B*Witched were formed in 1998. Their debut record, B*Witched, was released in 1998. Their first four singles all hit #1 on the UK pop charts. One of them was a hit in America, too.
They were often referred to as the “Irish Spice Girls,” a comparison that only makes sense because they are also a girl group. There were not nearly as many girl groups at the time as there were boy bands, so the frame of reference was limited. It’s like calling Westlife the “Irish Backstreet Boys,” which nobody was doing at the time. (Well, OK, maybe a couple of people.)
B*Witched don’t have much of a story to tell. They got a manager because one of their brothers was in Boyzone, had a lot of hits, and then didn’t anymore. Yes you could say the same thing about the likes of LFO or SoulDecision or M2M, but B*Witched’s entry in the teen pop sweepstakes still feels small by comparison. Tiny. They were conceived as a gimmick pop group, marketed as a gimmick pop group, and then viewed as a gimmick pop group. Bright shiny Irish fun girls ready to smile and have some fun! That was it, really.
Nevertheless B*Witched is a record I have listened to front to back around 6 or 7 times over the past couple of weeks, and I am burned with feelings, good and bad. Stomach turning confusion and love. Caffiene-induced nausea. Shaking, cold sadness. Many tracks I could never listen to again, one or two that I could not imagine life without. I want everyone to hear B*Witched once and then never listen to it again, but it is obvious that most people will not bother to listen to it at all. That’s OK!
That’s OK. Because I am going to replicate the experience of listening to it here for you, now. We are going to go on an adventure, you and me. I am going to hold your hand and we are going to listen to all 38 minutes of the B*Witched album, track 1 to track 12. This, I have decided, is the only way to talk about this music that makes sense. I am wretched and weak and incapable of rational thought.
I hope you have a good time. I don’t know if I will. Let’s find out!
Foreboding pillowy synths covered in fiddles. I’m scared. Is B*Witched trying to scare me? Is this Depeche Mode? Depeche Mode with fiddles? I am seeing four lady silhouettes shrouded in stage fog. Pure theater. Something needs to break the tension soon or else I am going to bite all my nails to the quick and start bleeding everywhere and then wipe the blood off on my face so that the blood mixes with the tears that are already streaming, streaming. The ladies have set the stage. I am sitting in the audience. I need to hear a human voice. “Let’s Go (The B*Witched Jig).”
There it is. A sweet Irish lady voice. “Grab your cap, grab your hooters, let’s GOOOOOOOO!” Your hooters? Horters? Hoopers? Wait-
The foreboding is gone. So long nervy escalating fiddle fear. Hello goofy quick beat fiddle breakdown. “Let’s Go” turns into an uncomfortable mix of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” and “It Takes Two.” In only a minute and a half, B*Witched have set the stage for two different possible records: one a dense, creeping electro-pop club record, the other a silly over-the-top Irish pop jig record. B*Witched is neither of these things. Oh well.
It’s ok, “Let’s Go.” You’re not a failure. You’re just strange and I don’t know why you’re here.
“C’est La Vie” is next. “C’est La Vie” is the single you know if you know B*Witched. It is impossible joy. Huge bubblegum madness. Happy high voices. Light funky rhythm guitar. Handclaps. A last-minute key change brought on by a middle-eight bagpipe breakdown. Or are they fiddles? Flutes? I think they are flutes actually. I can’t tell. I don’t know what instruments sound like. They don’t sound real.
B*Witched‘s opening funky breakdown was a ruse. Here is the proof. This is heart-deadening bubblegum. Bright painful color. “C’est La Vie” is so crammed to the edges with joy that it is almost dangerous, to the point where hearing it more than once may result in heart collapse. I’ve heard it at least three or four times today and I can feel my nerves shuddering. I am afraid to move. “I’ll huff! I’ll puff! I’ll huff I’ll puff I’ll blow you away!!”
I’m not crazy. Those handclaps get louder and louder in the mix until the last minute. Then they’re everywhere. Clap clap. Clap. Don’t think I can’t hear that, B*Witched! I hear it. I hear those claps. I hear that guitar squonk at the end, too.
“C’est La Vie” is a careless overload of the senses, designed to flood the brain with serotonin until drool pours out the ears. I imagine that its ascent up the Billboard Hot 100 was less a result of “enjoyment” of the song and more out of dire biological need. Teenagers succumbing to their Pop Overlords. To admit that I like the song is almost pointless, because how can I even trust my senses after hearing it? They’re flooded. Overwhelmed.
Yeah, that’s a flute. Of course that’s a flute. I’m an idiot.
So we should all thank God for “Rev It Up” being here. We should all hold hands tightly and thank God. “Rev It Up” is the come down. It is “C’est La Vie” without the overstuffed Irish pop insanity. Without the insatiable, suffocating need for love and attention. Follows the same basic formula, right down to the “fun Irish instrument pop up at the end” gimmick. It’s a nice, simple, B-level track. It’s easy to like. It won’t hurt you.
