H & Claire – Beauty and the Beast

Released: 4th November 2002

Writers: Alan Menken / Howard Ashman

Peak position: #10

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

As H & Claire geared up to release their debut album, they pulled on every trick in the book to land themselves a hit by deploying a double-A side and a well-timed cover version in one fell swoop. Surely even aggrieved Steps fans couldn’t object to one of the most iconic Disney songs of all time…

In the days before they just chucked all their content (bar a few controversial titles) onto streaming, Disney were meticulously calculated in what was made available and when. Every ten years or so, they would re-release their animated classics into movie theatres to raise additional revenue before putting them back in ‘The Disney Vault’. That practice continued with the arrival of VHS, where the company’s argument was that it preserved the movies for subsequent generations to discover. However, a more sceptical take on the practice was that it drove up demand and, consequently, meant consumers would pay more. The emergence of DVD as a new format encouraged Disney to take the practice a step further, and in the early ‘00s, they picked one flagship title per year to release as a Platinum Edition. In 2002, Beauty and the Beast was the second to be given that treatment. Of course, DVDs need extras – particularly when a 90-ish minute movie is being splashed across two discs – and one of the strategies Disney adopted was recruiting a current pop act to cover a song from the soundtrack. How fortunate, then, that H & Claire were already in the market as a duo and (almost by default) perfectly situated to be chosen.

The existence of Disney songs reimagined as pop hits is an ongoing tradition that actually started with Beauty and the Beast. The track was composed by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman with the intention that it could exist outside of the film. However, the original – performed by Angela Lansbury – was deemed too difficult to position in terms of sales and radio airplay. So, to capitalise on positive awards buzz around the song, Disney hired Walter Afanasieff to give Beauty and the Beast a commercial overhaul, albeit on a limited budget. Eventually, a then largely unknown Celine Dion was picked to sing the new version. But Disney feared a singer who had just one top-ten hit to her name in America might struggle to sell; so, the track was repurposed into a duet, allowing the more established Peabo Bryson to step in. This proved to be a successful move, as Beauty and the Beast won a slew of awards (including the Oscar for Best Original Song), while the single peaked at #9 in the UK and America. However, the biggest testament of Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson’s impact is how they redefined the song because it’s quite weird to hear Beauty and the Beast performed as anything other than a duet outside of the movie.

For H & Claire to land this gig in the run-up to their debut album, Another You, Another Me, was a massive coup. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, of course, because we’re talking about one of the all-time Disney standards; there was bound to be an element of trying to justify why a new version of the song needed at all. But there was no reason for H & Claire to turn this down. It’s Disney. It’s Beauty and the Beast. It was a no-brainer. Thus, the song was paired with All Out Of Love and released as a double-A side to promote the movie in the UK. For international audiences, Jump 5 recorded their own – rather unique – take on the track (disclaimer: we don’t hate it).

H & Claire deliver a faithful re-telling of the song, which isn’t a bad thing. There are no surprises here, other than just how good they sound as the duo take things up a notch and deliver what is easily among their very best performances. Indeed, this might even be the pinnacle. Not only is it because the song has its roots in a musical – which suits H’s voice down to the ground – but they are finally singing together. Oddly, H & Claire’s singles to date had generally sidestepped (ahem) any notion that they were duetting in favour of polite turn-taking or one vocal – usually Claire’s – being more prominent. However, that is not the case on Beauty and the Beast, where we finally get to hear what the pair can do as they blend, harmonise and ad-lib around one another. They are so beautifully intertwined that suddenly, the whole concept of H & Claire clicks into place as they do something they never could have when there were three additional voices to accommodate.

The production – courtesy of Mark Topham and Karl Twigg – doesn’t veer too far from the original. However, it inevitably loses those distinctive early ‘90s electric piano chords in favour of a fuller, more contemporary arrangement. Regardless, the mid-section of the song remains intact as a masterclass in songwriting and composition. The build through the third verse: “…Ever as before, ever just as sure, as the sun will rise, oh, Oh, OH, WOAH-OH-OH” into a soaring instrumental, then back through the same verse into a towering crescendo: “Oh! Oh! OH! Tale as old as time (ooh-ooh-ooh), tune as old as so-o-o-ong…” is flawlessly delivered by H & Claire. It’s staggeringly evocative, prompting a beautifully bittersweet rush of nostalgia, tinged with the sadness that Howard Ashman died before Beauty and the Beast was released and never saw the impact of his and Alan Menken’s music.

Sure, critics were quick to question what the point was of H & Claire covering this song. As a promotional tie-in, it didn’t necessarily need to be single. But does there need to be any other reason? After all, nobody here was under any illusion that they were trying to replace or outdo the original. Furthermore, in a broader sense, the Disney Renaissance era was now very much over. With computer animation now leading the way, Beauty and the Beast already represented a relic of the past. Functional an update though it may be; who knew when we’d see a song like this in the charts again. If at all.

The music video for Beauty and the Beast is a black-and-white affair, showing H & Claire in a recording studio performing the song, interspersed with clips from the movie, which is pretty standard fare for this kind of promotional tie-in. It was probably sensible to keep the visuals relatively muted rather than try anything too fanciful, which may have drawn attention away from All Out Of Love. That being said, the video does reinforce a perception of H & Claire’s solo endeavour as coming off a bit po-faced and serious, which they didn’t need. Although the duo couldn’t do right for doing wrong at this stage, so in all likelihood, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how Beauty and the Beast was presented; it was never likely to win over the critics.  

All Out Of Love/Beauty and the Beast subsequently peaked at #10 in the UK, continuing the downward trend of H & Claire’s singles. This was certainly – at least in part – symptomatic of the changing taste of the charts, which were increasingly leaning towards R&B. However, it also underlined a more integral problem facing the duo in that as the dust had settled on Steps’ split, the picture had become far less amicable than fans were first led to believe. With H & Claire now regarded as being responsible for bringing the whole thing tumbling down, it isn’t so much that there was an overwhelming desire to see them fail; it’s that they didn’t have enough goodwill to defy the general downswing that a lot of pop acts were experiencing. So, when Another You, Another Me peaked at #58, only for a Steps compilation/remix album The Last Dance to reach #57 the following week, it was a clear sign that almost everyone had moved on. There were no winners here.

For what it’s worth, one of the main criticisms of Another You, Another Me is that it was too ballad-heavy. And it was, there’s no way around that; they (just) outnumber the uptempos. But that would’ve been far less a problem if only we’d known who H & Claire were and what they represented as a duo, which just wasn’t clear to anyone. Releasing All Out Of Love and Beauty and the Beast as a double-A side only served to emphasise how the campaign was pulling in opposite directions. Another You, Another Me gets a lot of flak, but it’s not that bad. Could it pass for a Steps album? Absolutely not, even if there are fleeting moments where it comes close. Throughout the campaign, H & Claire recorded a lot of different material, with some of it – like Don’t Give Up (Don’t Let Go) – showing real potential for them to expand their sound. But in the end, nothing seemed to come together with any sense of cohesion.

Perhaps then, Beauty and the Beast is best regarded as a fitting summation of H & Claire’s endeavour to establish themselves as a duo. It’s a perfunctory update that looks and sounds the part (it really is very well performed) but ultimately will always exist within the shadow of the original.

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Post Author: cantstopthepop