All Pop No Star, by Slingbacks
Suggested by Stuart Emerson
On this project, I’ve absorbed music from a host of sources. The vast majority of this has been new to me, which is welcomed. One of my goals for the challenge was to expand my musical horizons, and I certainly feel that facet has been successful.
Another more embarrassing side effect is that I’ve exposed the holes in my own musical education, holes so broad and numerous that my personal aural tapestry is less intricate and densely-packed mural and more dolphin-friendly whaling net. I feel like I’m asking the most idiotic and fatuous questions at times, ridiculous questions on acts so well known that it feels almost criminal that I’m so clueless.
Is Prince related to Queen? How does Metallica interact with Monster Magnet? And how, exactly, do you spell Snoop Dogg?
With Slingbacks, however, I’ve no such worries. I literally have no clue who they are, and after a cursory internet search, it seems I’m not alone. They’re a one-and-done band, shooting for the sky and the promise of fame, but falling as the wax on their wings melts away as they fly too close to the sun.
It’s tricky to know where they went wrong. On paper, for their time, they ticked the right boxes. Slingbacks have a strong Nineties feel, with grungy guitars and sassy yet downplayed vocals. There’s so much Garbage in their sound that it’s almost a municipal tip, but the dates line up to show this is likely more parallel development and design rather than one act cribbing off the other.
Lyrically, there’s an earthy quality to most of the songs. It’s not quite a working -class story, but it’s commonfolk-adjacent, slightly emo with a twist of realism. The singer / songwriter Shireen Liane has a fresh voice, both in lyrical content and the actual sound, but at times there’s a slight flatness to the delivery that can niggle, like a toddler gently kicking the back of your unreclined plane seat.
As with Garbage, the songs are largely driven by a pop rock guitar, and this is most effective. Songs like No Way Down and Sometime I Hate You are the best examples of a pure rock sound, and they are also where Liane’s vocal is the most proud. Later on, tracks like Junkstruck continue this fine work, and The Boy Who Wants A Heroine showcases a fine guitar solo.
Overall, though, I think what I like most about this album is the lyrical content. I’d have to flip a coin between two tracks to nominate my standout song of the album: it’s either the cerebral title track All Pop No Star, or the soulful acoustic final song Stupid Boyfriend. On reflection, I think All Pop No Star just edges it, but I reserve the right to turn on a dime and head in the opposite direction if the wind changes.
I like this album. It’s not flawless, but it’s a slice of the Nineties that as resonance for me. It sounds like my University years, warts and all, and there’s a lot of worth in nostalgia. I give this a creditable 7/10, and lament that Slingbacks did not parlay this strong debut into a lasting legacy and a successful career. In the end, All Pop No Star is a sadly prophetic title.