After a sold out comeback tour this year, loyal fans of pop group Steps have been avidly awaiting their return to the album shelves. Meanwhile everyone else has been dubiously speculating whether a product of the 90s pop obsession can come up with something that can resonate with a 2012 audience.

The latter’s cynicism, unfortunately for Steps fans, ultimately wins out here. ‘Light Up The World’, the first album release released by the pop stars since 2000, merely consists of several incredibly similar demure slices of the 90s put together in a rather dreary festive package.

On a technical side, it is hard to find a fault in the album. The record’s slick production ensures the group’s voices are clean and perfectly harmonized in title track ‘Light Up The World’ and ‘Please Come Home for Christmas’. The big problem with it though is variety, or more specifically the lack of it. ‘History is Made at Night’, from TV show Smash, sets a quiet, sit-by-the-fire tone as a safe sing along track complemented by a gliding, smooth brass. The same thing, however, could be said about every track, just with different instrumental accompaniments. In ‘It May be Winter Outside’, for example, the dull slow tempo that is a signature part of the album is led by a sparing guitar and piano. What is sadly absent are the catchy school disco hooks of ‘5, 6, 7 8,’ or ‘Tragedy’ that gave Steps its place in childhood memories, focusing instead on the boring, ballad side of manufactured pop that is easily forgotten.

The Christmas theme moreover does them no favours as it immediately places the record in the vast saturated pool of festive fodder that tends to get shoved aside in musical recognition. We have had enough artists telling us, as Steps do in ‘It May Be Winter Outside’, that ‘Winter nights can be awful cold/ Without someone to hold’. The fact that it is also a selection of covers could be quite disappointing for those who might have been looking forward to hearing new material- though we must remind ourselves that this is not exactly Steps’s forte. Most of their biggest hits, namely ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Chain Reaction’ originally by Bee Gees and Diana Ross respectively, were indeed all covers. This record, with ‘Light Up The World’ as the only original effort, shows Steps sticking to what they know and illustrating no desire to stray much past that.

The ultimate issue then with ‘Light Up the World’ is undeniably its lack of surprise. It is genuinely one tedious Christmas ballad after the other, which becomes mind numbing after a full listen. However, expecting more than this or some element of musical growth and originality after twelve years apart would be anticipating too much from a band that have made their career by gaining hits using other artist’s songs. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that I won’t be buying tickets for their Christmas tour this winter.

Emily Shackleton

…Emily has been listening to Sick of Sarah – Giving Up…

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