S Club 8 – Sundown

Released: 29th September 2003

Writers: Niclas Molinder / Joacim Persson / Pelle Ankaberg / Andreas Matsson

Peak position: #4

Chart run: 4-8-14-23-29-43-50-67-65-74

Sundown saw S Club 8 once again defy expectations to release a song far better than it had any right to be. But if this couldn’t firmly restore them back to (near) chart-topping glory, then what on earth could?!    

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The swift rebranding of S Club Juniors to step into the shoes of the now-disbanded S Club should not have been this difficult. The two groups had co-existed for almost a year, so while there’s no denying that it was a ruthless move to promote S Club 8 as de facto replacements, the handover had been – from a front-facing perspective – heartily endorsed by the seniors. Yet, the group’s first single under a new moniker (Fool No More) had been their lowest selling to date, so while the follow-up wasn’t in make-or-break territory, there’s no doubt that Sundown needed to reignite momentum as S Club 8 prepared to release their second album. Not only did the title track need to be good, but it also had to make an impact. And one of those proved to be true, at least.

There’s absolutely no question that Sundown is an excellent fit for S Club 8, but they weren’t the only ones to get their hands on it. The track was also recorded by Preluders – who were signed to the same record label – for their album Girls In The House, released around the same time (presumably because Polydor had no intention of crossing over their markets). However, elements of Sundown – specifically the middle-eight – could be heard even further back in the song Step Back To Love, which was recorded by Australian singer Sophie Monk for her album released earlier that year (Niclas Molinder and Joacim Persson appear on the writing credits for both tracks). It was also covered by American Juniors as part of Simon Fuller’s efforts to spin the S Club Juniors’ formula Stateside. So, Sundown was shopped around a fair bit. But all that really proves is the sterling job S Club 8 did with it because this has never sounded anything less than a song that inherently belongs to them and fits perfectly into their catalogue.

This is a funky slice of bubblegum electro-pop which showcases a group who really appeared to understand the music they were creating and their role in it. The production is split into two core components which almost feel entirely separate from one another. There’s the pulsing, throbbing beat that drives the song’s tempo and then layered around the periphery is what sounds like a malfunctioning dial-up modem, bleeping and whirring away. Together, they create a paradoxical dynamism to the track, with the familiarity of repeating elements juxtaposed against those that feel randomly generated, to the point where you can’t be entirely sure you’ve heard them before or ever will again.

Trying to siphon the contribution of eight singers into a performance that matches the instrumental is no mean feat, yet S Club 8 step up here and pull it off. Well, sort of. Sundown feels like the first considered attempt to have them do more than just take turns on their lines with Stacey and Calvin’s: “Say you’re longing too, ‘cos I will look for you at…” harmony executed really well. Elsewhere though, it’s questionable whether the entire group’s vocals were used. On their earlier songs, it was readily believable that all eight members had been in proximity to the microphone, such was the energy of organised chaos they radiated. However, as the production evolved, that became less evident. The chorus is slick and punchy: “Sundown, Friday twilight in the big town, party people getting ready now, somewhere baby, I know you’re waiting, the city’s vibrating”, and there’s no doubt that it works for Sundown…but you have to wonder how much of the full complement of S Club 8 we actually heard by this point.

The song plays tremendously well into the group’s demographic. The sense that they’re singing about a world they had little experience of never comes across as a functional reading of the lyrics. Instead, the tone of their voices – which is unmistakeably adolescent – offsets neatly against the booming production, creating an aura of being a song caught between two worlds. Sundown flits from the fantastical: “Tonight I’m gonna find you, fly in on a breeze and blind you, take you from this club land and send us to the stars”, to the vaguely questionable: “And I’m a little hot too, ‘cos I can only think of you, hoping that tonight you’ll find out what I like”. In the middle of it all are S Club 8, who never lose sight of themselves and bust out a chant of: “Bring back th-the funk!” to segue into a mid-track breakdown. Sundown was released almost a year to the day of New Direction, and if ever you needed two songs that show the perfect trajectory of evolution in a pop act’s sound, they are it. 

The music video for Sundown is arguably up there among the best of the entire S Club franchise. If nothing else, it’s undoubtedly one of the most ambitious, utilising CGI-heavy visuals to portray the group in a pop-up city. There was always a risk – particularly in the early ‘00s – as to how well this would age, considering it never truthfully looked state of the art in the first place. Yet, something like this would have been hugely expensive for the type of act that S Club 8 were, and it remains rather striking. Rather than over-reach, the backgrounds are based mainly on static geometric shapes, with clean lines and colouring. It’s only where the video gets a bit more ambitious – like the rooftop sequence with overhead shots and skylights which can’t render glass – that the limitations become apparent. However, for the most part, Sundown’s of-its-time aesthetic is all part of the charm; the orange-yellow sunset colour palette is stunning, and some of the effects – particularly the water and the page-turning pop-up – still look terrific. Considering S Club 8 are predominantly working with a set that does not exist, they deliver one of their most assured performances. Just watch the way they triumphantly punch the air at the start of the video. This really felt like it was going to be their moment. 

If nothing else, Sundown was a show of consistency for S Club 8 when it became the group’s second consecutive single to peak at #4. And although the track initially fared better than its predecessor when it spent two weeks in the top ten, overall, there was very little to separate them with even their total sales roughly on par (Sundown sold 58,000 copies against Fool No More’s 51,000). Nevertheless, this was still a solid hit. It’s just that if this song represents S Club 8 at the top of their game – heck, there was even a Don’t Stop Moving ‘Till Sundown mash-up remix; a bold statement if ever there was one – it starts to beg the question of where they could possibly go from here. The release of the Sundown album a few weeks later did little to quell such thoughts when it reached #13 – despite being buoyed by two brilliant singles – racking up a mere four weeks in the top 75. Another month or so on the chart and a festive bump in sales might have been enough to save face. But it wasn’t to be this time around.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the response to S Club 8 is that it wasn’t clear what people wanted from them. They didn’t appear to be doing anything wrong per se. If anything, they were merely doubling down on what worked so well the first time around, which was entirely logical. And it’s not as if the group was actively disliked. Instead, they were falling victim to something arguably worse: disinterest. It’s as if suddenly, no-one even cared enough to form an opinion either way, and how can you fix that? In a cruel twist, Sundown proved true to its name. Time was running out for S Club 8, and this would be their final top ten single.

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Post Author: cantstopthepop