B*Witched – Awake And Breathe (1999)

bwitched-awakeandbreathe

B*Witched are one of those groups I still can’t get a handle on, a surface-level disposable teen lady group that specialized in three things: 1) fun, bubbly, well-crafted singles, 2) forgettable teen pop throwaway deep cuts, and 3) god-fuckingly beautiful chamber pop melodies. Their self-titled debut album jumped between all three of these so quickly it was almost dizzying. Nauseating. You sit there and listen to the whole thing and your head spins and you feel weird as heck, ’cause you just heard all these songs of such varying quality that it’s hard to tell what it is you’re hearing or what you’re doing, in your life. Or what the heck kind of band B*Witched were supposed to be!

I mean, we know what they were supposed to be. The Irish Spice Girls, cute and cocky and spunky and Girl Power. They had fiddles and bagpipes in their songs, ’cause they were Irish! This was their image, this was their design. Lead singer Edele Lynch had the perfect voice for this kind of material: sweet, likable, on-key, occasionally snarly and rockin’ when a track called for it. Their songs were mostly written and produced by the same three folks: UK pop stalwarts Ray Hedges and Martin Brannigan, with occasional help from Tracy Ackerman and the ladies themselves.

The question becomes, what did these people want out of B*Witched? What were they trying to create? From singles alone, the story tells itself: on B*Witched, you get the fun teen sillies of “C’Est La Vie” and “Rollercoaster,” along with the ballads “To You I Belong” and “Blame It On The Weatherman” (the last of which is the only single to provide a brief glimpse into Witched’s odd bursts of sophistication). The back half of the album, though, goes in another direction: freaky teen rock like “We Four Girls” and “Freak Out”, regrettable slowies like “Castles In The Air” and “Like A Rose,” and wonderful likable pop-rock like “Never Giving Up.” And then, finally, we end with “Oh Mr. Postman,” the most lovingly and wonderfully conceived song to be placed at the very end of a teen pop record, where 0% of teens are guaranteed to hear it.

You’ll have to forgive me, recapping B*Witched after I already reviewed it. The truth is, after two years, it’s the one Digital Get Down-reviewed record I think about most. Almost entirely because of “Oh Mr. Postman.” Who crafts a song of that caliber  just to throw it away? How can we think of B*Witched as a teen pop also-ran when that song exists? We can’t, is the answer. We need to re-think and rebuild. We need to recognize that we are never really going to know who the fuck B*Witched are. Ever.

And that’s OK. I went into Awake And Breathe, B*Witched’s second record, not really knowing what to expect. Not knowing if the big “what the fuck is going on here?” question would be answered. Would B*Witched continue with the cute Irish-stereotype teen pop? Would they try to mature? Would they follow the lead of “Oh Mr. Postman” and turn into a wonderful ELO-inspired chamber pop band, bringing a sweet sophistication to a genre that often doesn’t have a whole lot of it? What is going to happen, here?

“If It Don’t Fit” is enough to give me hope, and the best way to open a second B*Witched album. It’s a spark and a jump right from the word go. “IF IT DON’T FIT!” There’s Edele Lynch, wailing well out of range, selling every moment of her performance, pushing herself to the limit. Heck, it is so good. It’s the kind of immediate burst of excitement you wouldn’t expect from a B*Witched record. Not this soon!

“If It Don’t Fit” is similar enough to B*Witched’s previous hits to warm us with its familiarity while amping everything up beyond the beyond til we start to hit new cool as hell territory. It replaces silly Irish gimmickry with aggressive country-rock fuckyouitude. Did you think B*Witched could pull off a “fuck you dude” song? I didn’t either, but here it is! Lines like “the way you’re chewing your gum, it wrecks my head / Why don’t you bite on these words that I’m sayin, baby?” There’s anger here, there’s assertiveness. B*Witched are tired of sitting backing and taking shit from shitty dudes. It’s just lovely.

I want to emphasize: Edele Lynch’s vocal is what sells this, and I think it’s as good an example as any of the range she could pull off. She is committed to this performance. I feel like B*Witched, not unlike contemporaries M2M, were often disregarded from the get-go because they had female vocalists with voices that sounded young and nice. This turned alot of people away, and that’s a shame. A real shame. Because both groups have alot of gems to their name and deserve respect. “If It Don’t Fit” is one of those gems.

Soon we start to realize what Awake and Breathe really is: a record that, for all intents and purposes, is pretty similar to the first one. Let’s not forget, these records were released only a year apart – probably with the sad assumption that B*Witched had only a brief moment of cultural omnipotence left in them before they became bargain bin casualties – so naturally there’s not a whole lot of room for growth there. We can’t fault them for that, really.

What’s interesting is that Awake and Breathe sands down the gimmickry, jokiness and “We Four Girls”-styled Girl Power affirmations in the name of straight-faced professionalism. You’re not going to get anything like the “SOME PEOPLE SAY I LOOK LIKE ME DAD!” chatter during the opening of “C’est La Vie” or the “OHHH I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS!” from “Rollercoaster.” Compare either of those songs to Awake and Breathe‘s most popular single, the hooky and enjoyable “Jesse Hold On,” and you will hear a difference. The hooks are there, sure, but is the heart? Are their hearts really in it anymore?

