Atomic Kitten – The Last Goodbye

Released: 25th November 2002

Writers: Espen Lind / Amund Bjorklund / Mikkel S.Eriksen / Hallgeir Rustan / Tor Erik Hermansen / Danny Poku

Peak position: #2

Chart run: 2-7-12-17-15-13-22-30-39-45-53-70

Atomic Kitten’s second album saw the group firmly establish themselves as one of the biggest pop acts in the UK, and The Last Goodbye is a perfect example of why their reputation was well deserved.

Although never pitched as a contender for the Christmas chart, The Last Goodbye did, nonetheless, adopt the familiar strategy of pairing a slow song with an uptempo – in this case, the newly-recorded Be With You – and releasing them as a double-A side in time for the festive market. The Last Goodbye was allegedly not the original choice, though. Walking On The Water had been mooted as the third single from Feels So Good, which is unsurprising given it was written by Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw. The pair founded the group and were behind much of Atomic Kitten’s debut album, including Whole Again. However, their relationship with Virgin Records soured as work began on the follow-up. They grew tired of the label’s insistence on filling Feels So Good with songs that sounded like Whole Again, resulting in an acrimonious split.

That left Atomic Kitten needing new writers and producers who could emulate the same formula. Among them was Stargate; the Norwegian team contributed two tracks to the album. With one – It’s OK! – having been the lead single, it made sense to establish some consistency by releasing the other. Particularly since The Last Goodbye is an excellent addition to Atomic Kitten’s growing repertoire of mid-tempo balladry that Virgin Records were eager to continue capitalising on. The inclusion of Be With You as a double-A side also reassured longer-term fans that the group hadn’t abandoned their upbeat origins altogether.

One of the immediate issues with The Last Goodbye in its original guise is that Natasha Hamilton delivered nearly all the lead vocals (albeit reliably punctuated by Jenny Frost’s spoken ad-libs: “You gotta aim high and shoot low, baby”). It’s not the first time that happened – an earlier version of Eternal Flame had a similar arrangement – and for some groups, it wouldn’t matter that one person was more prominent. But Liz McClarnon and Jenny Frost were never positioned as backing singers within the dynamic of Atomic Kitten, so the balance does seem a bit off. So, a re-recorded radio edit was created, which rightly split the verses equally between all three members. 

At first glance, The Last Goodbye does, indeed, appear to walk the same path as Whole Again, with its gentle, toe-tapping beat feeling immediately – inoffensively – familiar. There are some neat production quirks here to differentiate it, however. The track uses string, woodwind and percussion instruments (a timely reminder that the vibraslap remains sorely underrepresented in pop music), some of which sound slightly clipped and manipulated, yet without ever losing their organic – and at times orchestral – quality. It brings a somewhat grander energy to the convention into which Atomic Kitten had settled and fills The Last Goodbye with a seasonally appropriate wintry warmth.

The same is true of the lyrics, which are more elegantly romanticised: “And the days are horses down the hill, running fast with no time to kill, and the truth is that we’ll never know where love will flow”. There’s a contemplative maturity here that feels befitting of a group who’d transitioned to womanhood and came off as utterly sincere. The Last Goodbye uses a lot of sensory imagery to vividly portray the environment in which Atomic Kitten are ostensibly singing the song: “Is it cloudy where you are tonight? Are the neon lights shining bright? Are you looking for a place to stay, to get away?”. Their performance favours function ahead of overwrought emotion, but that’s not surprising given that Virgin Records adopted a rote, risk-averse approach with the group. A song like The Last Goodbye shows why: they’d manage to bottle lightning, and even when playing to type, Atomic Kitten exude an engaging, immensely likeable charisma.

No better is that demonstrated than in the chorus, which is right up there as one of the group’s finest lighters-in-the-air moments: “Ain’t no headlights on the road tonight, ain’t nobody here to make it right, ‘cos we couldn’t seem to find a way, for love to stay; if you had another night to give, I would have another night to live, but you’re never gonna see me cry the last goodbye” as a rousing statement of resilience. It’s joined during the final 50 seconds by a flurry of gorgeous ad-libs (“For lo-o-o-ove to sta-a-a-a-a-a-ay”) and a newly-recorded refrain: “One night, baby, one night”, absent from the album version. Wrapped up in a (comparatively) subtle key change, The Last Goodbye feels like it could go on for longer, given the overall running time is little more than three minutes. Yet, the track has arguably endured all the better for not being over-indulgent and remains an impeccable example of the evolution – slight, though it may have been – in Atomic Kitten’s now-trademark midtempo balladry.

That sense of The Last Goodbye as a single that feels innately tied to the group’s identity is compounded by a music video filmed in Liverpool, which takes them full circle to where the first line-up was founded. Atomic Kitten are featured in separate locations for almost the entirety. However, because their sequences are frequently intercut and mirror the same theme of them being alone and looking on wistfully at other couples, it never truly feels like they’re apart. If anything, the connection between the group comes across as stronger than ever, underlined by the final 20 seconds, when they serendipitously arrive at the same spot in the city and walk through the street together. Though there’s nothing specifically festive about the video, a night shoot (which shows off some of the architecture of Liverpool) with the group tugging snugly on their coats fits the lyrics and the timing of the release perfectly.

The Last Goodbye/Be With You reached #2 in the UK, becoming Atomic Kitten’s fifth consecutive top-three hit. Despite being released just weeks before the end of the year, it still sold enough (114,000 copies) to be the 88th biggest-selling single of 2002 and achieved an eventual total of 182,000 copies. Crucially, it also boosted Feels So Good into the top ten, ensuring the album remained visible during the lucrative festive period. Overall, The Last Goodbye/Be With You wound up being Atomic Kitten’s fifth-biggest seller, which is probably about right. Neither track would quite encroach upon their signature hits in a more general sense, but both are, nonetheless, highly regarded by fans.

In hindsight, this single probably represents a juncture where the group had (just) passed over the peak of their popularity. Yet the benchmark of success had been raised to such heights that it was by no means apparent anything had shifted at the time. Indeed, far from being The Last Goodbye, Atomic Kitten – it seemed – weren’t going anywhere at all.

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