Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Pages proves there's no one like Shaznay Lewis


Release date: 17 May 2024
Shaznay Lewis Pages cover
17 May 2024, 08:30 Written by Quentin Harrison

Shaznay Lewis first came to public notice as one-fourth of the English girl group All Saints; founded in 1993.

Things didn’t take off for the quartet until they joined with London Records in 1996, when Lewis, Melanie Blatt and the Appleton sisters (Nicole and Natalie) issued their eponymous 1997 debut. The cool pop vibe of that album drew on then-contemporary R&B mined from both American and British sources, awarding them stellar sales and warm reviews. Their impressive sophomore set Saints and Sinners (2000) upscaled on the already high quality of its predecessor – which made their split at the top of 2001 shocking. Although each member was integral to All Saints appeal, Lewis’ pen powered the bulk of the material they rendered.

Open followed in the summer of 2004, a sun-kissed batch of soul-pop with pronounced reggae and funk accents. However, the U.K. charts were a crowded, competitive field of play at that time, and Lewis’ label (still London Records) didn’t know how to market what has since been lionized as a solid solo effort.

Twenty years have come and gone since Open with Lewis certainly keeping busy: marriage, motherhood, and two All Saints reformations. Said reunions yielded three new recordings in Studio 1 (2006), Red Flag (2016) and Testament (2018), keeping Lewis’ writing game quite sharp. Evidence of this is made clear with the independent release of Pages on her own imprint.

All 12 cuts on her second standalone offering find Lewis leading as the primary songwriter, which isn’t to say she lacks a collaborative spirit. Aside from exciting guest spots from Rebecca “Self Esteem” Taylor on “Pick You Up,” and Shola Ama and General Levy on “Good Mourning,” several notable writer-producers pitch in on the construction of the long player: Michael Angelo, Jez Ashurst, Ben Cullum, Johan Hugo, Moyses Dos Santos, Charlie Stacey, Emily Phillips and Ant Whiting.

Pages is a luxe affair, an exercise in classic-to-contemporary British R&B and pop excellence. This is heard immediately at its start with “Missiles,” a midtempo stunner trimmed in orchestral curio, tied to a loping groove and backbeat. From the electro-soul psychedelia of “Supposed To Be” on over to the retro-modernist disco of “Tears on the Dancefloor,” Lewis is in possession of strong songs rife with all sorts of compositional details worth discovering. Cullum stands tall as the principal producer, smithing the LP to her precise specifications for its larger, richer sound.

But what is a song without a voice to command it? Entries like “Miracle” and “Hearts in Danger” have Lewis in vocal symmetry with the grandeur of these (and other) arrangements across the expanse of this passion project. Her instrument is the perfect blend of instinct and technical skill—hallmarks for anyone familiar with Lewis’ anterior work. A new kind of energy charges her singing on Pages, owed to a freshly minted bravura and wisdom in equal measure.

These same traits also inform the lyrics of this collection too.

“I pull on past experiences, past feelings, which is how the drama is written; and I love drama in music [...]. At the same time I was visualizing and experiencing a lot of things throughout making the record, life gives you plenty to draw on.” Lewis’ comments regarding the narrative core for Pages reveals favor for observational character studies versus typical R&B soapiness; see the cited “Miracle” and “Bruises” as fantastic examples. She does partake in the personal with “Kiss of Life” and “Got to Let Go,” both pieces are odes to her teenage children and their inexorable journey into adulthood; they’re cleverly designed to sidestep saccharine excess and embrace emotional charisma instead. Further proof of Lewis’ scripting abilities are disclosed in her exploration of the socio-political on “Peaches” and “Awake (Motu).”

There is an indelible link between African Americans and Black Britons that Lewis taps into on these two tracks – an overlap between our respective stories of struggle, self-determination and eventual triumph. Whereas “Peaches” focuses on the horrific Devil’s Punchbowl Massacre of 1865 in Natchez, Mississippi, “Awake (Motu)” can best be described as a missive on modern civil rights in the United Kingdom. Each selection points to the impact of artistic globalization on the collective psyche of the Black diaspora, a demonstration of our connection despite any geographical divides.

Given her credentials – and the two decades separating Open and Pages – there’s bound to be some sense of heightened commercial expectations surrounding this album. Lewis certainly doesn’t eschew broader appeal here, but she isn’t overly concerned with it either. What makes Pages thrilling is that it demonstrates a commitment to the refinement and renewal of craft; and it also makes one thing abundantly clear: there’s no one quite like Shaznay Lewis.

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