Did you notice that it’s a full minute longer than “C’est La Vie”? I did. “Rev It Up” is almost as long as “C’est La Vie” and “Let’s Go” combined. It’s the second-longest track on here, and it is not a coincidence. They knew it just as well as we do. You need that extra minute after those two tracks. You need some time to become whole again.
We’re three tracks in, Ladies and Gentlemen. And what have we heard so far? Terror, followed by Irish New Jack Swing, followed by heart-swelling pop violence, followed by a nice song. So far B*Witched has mixed up our guts and shaken our souls in every direction. Who knows where this is going? Where’s the ballad??
Oh, here it is. “To You I Belong.”
“To You I Belong” was #1 UK single number three. I want to remind the audience that this record generated four #1 UK singles. It is good to know.
Let’s talk vocals for a second. B*Witched’s lead singer is Edele Lynch. From what I can tell, she sings every lead vocal on B*Witched, with the other three ladies on backup. Her twin sister Keavy is also in the group, so y’know, it is possible that she sounds exactly like her twin sister and also grabs the occasional lead vocal. I’m not sure! I can’t say.
Edele is not the most distinctive singer, but she’s sweet and likable and occasionally gets some emotion across, which is all you can ask for. She anchors these songs well enough. The kind of music you will find on B*Witched does not require much emotional weight. It needs a light feather touch. Edele’s voice works.
“To You I Belong” feels like a more deliberate attempt at a traditional Irish ballad, but like most everything else here it is standard teen pop with some fiddles and flutes thrown in. It includes the line “and all our dreams sing this song,” which confuses and saddens me. With two peppy numbers and a standard ballad, it gives the strong, inescapable impression that B*Witched is run of the mill teen pop. Could we be wrong? Don’t we want to know the truth?
Of course we do.
THE SWEET MIDDLE
Oh, good! Now it’s time to feel OK! I feel OK!
B*Witched‘s middle section graces us with “Rollercoaster,” easily the most likable single on the record. The same “C’est La Vie” formula, with less of the feeling that someone is grabbing you by the skull and trembling, trembling while you are hearing it. A more memorable “Rev It Up”. Silly carnival noises. Fiddles. Laughter. “You’ll soon be HIGH!” Fiddles. Fiddles.
One thing. I would very much like to know why the girls follow the line “Come and sit beside us / we’ll give you such a thrill” with “we’re not nice! / we’re cool as ice! / we’ll give you quite a chill!” What? Excuse me, B*Witched? Are you trying to convince me that you aren’t a bunch of nice fun ladies who want me and everyone alive to have a good time, all the time? In the middle of your song about riding on a rollercoaster? Explain this change in attitude because I do not understand it. This sudden shift from love to hate. No context.
“We’re not nice! We’re cool as ice!” I just heard “C’est La Vie,” girls. I heard all those fiddles and handclaps. Do I need to remind you that this is the cover of your album. I’m not blind! I’m not stupid!
Is this supposed to be a joke. For real. I can’t even believe you.
I feel good, though. Comfortable, nestled deep in B*Witched‘s soft middle. Now it is time for real feeling.
“Blame It On The Weatherman” is the first song here that I can say is something special. It surprises you. It surprised me. Just from its title – from its very nature, as a teen pop ballad – it is so easy to imagine it being chintzy and obnoxious and awful.
It isn’t. It starts as a lonely, sad-hearted acoustic rainy-day lament until it hits its strangely grandiose chorus, complete with plucked strings and multi-layered vocal harmonies. Oh! Okay!
There is sophistication here. Careful, loving work. Simple lyrics and Edele’s nice vocals make it obvious that this is music for teenagers, and string arrangements are hardly foreign to schmaltzy pop ballads. I recognize all of this. But I am hearing something else here. I know it. B*Witched have shown me another side of them that I refuse to unsee. You’ve shown your hand, ladies. This does not sound like teen pop music to me! This sounds like something else!
Sophisticated string-pop B*Witched? Gosh, can you imagine.
THE DEATH STRETCH, THE END OF REASON
Well. So much for that.
I hope you enjoyed B*Witched‘s promising start. I know I sure did! OK-to-super-fun teen pop, with an unexpected sprinkling of glory right at the end there. That is a good way to start a pop record! Shame that the next four tracks are a dull, sad, sometimes awful stretch.
Man. B*Witched. You didn’t need to do this. “We Four Girls” is another one of those self-mythologizing “we’re awesome and great and you love us” teen stadium rockers that were all the rage in the late 90s. Read: “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” “Here We Go,” “S Club Party,” etc. There was almost no reason for B*Witched to jump on that bandwagon other than to jump on that bandwagon. Y’know, they’re a teen pop act and they need to do it. But everything about B*Witched has been so frilly and light up to this point that it makes no sense. B*Witched are not the kind of group that needs to “get down” their audience. Confusing and saddening.
It is redeemed only by Edele’s uncharacteristically strained “rocker” vocals, which I would describe as “raw” if I didn’t feel weird about it. Demented is a better word. But that is not enough. It’s reprehensibly silly, and what’s worse is that I didn’t expect it. I expected better! Get me out of here! Help! Oh God help!
