The Corrs – Breathless

Released: 3rd July 2000

Writers: Robert John “Mutt” Lange / The Corrs

Peak position: #1

Chart run: 1-2-6-9-15-17-21-27-34-43-45-59-72
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 81-78-66-55-54-46-45-44-38-36-34-34-38-39-46-51-59-70-74-83

Breathless was released as the lead single from The Corrs’ third studio album, and with Robert John “Mutt” Lange on co-writing duties, the group had their sights set firmly on the top of the charts.

Despite The Corrs – siblings Andrea, Caroline, Sharon and Jim – being propelled firmly into the mainstream with their second album, Talk On Corners, the group’s breakthrough hadn’t been immediate. It wasn’t until their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams (which isn’t on the original tracklist) reached #6 that the album became a mainstay in the top 10, where it spent 56 weeks – ten of them at #1 – and eventually sold 2.97 million copies. Helping drive that success, several singles (What Can I Do and So Young) were remixed, turning the group’s blend of Celtic pop-rock into commercial hits and topping the airplay chart.

So, when recording the follow-up, a slightly different approach was taken. If The Corrs’ songs were already being remixed, it made sense to skip that step and create an album of poppier material geared towards radio. With the addition of Robert John “Mutt” Lange – coming off the back of his work on Shania Twain’s chart-conquering Come On Over – to the project, that’s essentially what In Blue sought to do. Expectations of The Corrs were much higher than there’d been for their previous lead singles, so Breathless needed to deliver. And it most certainly did.

The track very much plays to The Corrs’ strengths regarding where their material had found a sizeable market. Indeed, there could scarcely be a better example of how to craft a breezy, radio-friendly pop track in 2000, and one that perfectly showcases the intent behind the album, too. Breathless is filled with sun-drenched sliding guitar riffs and toe-tapping drum kicks while halcyon, twinkling effects shimmer throughout the production. An engaging warmth radiates from Andrea Corr’s voice; her lead vocals are laced with a seductive glimmer that hints at an exhilarating frisson: “The daylight’s fading slowly, but time with you is standing still, I’m waiting for you only, the slightest touch and I feel weak”. Yet, such moments are fleeting; Breathless rarely veers far from wistful romanticism: “And if there’s no tomorrow, and all we have is here and now, I’m happy just to have you, you’re all the love I need somehow”. While describing the track as inoffensive and thoroughly pleasant may seem like a backhanded compliment, it’s not. This is what The Corrs do exceptionally well.

Many of the qualities in the group’s earlier material remain present, particularly from a songwriting perspective. Breathless is seamlessly crafted with melodies that build satisfyingly through the verses and into the pre-choruses: “I cannot lie, from you I cannot hide, and I’m losing the will to try, can’t hide it (can’t hide it), can’t fight it (can’t fight it)…”. Adding Robert John “Mutt” Lange doesn’t significantly shift the dynamic; if anything, it takes what the group already excelled at and presents it in a slightly slicker and more streamlined way. Yet, there are differences, which are most notable in the production. The liner notes for Breathless list an array of instruments played by The Corrs (tin whistle, drums, bodhran, violin, guitar, keyboards). However, few are discernible above the chugging bass and effervescent beat. Where the remixed singles from the previous album struck a balance of contemporary pop and more traditional Irish instrumentation, Breathless eschews much of the latter.

So, there is a trade-off here, but the song is good enough to ease broader concerns about what it meant for The Corrs’ identity until later in the album campaign. The rousing chorus: “So go on, go on, come on, leave me breathless, tempt me, tease me, until I can’t deny this loving feeling (loving feeling), make me long for your kiss, go on (go on), go on (go on), yeah…come on” is right up there among the group’s very best and deservedly remains a reliable crowd-pleaser. Breathless works particularly well in that context because the leading hook is reinforced towards the end. After a final full chorus, an accelerating guitar launches the track into a repeated: “Go on (go on), go on (go on), come on, leave me breathless (le-e-e-eave me breathless), go on (go on), go on (go on), come on, leave me breathless (le-e-e-eave me breathless), go on (go on), go on (go on), come on, leave me breathless (le-e-e-eave me breathless)” coda, which is naggingly catchy and enduringly memorable. Everything about Breathless is meticulously arranged so that the song can slide effortlessly into the slipstream of the singles from Talk On Corners.

