Twenty years ago, there was a minor kerfuffle in the music press when M People’s album Elegant Slumming won the Mercury Music Prize over more apparently credible Britpop acts.
It all seems a very long time ago – and pretty silly in retrospect – but it was the closest this quintessentially ’90s band ever came to controversy in a resolutely mainstream career in which they became the acceptable soundtrack to a decade of dinner parties, TV adverts and sporting events.
Now marking that anniversary with a reunion tour, very little has changed other than the absence of founder Mike Pickering and a new straightened hairstyle for singer Heather Small. That voice, so distinctive it features as a running joke on the sitcom Miranda, is still big and booming, however, as the band briskly open with One Night In Heaven.
Yet as it gives way to Excited, Angel Street, Search For The Hero, Sight For Sore Eyes and the rest, they all start to blur together, each stuffed with lyrical clichés straight out of a positive thinking seminar, set to the politest possible version of house music. Even their cover versions, Dennis Edwards’ Don’t Look Any Further or CeCe Rogers’ Someday, follow the same well-worn path, with only an instrumental acid jazz break (while Small changes outfits) breaking the pattern.
For those with happy memories of the songs, this is more than enough and the band are rapturously received. But it is a bland, professional trot though bland, professional material.