You’ve gotta imagine they’d be sick of the kooky cute Irish girls image by 1999, only a year after their debut. A year is a long time, when you’re a Irish teen pop act with a forcibly fun image to maintain. Their cheekbones were probably sore from smiling all the fucking time! Damn! They were tired! They’re a music group! They just want to make some good music and sing good songs. “Jesse Hold On,” despite its goofy banjo, finds them in this mode. Good singers delivering a good song. On one hand, it’s good to see the ladies growing a little bit and putting childish things away, but I have to admit that there’s something missing here. The sweet spark of youth. Times are changing. We are losing ourselves. We are losing B*Witched.

Awake and Breathe takes a few more stabs at so-called “maturity,” but they don’t work out too well. Moderate hit single “I Shall Be There” features backup vocals from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and while it’s kind of neat to hear the voices of Ladysmith on a teen pop record (because where else are you going to hear them in the factory-sealed world of teenage music?), I kinda wish the song itself wasn’t a dull retread of “To You I Belong.” “Are You A Ghost?” does not live up to its alluring title. And “Red Indian Girl” is… jeez, I mean, it’s called “Red Indian Girl,” is there anything else I need to say? Who the heck thought this was a good idea? Edele? Keavy? Martin? Who do I need to blame here? Who greenlighted this trash? At the cusp of the 21st century? That shit is embarrassing, ladies. This is not a song you should have included on your record if you wanted me to enjoy it. And gosh golly, that should be your number one priority!

But man, there are still those glimmers of glory that we’ve come to expect from B*Witched. Tucked safely in the middle of the record, we’ve got two of them: “Someday,” the long-awaited sequel to “Oh Mr. Postman.” ELO strings, harmonies, grace and wonder, it’s everything you could have wanted from B*Witched. It will renew your spirit and warm your good heart. And then there’s “Leaves,” which wins the “best experiment” award on Awake and Breathe: it’s a moody electronic ballad, with Edele’s voice blending perfectly with gentle piano atmospherics. It’s such an impressive song, it’s not hard to imagine that B*Witched had more left in them than we would have expected. Without the burden of their Irish image and inevitable teen pop obsolescence, who knows where they could have gone? If they still had “Someday” and “Leaves” left in them, who knows what they could have become?

It was not to be. Awake and Breathe was a moderate hit overseas, but didn’t do much in the United States. It was not a popular record, and to be honest it didn’t deserve to be. This is no The Big Room or Into Your Head we’re talking about here, sadly. Awake and Breathe just wasn’t good enough to keep B*Witched’s career afloat. 4 or 5 keepers do not a good record make. As the story goes, plans for a third record were scrapped when Sony unceremoniously dropped them, and the group split up months later, too disheartened to continue. The only songs they had left in them after Awake and Breathe were some meh-eh covers of “Mickey” and “Does Your Mother Know?”, which definitely don’t show off their best qualities. And that was the end, really.

So we ask again: who were B*Witched? And I’m still struggling with an answer. Here’s the best one I’ve got. B*Witched were a gimmick group that could have been a classic one. A group who couldn’t really pull off a full LP’s worth of material, but could knock you out if you took all the great songs from both records and put em together. A group with a lead singer who, despite any on-the-surface cutesiness, was surprisingly versatile and emotive. A group who, in their finest moments, delivered some of the best and most wholly conceived teen pop compositions of their era. I would love it if that last one was their legacy, instead of that annoying “Irish Spice Girls” tag. They do deserve better.

I wonder if B*Witched still have any fervent fans. I hope they do! The likes of *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys still have legions of diehards and likely always will til the end of time, but I don’t think B*Witched do. Is it because they’re women? Is it because they were more flash-in-the-pan? I don’t know. But I do hope there are some superfans out there who love “Leaves” and “If It Don’t Fit” and “Oh Mr. Postman” as much as I do. Hey, B*Witched superfans! If you’re out there, hit me up! Leave a comment! Message me! Email me! I would love to hear from you and hear your stories and have you talk me down for giving Awake and Breathe a lukewarm review. I would love this so much.

Not to mention that B*Witched are back! They’re back, for real! They had a successful reunion on the reality show The Big Reunion and they put out a new EP called Champagne Or Guinness just a couple of months ago! So many the story isn’t over yet, my friends. B*Witched have a chance to reclaim their legacy. Maybe they’ll have another record for me to review somewhere down the line. In the meantime, let’s do these ladies a favor and respect them for the good work they’ve done. Because it is really, really, very good.

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4 thoughts on “B*Witched – Awake And Breathe (1999)

  1. Sarah A. McCarty says:

    I’m thrilled to see this review… not that I really listened to B*Witched’s second album, but when I was young I was obsessed with the first album. And I thought I was really alone in that since none of my friends knew who they were. But more importantly, I thought “Oh, Mr. Postman” was just the greatest song, and wondered why it seemed to be an afterthought on the album. I still occasionally listen to it and get all those nostalgic feelings.

  2. Sunayana says:

    I’m a huge Bwitched fan, still listen to their music all the time. I was in my early teens when their music came out and they were definitely my favorite band. I still catch myself singing Oh Mr Postman all the time!

  3. jackfitzsimmons26 says:

    Good review, although I must correct you on one point, it’s Keavy who sings on Leaves not Edele, also, I love hearing Edele sing live, (I’ve met Edele & B*Witched & seen them perform more times than I ever remember.

    Keavy’s voice is also amazing (Albeit, quite a bit stronger than Edele’s) & Lindsay & Sinéad are also wonderful.

    & my favourite ever B*Witched song is Someday track 5 from Awake & Breathe.

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