Released: 7th December 1998
Writers: Paul Begaud
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-7-10-9-9-13-19-25-30-32-38-48-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-66-64
Having scored a breakthrough hit with their debut single Finally Found, the Honeyz returned a few months later with End Of The Line; a brilliant ballad that established the group as a force to be reckoned with.
For our money, this single is well up there with the most accomplished girl group tracks of the ‘90s, which is no mean feat considering the fierce competition at the time. Indeed, it’s almost too polished, to the point where you might reasonably presume it belongs to that sub-section of chart hits that were massive in America but didn’t make an impact here until a UK act covered them. It’s so perfectly moulded to the sound of US R&B that it seems unfathomable it wasn’t a huge success there, and it never truly felt like the Honeyz got enough credit for managing to pull this off so authentically. As a second single, no less.
That being said, End Of The Line was a cover of sorts, although its origins are vague. It’s believed to have started life in 1997 as a Malaysian track called Cinta di Akhir Garisan and is credited as a collaboration between the singers Ziana Zain, Ning Baizura, Nora and Dessy Fitri. Considering it remains relatively obscure even now, you could safely conclude that in the ‘90s only a minimal number of people would have known it existed. And for all intents and purposes, the English translation of the song was entirely new.
Although it’s subtitled as the Rude Boy Mix, this was the only version of End Of The Line that appeared on both editions of the Honeyz’ debut album Wonder No. 8. A gentler mix of the track did later surface on a budget compilation released in the mid-‘00s if you’ve ever wondered what the original might have sounded like. The additional production heaped onto the song elevates it immensely; the gorgeous – slightly mournful – keyboard-synth melody is complemented with pounding drumbeats. End Of The Line immediately announces itself as a big deal, sounding every bit the epic, blockbuster ballad. As second singles go, few compare in terms of the assured confidence on display here. There’s not even the slightest sense that the Honeyz were still finding their feet; they appear to know exactly who they are and how they function. Which is slightly ironic considering the numerous line-up changes they were subject to.
End Of The Line pitches itself initially from the perspective of the group ruing the end of a relationship. Despite the booming production, there’s a quiet sadness about the lyrics which hones in beautifully on that feeling of dread when something has changed: “All alone, I wait for you, as darkness fills this room, I don’t know why you ain’t called”. However, the tone soon shifts away from portraying the Honeyz as victims and has them smoothly pushing the blame back: “Don’t hold it back if it’s in your heart, stand up and be a man”. This was still very much the era of girl power, and End Of The Line is a perfect example of how that theme was embraced by other groups, even where there was no obvious point for comparison to the Spice Girls. Amongst the soaring balladry, there’s still a bite here; the way Celena crisply delivers the line: “I deserve some damn re-spe-ct-ah” oozes attitude and there’s such amplified clarity to the vocals, you can’t help but hang on her every word.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in End Of The Line is reserved not for what it does, but what it doesn’t. Despite the remixed production setting the Honeyz up for a Mariah-esque venture into power ballad territory, they never take the bait. There are no key-changes and no real climactic moment (okay, maybe: “Don’t make me hate you, baby, you’ve got to be stra-a-a-aight” at a push); instead the final minute-and-a-half of the song plays out with an immensely satisfying run of ad-libs atop repeated: “Come to the end of the line” backing vocals. There’s a bit too much going on for End Of The Line ever to be considered easy listening. But there is an inescapably adult-contemporary sense about the track as it opts to drift towards a conclusion with no sense of urgency. It’s the sort of song that sounds like it could just go on and on indefinitely and would never cease to be engaging, such is the patchwork of gentle earworms and perfectly controlled vocals.
However mum-friendly End Of The Line might be, it was aimed at the pop market and as such was not afraid to draw on the required conventions when it needed to. Thus, the music video introduces us to the purple overcoats, which were low-key iconic in that they never permeated popular culture but remain a recognisable visual reference point within the Honeyz’ narrative. If you know, you know. The video itself is stellar (although only half of it exists on YouTube) with occasional shades of Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard about it and a bluey-black colour palette which is gorgeous.
There’s lots of slow-motion walking down corridors (you would not want to get stuck behind them) and gazing down the camera, but much like the song itself, the visuals portray the Honeyz a big deal without being extravagant about it. There are obligatory paparazzi shots as the group arrive at a performance venue and dozens of fans swaying politely in the audience, however, it’s the quiet confidence in the way that the Honeyz are portrayed – the lingering shots and their effortless screen presence – which creates the impression that this must have been a big hit elsewhere.
It wasn’t. But that barely matters because End Of The Line was a massive success in the UK, peaking at #5 here. Looking at the acts who finished ahead of the Honeyz that week (B*Witched, Cher, Billie, Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston) underlines not just how bold it was to pit the group against such formidable acts, but how quickly they had established themselves as credible competition. For there was absolutely no reason not to release End Of The Line at this point and nor does it sound any less worthy an effort. The single spent five weeks in the top ten and sold 360,000 copies; the Honeyz were primed to take things up a notch in 1999. Only something significant – like the departure of a founding member of the group – could throw them off track. Alas…
In truth, End Of The Line probably represents the point at which they Honeyz identity was most clearly defined. It’s entirely possible that the events which unfolded the following year played a part in that, but equally this could just be one of those fortuitous moments where everything comes together so perfectly. Whatever happened next, End Of The Line was always going to be a difficult single to top.