Steps

Steptacular

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To clear up any confusion, Steps' only U.S. release, Step One, is a compilation of half the songs from its first two U.K. releases, though it borrows the title of its first album and the same cover art from its second album. Steptacular was the band's first overseas record to reach number one, and it did so instantaneously. This was probably thanks to a marketing scheme of releasing a double-track single during the promotion for Step One, which included the Bee Gees cover "Tragedy," a preview song from Steptacular. The anticipation for the new album grew intense, mostly in the U.K., especially when "After the Love Has Gone" broke out on radio, a song which, as usual, paid stylistic homage to its pop forefathers. Steps may never be said to have a style all its own, due to relentless borrowing from ABBA. There was a time when Ace of Base was criticized for manipulating the ABBA sound into something less mature, but Ace of Base found a niche all its own and earned a solid reputation. In many ways, Steps is much more ABBA-esque, drilling out power ballad pick-me-ups that walk a fine line between inspiration and thievery. The other highlights here are "Love's Got a Hold on My Heart" and "Say You'll Be Mine." Like last time around, the guys have only a couple of songs all their own, which should make for something worth noting, but just as the pulsating, thundering synthesizer sets listeners up for something great on "My Best Friend's Girl," the song falls into a dreary calm that is really a disappointment. It is easy, though premature, to advise that the guys leave the singing to the girls, but then there are one too many repetitive songs already. The only difference is that some are rich and memorable and the others play filler. The top-selling single for "Tragedy," which made a bridge between albums, was a smart move, because the second album sounds like a mere continuation rather than something new. [An import version of Steptacular adds a four-track bonus CD that includes the following songs: "To Be Your Hero," one remix of "One for Sorrow," and two remixes of "After the Love Has Gone."]

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