The music video for Breathless was directed by Nigel Dick, who’d worked with The Corrs previously on Only When I Sleep and What Can I Do. Yet, he’d also become closely associated with bubblegum pop acts like Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Five and Westlife around this time. Thus, his presence here represented a reassuring continuation while also being pertinent to where In Blue was attempting – at least in part – to pitch The Corrs. Sensibly, there aren’t any attempts to drastically alter their image; the visuals are set in the airfield of a Californian desert and revolve around preparations being made for the group to stage a performance (a poster in the opening shot states they’re on tour…though presumably, this is a stopover and not an actual venue on the itinerary). The aesthetic has a suitably sleek ‘00s polish, with a colour palette that is sunny and, at times, glaringly bright. Moreover, the location feels well-chosen to subtly reflect The Corrs as an act whose fame had scaled up and extended internationally. 

In hindsight, the only part of the video that feels a bit odd are scenes involving a young man whose attention is piqued by the group’s arrival. Appearing somewhat infatuated, he peers through doorways and around corners, trying to sneak a look at Andrea, Caroline and Sharon. At one point, the man watches on as their silhouettes frolic suggestively while they get changed behind a curtain, which gives the sequence a somewhat jarring undertone of titillation. It’s not as if the group’s looks went unnoticed; indeed, shots of Andrea, Caroline and Sharon gazing down the camera during Breathless were later parodied in a ‘Beautiful Corrs’ sketch on SM:TV. But they are sisters, so trying to sexualise them – even just suggestively so – doesn’t work as a premise. That aside, the video presents a likeable, grounded dynamic between The Corrs, where they frequently break character and appear to be having fun with the whole concept. Yet, the experience was not without drama, as both Andrea and Sharon were hospitalised during the shoot with heat exhaustion from the desert sun.

On the week it was released, Breathless – according to press reports – remained locked in a two-way battle for the #1 spot with StepsWhen I Said Goodbye/Summer Of Love. In the end, though, the competition wasn’t even close. The Corrs sold 80,869 copies to score their first – and only – chart-topper, while Steps entered at #5. The track went on to sell 288,000 copies in 2000 (the 33rd highest-selling single of the year). As of 2017, that total had risen to 365,000 copies, making Breathless The Corrs’ biggest hit in the UK. It also enjoyed success in America, picking up enough airplay across Adult Contemporary and Mainstream stations to reach #34 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became the group’s first single to chart there since Runaway peaked at #68 in 1995.

The Corrs wasted no time in capitalising on their comeback. In Blue followed shortly after Breathless and made an impressive (albeit unsurprising) debut at #1, selling 153,834 copies. It didn’t have the same longevity as Talk On Corners. However, that was the kind of once-in-a-career phenomenon which few acts would be able to repeat, certainly around this time when the charts were moving more quickly than ever before (42 singles reached #1 in 2000, which remains a record). Thus, the chances of In Blue coming close to matching Talk On Corners were improbable. Nonetheless, the album did perform well; it was the 16th best-seller of the year (826,000) and had sold close to a million copies by the time it left the top 75 almost a year later.

In Blue also earned The Corrs their highest-peaking album in America; it debuted at #21 and stayed in the top 100 for 33 weeks, eventually being certified for sales of a million copies. That’s particularly impressive, considering no other singles charted in the US, and it was also a marked improvement from Talk On Corners. So, essentially, the album did what it set out to do, which at least meant the change in direction delivered its purpose. However, the unwelcome legacy of In Blue is that by ostensibly turning The Corrs into a pop act, some fans would argue it made them disposable by selling out their identity. They never recaptured similar levels of success, and the group’s next studio album – Borrowed Heaven – in 2004 seemed to acknowledge the bubble had burst, ditching the slew of additional co-writers and producers in favour of a smaller team of contributors.

Nonetheless, after being such a dominant chart force in the late ‘90s, The Corrs thoroughly deserved to consolidate that success with a #1 single. Furthermore, Breathless is a worthy song to have earned them that accolade. It sits coherently within the group’s back catalogue as a product of them creating music at their most intentionally commercial point and, barring a few trade-offs, does so without entirely losing sight of what made them popular in the first place.

Post Author: cantstopthepop