Last Dance

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One of the few teenybopper acts to exit the pop world while still at the top of their game, relentlessly cheerful five-piece Steps spoiled their legion of fans' Christmases when they split up on Boxing Day in 2001. With no new material in the works, their record company, Jive, was forced to raid their archives in a bid to prolong their legacy, the result of which is The Last Dance, a two-CD, 24-track collection of B-sides, obscurities, and remixes. Released nearly a year after their surprise announcement, the hodgepodge collection will undoubtedly serve as a decent stocking-filler for their distraught fan base, but will probably have those who never succumbed to their brand of Hi-NRG bubblegum pop grumbling "bah humbug." The three B-sides here are surprisingly strong, with the Eurovision-style "To Be Your Hero," the flamenco-tinged ballad "Why," and the schlager-pop of "Just Like the First Time" just as shiny, melodic, and glossily produced as the singles they accompanied, while the ABBA-inspired Europop of "Human Touch" and the All Saints-inspired sugary R&B of "Mars and Venus (I've Fallen in Love Again)," both only previously available on international editions of Buzz and Gold, respectively, are both tracks that should have made the original cuts anyway. However, the four cover versions, including the tracks performed for ITV's Motownmania (the Temptations' "Too Busy Thinking Bout My Baby") and ABBAMania ("I Know Him So Well," "Lay All Your Love on Me") and their contribution to Jive's Platinum Christmas album (Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody"), sound like cheap and contrived attempts to repeat the success of "Tragedy," while the orchestral medley of their biggest hits sounds like it's escaped from a James Last album. The 11 reworkings of nine of their Top 20 singles also constitute a mixed bunch, with the W.I.P. remixes of "Tragedy," "Last Thing on My Mind," and "Better Best Forgotten" adding nothing to the originals apart from a tinnier house beat and extended intros/outros -- however, "5,6,7,8" sounds much better as a pulsing slice of acid-techno than it does as a novelty country hoedown, and the club potential of "Deeper Shade of Blue" is realized on a Sash-esque trance remix by the Sleaze Sisters. The Last Dance is a perfectly enjoyable swan song, but those who want to remember them at their best would be better off sticking with Gold.

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