in a way that gives real dynamism to the performance. Visually, it pops with some creative camerawork (Claire’s skirt flick over the camera is great) that perfectly complements the energy of the song.

All Out Of Love was released as a double-A side with a cover of Beauty and the Beast, which was recorded to celebrate the animated movie’s tenth anniversary (how old do you feel right now?). But H & Claire couldn’t do right for doing wrong; despite relenting and moving back towards the Steps sound, their commercial fortunes continued to drift in the wrong direction and this single reached #10 in the UK, becoming their lowest-peaking hit. Although that certainly doesn’t reflect the quality of the track. However, what sealed – or should that be ended – the deal was the performance of their debut album Another You Another Me which peaked at #58. No-one was expecting H & Claire to simply extrapolate the success of Step One, Steptacular and Buzz. Even so, this was a decisive outcome that was impossible to ignore.

For what it’s worth, the album isn’t bad by any means; it suffers from a (musical) identity crisis, but that in itself is symptomatic of the broader issue facing H & Claire. It’s incredibly difficult – even with the very best tracks – to not wonder what they might have sounded like if Steps had recorded them. Which, conversely, is why All Out Of Love work so well, because it probably wouldn’t have sounded any different.

If there is any consolation to be drawn, the week after Another You Another Me charted, a compilation album of Steps remixes and B-sides (The Last Dance) was released and peaked at…#57. Surely this was no coincidence. Could it be that the fundamental issue was not with H & Claire so much as their brand of pop music; had people moved on so quickly? The unwelcome reality is that All Out Of Love already represented a bygone era to the public. And commercially this was probably as good as things were ever going to get for the song – regardless of who was singing it.


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