(video – “freak out”)
I’m glossing over the next few tracks. I don’t care. My interest is slipping. This is not fun.
“Castles In The Air” is a slow slow slow ballad that is easily a full minute too long. I’m falling asleep. I am near death. I am going to die.
“Freak Out” is a lame attempt at a funky dance track, the kind that was promised in “The B*Witched Jig”. And here it is, nine tracks later. Complete with the lamest attempt at rapping on record as of the year 2012. Too late, girls. Come on. Come on now.
It’s sad! I don’t like this. “Like A Rose” is another attempt at an Irish ballad, I think? Sort of? It doesn’t commit. It’s a less memorable “To You I Belong.” Where did the eerie good production of “Blame It On The Weatherman” go? It’s gone. It’s a ghost. A spectre of quality.
Maybe it was silly for me to expect more than this. Maybe it’s silly for me to demand more than this, as if I deserved it. Who says that I do? Who am I? I’m just a guy. A guy. A guy who is not the intended audience for B*Witched. Nobody is obligated to write teen pop songs that I don’t think are boring. This is a small, cold world. I’m losing faith.
Is there hope? Is there light at the end of the tunnel for B*Witched? For me? For the human race?
Oh yeah! Sure!
Two tracks left. Second-to-last track is “Never Giving Up,” which could be less-than-charitably called “C’est La Vie Vol. 4”. It could also be more-than-charitably called “the best song on the record.” It should be reasonably-charitably called “one of my favorite songs on the record.”
This is another one that I can’t explain. “Shape Of My Heart” syndrome. It is just as adorably peppy as “C’est La Vie” and the rest, but there’s a little more desperation here, a little more want. I like it and I can feel it. I also think it is ducky that Edele tries to endear herself to a boy she likes with the line “I’ll be your king, and you can wear my crown!” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean! But it’s beautiful.
Obsessive stalker lyrics, too. You can’t go wrong with “Never Giving Up.” Edele will never stop following you and loving you, you stupid boy. Jeez. Gosh!
And here we are, at the last track. Track 12. If you’ve just tuned in, tracks 1-6 brought us to a good place, 7-10 pulled us down and hurt us in tender spots, and 11 tenatively tugged us back up and kissed our boo-boos.
And now, it’s “Oh, Mr. Postman,” and there are tears trickling down my cheeks. Real, true tears. I will take a picture if you don’t believe me.
That swell of strings at the beginning. Is this fucking – Van Dyke Parks? Who- where am I? What?
This is a fucked-up mystery and I want an answer. What is “Oh, Mr. Postman” doing buried at track 12 of a teen pop record that nobody over the age of 11 would even approach? This lovely loving gem of a song? Is this some kind of a joke? Is the joke on me? On America?
What is “Oh, Mr. Postman.” It’s a teen pop reimagining of the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line.” That is what “Oh, Mr. Postman” is. It is nothing but strings and flutes and lovely chorus harmonies that lift and renew. That is all it is. None of the teen pop trappings of “To You I Belong” or even “Blame It On The Weatherman.” It is a dream! A dream come to life. “Oh, Mr. Postman! Give me a sign!”
I want names. I want to know everyone involved with the production of this track, visit each and every one of their homes and give them a big sloppy kiss on the mouth. Followed by a hard smack on the face for burying it in a nothing zone. The end of a teen pop record, where all good songs go to die. How much money did they spend on the production of this one track alone, compared to the other 11? I know the answer. I can hear it.
Gosh, Edele sounds sad. Sweet young longing. Where did this song come from? Why did they bother writing and producing this lovely song that nobody was going to hear? There’s even an ELO-esque robot voice at the end, for crying out loud. Teen baroque pop? Is this a real thing? 11 tracks of Irish pop gimmickry, and then this? Come on, guys.
Oh, I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to put on “Oh, Mr. Postman” yourself and you’re going to call me crazy. That’s ok! I am ok with that! To these ears, “Oh, Mr. Postman” is the best-kept secret on a teen pop record since “Man From Milwaukee.” It’s a big lovely string ballad aimed directly at the heart, and I am going to sit here and listen to it again. And again. And again. I am going to listen to it 12 more times and pretend that it is the entire album. That is how I am going to spend my night.
Gosh, I did not expect to end up here! With my hands covering my face in delight and shock. I didn’t know you had this in you, B*Witched. Oh, Edele. Oh, Mr. Postman. Mr. Postman.
Is there anything left to say? I mean, that’s everything, isn’t it?
B*Witched took a lot out of me. It knocked the wind out of my sails. There is something exhausting and grabbing about it, and I can’t pinpoint what. Is it the strange combination of Irish gimmickry and pristine pop beauty? Is it Edele’s deceptively simple vocals? Is it the barrage of pop color? Is it the fiddles?? I’m reaching for answers and I am getting none. My throat is dry. I am tired.
If you do listen to B*Witched and feel the same way, God Bless You. Let’s have lunch. If not, it is OK. I will sleep tonight with “Oh, Mr. Postman” swirling in my dreams. Will I wake up??
Until next time, buds.