Five-piece British pop-dance group Steps return with their fifth studio album four-and-a-half years after their last reformation (they released a Chrismas-themed long player in late 2012), now back to mark their 20th anniversary. ‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ is a ten-track album that doesn’t really break much new ground: Claire is still the central voice, the songs are unashamedly pop, and even more so than on previous albums H and Lee Latchford-Evans might as well have stayed at home as they barely register on the 38-minute LP.
The album kicks off with the lead single, the bombastic pop hit that is ‘Scared of the Dark’ which is easily the best song on the album, feeling both like classic Steps and a more modern dance track. Lyrically it’s a step up from much on the album and the dance focus works well, alongside the powerful builds of the verses and bridges thanks to Claire’s vocals. It’s the sort of song you could slot back into their earlier greatest hits and it wouldn’t look out of place.
Second track ‘You Make Me Whole’ is a slower number which has a similar successive tempo build that keeps it rolling well, but the repetitive chorus feels like a wasted opportunity, and it’s too close to bland modern club-dance for my personal tastes. Track three ‘Story of a Heart’, which looks to be the second single, was written by the two male members of Abba back in 2009 for their own album and boy does it sound like it is. Though lyrics like ‘as I stare at the back of a bus’ give it a slightly unintentional comic angle, this certainly feels like a lost Abba song and the group deliver the goods in a very Abba-esque sound, all together creating a strong harmonised ballad.
‘Happy’ switches up to something much more clubby and the beat and progression make for a catchy song with a slightly bittersweet feeling to the chorus. The lyrics are pretty bland but it makes for a fun enough pop song. The title inspiring ‘No More Tears on the Dancefloor’ follows and the influence of writer Darren Hayes is clearly audible in the opening, it’s just a shame that Hayes’ strong song-writing ability sees what could be a nice power ballad transformed into a bland Europop number but I suppose that’s the territory of the album. That said it’s one of the best tracks on the album and should be single number three.
Reaching the second half of the album ‘Firefly’ is another catchy pop song but combines the over-repetitive style of ‘Happy’ with a lyrics sheet that is very by-the-numbers. If you can forget the cheesiness of the words and the radio-friendly, but bland chorus, it has some redeeming features. ‘Space Between Us’ feels a little less dance-focussed and is all the better for it. The verses don’t really stand up but the touching well-written chorus makes up for it.
‘Glitter and Gold’ ramps up the drum machine and takes a style from ‘From Paris to Berlin’, firmly nailing its colours to the Europop mast. This is actually one of my favourites on the album. It doesn’t do anything huge but plays out nicely, whilst penultimate track ‘Neon Blue’ slows things down and offers more light and shade to create a stronger pop number.
The album closes with ‘I Will Love Again’ which is an OK power ballad that wraps things up nicely.
‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ is a welcome return for Steps and fits in nicely next to their core first three albums though it doesn’t have as many big hitters as those earlier releases, some of the songs here a little closer to filler than I would like, but overall it’s a fun, perky dance-pop number that is the perfect album to sit down and put on when you want something uplifting and undemanding. As you’d expect it’s pretty much Claire’s album with Faye and Lisa on harmony duties whilst H and Lee will be cashing their appearance cheque for little work. A good return and an album that does what it needs to do. (7/10)