Released: 19th February 2001
Writers: Stevie Bensusen / Claudio Cueni / Lindy Robbins / Damon Sharpe
Peak position: #6
Chart run: 6-21-34-46-55-62-52-52-X-X-64-64-69-67-69
After conquering the charts with two consecutive #1 singles, a1 had hit their stride. So, it was tempting fate to release a song called No More…and that’s exactly what it proved to be.
a1’s career to this point had always been a bit of a compromise in terms of feeling that their record label had never quite worked out how to market the group. They were talented songwriters and musicians, but Columbia had chosen not to showcase those elements. Instead, they focused on aligning a1 with the bubblegum pop market. This wasn’t entirely unwise, because it had resulted in a string of hit singles and two top 20 albums. But with their previous single Same Old Brand New You, it felt as if the perfect balance had finally been struck with a song that mixed pop sensibilities and credible musicianship. Therefore, No More was a surprising choice for the follow-up; not because it’s a bad song, but because it very consciously stripped away much of the identity that a1 had built.
Until this point, at least one member of the group had been involved in the composition of every single they’d released (other than their cover of Take On Me, of course). And that’s perhaps the thing that sets No More apart as immediately sounding a little different; it feels distinctly like a song that’s been written for a1, rather than by them – which is precisely the case. Even after being remixed by Cutfather & Joe for its release, this sounds like the sort of track you might find tucked in the latter half of an *NSYNC album. At a point when a1 should have been able to consolidate their status as competent songwriters, this was a weird move. It came across as though there was a crisis of confidence occurring behind-the-scenes.
All of which reflects poorly on No More, which is a rather enjoyable song in its own right. What immediately jumps out is the production; the pseudo-R&B beats and jaunty melody – alongside the chopped backing vocals added to the radio edit – create a substantiality that wasn’t typically heard within a1’s material. As No More crashes and thrashes from verse to chorus, Cutfather & Joe sprinkle a flurry of effects over the track and strike a skilful balance whereby the instrumental manages to be both in-your-face and yet loaded with subtle flourishes. There’s real depth here, with whirls, whips, zips – and even a throbbing electro bassline thrown in for good measure – lying beneath the surface.
Despite their lack of creative input to No More, a1 fully commit to the delivery of it and get right into character. The uneven tempo helps emphasise the pointed lyrics and delivers tons of attitude: “I’ve got ONE foot…OUT. THE. DOOR. I don’t wanna hear about him no more, I’ll make a long…STO-RY short, time to make up your mind…GIRL”. Few boybands ever managed to sound so utterly pissed off at finding themselves tangled in a reasonably standard pop trope, and it elevates No More immensely. As the song proceeds to the barbed middle-eight breakdown: “(I don’t wanna hear no more), if you’re sure that you really love me, (I don’t wanna hear no more), out the door if you still don’t know”, you can almost sense a1’s patience wearing increasingly thin. It’s a terrific performance and one that packs a lot of fun despite being dressed up as altogether more serious.
As the vocals become increasingly urgent, we’re treated to some desperately dramatic ad-libs (“Time to make up your mind, GIRL”). There are moments where – in hindsight – this feels like Cutfather & Joe cutting their teeth in readiness to work with Blue, who were shortly to release their debut single. The production is – perhaps – a tad more bombastic than one would immediately associate with the group. But it’s not a stretch to see how No More could have been absorbed onto one of Blue’s albums and had Lee Ryan belting out the ad-libs. That is to take nothing away from a1, but it goes to the fundamental issue at the heart of No More, which is that it continually draws comparison to what other acts were – or soon would be – doing.
Having thrown a sizeable budget towards the music video for Take On Me, this single further buys into the notion of positioning a1 as a blockbuster boyband and emulating the style associated with such acts. The concept is – inevitably – a more modest than having the group battling a computer virus using cutting edge (at the time) CGI. But the video makes good use of its Singapore setting by utilising a landscape not commonly seen within this context. There’s a (very) loose narrative which follows a1 abseiling out of a castle and embarking on a speedboat chase before confronting some goons in a storage facility. It’s never entirely clear who the antagonist is. Still, No More hits many familiar visual cues so the audience would understand what was happening even though it’s not explicitly stated.
Mimicking the production, the video features stylised shots where the speed is adjusted to the irregular beat, creating robotic, jerky movements. It’s vaguely reminiscent of *NSYNC’s doll choreography in It’s Gonna Be Me and very effectively imbues a1 with almost intimidating energy. What makes No More pop visually is the colour palette; with lots of vivid blues and sunset oranges, there’s a richness to the video that seems almost of a higher definition than televisions at the time were capable of displaying. Objectively speaking, there’s nothing particularly unique here. But in the context of a1’s career, it’s a fascinating curio that provides a glimpse into a parallel existence where the group was pitched as a UK counterpart to the major American boybands of that time.
Despite a shiny new radio edit, No More peaked at #6 in the UK, duly becoming a1’s seventh consecutive top ten single. This wasn’t a disaster by any means (although that second-week drop to #21 was slightly alarming), but it did feel like the momentum had prematurely faltered. A point that was underlined when this became the final single to be lifted from The A List. The album probably could have been mined a little deeper, but real-life events took over. Weeks after No More was released, a1 appeared at a shopping centre in Indonesia when the venue was overwhelmed by fans, and four died in the ensuing crush. When the group later spoke about the incident during The Big Reunion, they were still visibly affected by it. Therefore, the performance of No More became inconsequential because it seems likely that there are few scenarios where continuing to promote the album was an option for a1.
So, that was it for The A List. And indeed, the group as we knew them; for it would be almost 12 months before they released a new single. Taking into account everything that happened – directly and indirectly – around the time of No More gives a1’s next move so much context. Because while it’s clear that they needed to re-assert their identity, they also needed a fresh start.