Bellefire – Perfect Bliss

Released: 2nd July 2001

Writers: Jörgen Elofsson / Phil Thornalley

Peak position: #18

Chart run: 18-31-39-52

Louis Walsh’s first major foray into creating and managing a girl group resulted in Bellefire, whose debut single was a perfect slice of blissful bubblegum pop.

Bellefire – as they would eventually be known – were created in 1999 by Louis Walsh and John Reynolds, who’d previously worked together to launch Boyzone. They held auditions for a mixed-sex pop act, but after being underwhelmed by the male singers, that idea was abandoned in favour of forming a girl group instead. Tara Lee, Kelly Kilfeather, Paula O’Neill and sisters Ciara and Cathy Newell began performing as Chit Chat and landed a lucrative support slot for Boyzone in early 2000. Shortly afterwards, preparations were underway for the group to debut on television when Paula O’Neill was informed that the group would continue without her. Now a four-piece, they renamed themselves Bellefire and landed a deal with Virgin Records to begin recording a debut album.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given girl groups were a new venture for Louis Walsh, Bellefire’s material loosely followed a formula reminiscent of Westlife, who’d enjoyed considerable success under his guidance. Their early albums were primarily the product of British and Swedish songwriting teams, with several of those credited on Bellefire’s album – After The Rain – also appearing on World Of Our Own. Among them was Jörgen Elofsson. A reliable hitmaker, he’d already co-written three chart-topping singles for Westlife (If I Let You Go, Fool Again and My Love). Therefore, it made sense to release Perfect Bliss – one of his two contributions to After The Rain – as Bellefire’s debut single in an attempt to create a similarly prolific partnership.

That’s not to say Perfect Bliss was merely an attempt to market Bellefire as a female counterpart to Westlife. It never feels like that was the aim. Instead, the track convincingly presents them as an act born of the ‘90s/’00s glossy bubblegum pop era. Perfect Bliss is extremely well-produced, which is to be expected from Jörgen Elofsson, who’d been an integral part of Cheiron Studios up until its closure in 2000. The song is filled with halcyon guitar melodies, peppy drum kicks and an uplifting string arrangement. It’s further peppered with of-their-time bouncing, scratching effects to create a relentlessly feel-good pop track. There’s an innocent warmth and endearing optimism about it: “I think they call it love, it’s nothing to be scared about, believe me, ain’t nothin’ we can do, just let it be a part of you, and feel it…” that is immediately likeable.

Though Perfect Bliss is written as a love song, some of the lyrics can also read as Bellefire reassuring a teen-centric audience about the perils of romance: “You’re scared it’s gonna change, you say you need a guarantee, just leave it, look what you will find, don’t you know that love is blind, just feel it…”. It’s likely coincidental and certainly subtler than the ‘friendship never ends’ mantra that accompanied Wannabe, but such moments provide a solid message to strike an accord with their intended fanbase. Even where it’s not possible to find a subtext, Perfect Bliss gives a clear sense of what Bellefire are about, in principle. If there’s any criticism to be made whatsoever, it’s that the song downplays the group’s Irish roots and musicianship. Compared to an act like B*Witched – who incorporated that into their whole identity and used it to stand out in a crowded marketplace – some may perceive Bellefire to lack the same distinctiveness.

The chorus: “We can make it good, we can make it right, we can make the shadows turn to light, boy when it feels like this (when it feels like this), it’s some kind of perfect bliss (some kind of perfect bliss); we don’t need to hurt, we don’t need the pain, we can be the sun behind the rain, boy when it feels like this (when it feels like this), it’s some kind of perfect bliss” is suitably catchy and while the use of emphasis (“We can make it GOOD, we can make it RIGHT…”) accentuates the hooks. As a performance style, it also gives the group an air of confidence and assertiveness. Bellefire may be caught up in the throes of love, but there’s nothing tentative or unsure; they’re firmly in control.

And it’s that combination of a great song (by writers who excelled in creating material like this) performed by talented singers that elevate Perfect Bliss. This wasn’t always easy to achieve; there could sometimes be a temptation for acts recording with writers and producers from Cheiron Studios to mimic the distinctive singing style – trademarked by Britney Spears and *NSYNC – which they helped create. Bellefire don’t do that. A key change brings with it some bubblegum vocal flourishes during the final chorus: “Boy when it fe-e-eels like this…” and the outro: “Some kind of love, some kind of feeling, some kind of miracle, yeah-eah-eah, some kind of perfect bliss” which are in keeping with the style. But they’re not overdone and are delivered in a way that feels organic to the group, rather than them mimicking somebody else’s idiosyncrasies. Their voices work terrifically well together, the harmonies are tight, and Perfect Bliss leaves the impression of an act with considerable potential, which, as debut singles go, is very much a positive.

Evidently, Virgin Records felt confident enough in Bellefire to commit a sizable budget to the music video, which was filmed in America. Whether that ended up being a worthwhile investment is another matter entirely, though. There are some positives: sun-drenched beaches, railways and fields of wind turbines are bathed in a deep orange hue that is visually eye-catching and delivers a timely summer vibe. However, that’s about as effectively as the locations – and indeed Bellefire – are used because the frantic editing leaves little opportunity for any of the sequences to be impactful. Everything moves quickly and without a clear, sustained focus; the result is a jarring mixture of professionally filmed footage presented using the stylistic conventions of a behind-the-scenes clip reel. Quality-wise, this isn’t a bad video by any means; it’s cute, and later in the album campaign – when the group dynamic and personalities had been established – it almost certainly would have landed better.

However, in the context of Perfect Bliss as a debut single, the visuals needed to assert who Bellefire were collectively and individually, showing how each member fitted into the arrangement of the song. That was an essential consideration for any act, particularly girl groups coming in the wake of the Spice Girls. While it’s true that Louis Walsh’s expertise lay in boybands, he still knew how the pop industry worked. Furthermore, Virgin Records most certainly did have the experience of marketing girl groups since they’re the ones who signed and launched the Spice Girls so effectively. Given that, it’s somewhat bizarre how far the video for Perfect Bliss falls wide of the mark as so much less than the sum of its parts, which is a real shame because the group and song warrant a better showcase.

Bellefire charted modestly in the UK, where Perfect Bliss reached #18 (though it did peak at #2 in Ireland). While perhaps not an outright disaster – particularly when bubblegum pop like this was, in hindsight, reaching the end of its shelf-life – there would undoubtedly be pressure on the follow-up to deliver more convincingly. However, when the song started to gain traction in Japan, that’s where Bellefire focused their touring and promotion commitments, which included releasing their debut album, After The Rain. Thus, ten months passed before a second single materialised in the UK. In essence, that meant Bellefire were starting over. All I Want Is You (a cover of the 1989 U2 hit) also reached #18, suggesting there may have been potential to create some momentum behind Bellefire if Virgin Records had acted a little quicker. The label, however, seemed to take it as a sign of failure because After The Rain was ultimately never released in the UK. However, some of the material did get redistributed to other acts (Australian popstar Nikki Webster re-recorded Perfect Bliss, while Turnaround – planned for the UK edition of the album – went to Westlife instead).

As debut singles go, it’s probably fair to say Perfect Bliss wasn’t ever going to be among the most memorable and revolutionary of the ‘00s. But it is, nonetheless, a well-produced track that captures the essence of the bubblegum pop era. Furthermore, it’s immensely well-performed by Bellefire, and on that basis alone, the song should have been bigger in the UK to give them the proper chance they deserved.

Post Author: cantstopthepop