Touch, March 1997
statistics now read
like a maths formula, its groovesome to
know that Easther, Vernie and Kéllé are still
satisfied by the seemingly little things in life
- like having their last single 'Secrets' played
by London radio station Choice FM.
They're the UK's most successful black group, the UK's most successful girl group, and just between you and the world, easily the UK's most talented and stylish girl group. But Eternal's success extends far beyond the UK. Way into South East Asia, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Malaysia and Holland. Eternal's album sales total nearly three million and each of their eleven singles has been a top 20 hit.
Last time around, Eternal were promoting their second album, 'Power Of A Woman', and dealing with those oh-so-naughty questions regarding Louise Nurding's departure. Whitey had left - everyone assumed - to make it a darn sight easier for the racially streamlined group to enter the US charts (although as it turned out, 'Power...' wasn't even released there). Who bothered lend an ear to Eternal's protests that they all remained friends and how, in fact, Louise and Kéllé had been friends since their teeny days at the Italia Conti Stage School.
Choice FM playing Eternal choons is an interesting incident as it indicates - to those who didn't know the sisters had funk and soul from the get go - Eternal's return home. In their last Touch interview, the ladies were a tad peeved at the lack of grassroots support. Secretly though everyone was rooting for the girls, egging them onto bigger, better, funkier things. "It's a contradiction in itself," Vernie says. "The DJs had said to me that 'Power Of A Woman' was too commercial. For me, radio stations like Choice playing our stuff is exactly what I thought would happen. Someone has to sit down and listen to the whole album and recognise all types of music are in there."
It's easy to recognise the influences on 'Before The Rain', Eternal's third album in four years (surely they qualify for the UK's hardest working artists as well?). Sisters Easther and Vernie Bennett grew up listening exclusively to gospel in their pastor mother's strict household, while Kéllé grew up listening to everything her ears could snatch. Eternal's first album 'Always And Forever' gave them a smash hit in the American R'n'B charts and 'Before The Rain' is scheduled for release Stateside, one of the few markets left for the ladies to truly crack.
And accordingly, four extra tracks more suited to the US market have been recorded. This may actually put British Eternal fans in the bizarre position of buying their newest and funkiest grooves on import. Some songs, such as the gospel-edged first single 'Don't You Love Me', with its layered child choirs and orchestral manoeuvres will raise the eyebrows and heart rates of Eternal listeners used to their more sedate style. The surprisingly socially aware 'Grace Under Pressure' is where the ladies strut new ground, while others such as the light-as-a-breeze 'I'm Still Crying', written by Kéllé for her recently divorced mother, are more in keeping with Eternal's normally soulful pop.
Contrary to the misleading impression First Avenue sometimes gives, most artists on the label are exceedingly savvy when it comes to the industry. Eternal recognise the advantage of the American charting system, with its R'n'B, pop, rock, reggae charts enabling, what is labelled 'specialist' music over here, the chance to get its groove on big time.
The ladies are professional as always; immaculate, polite, intelligent, responsive and complete jokers. Though lead singer Easther was cold, crouching over an electric heater, she still managed to use her psychology training to probe this reporter on personal matters that really, it has to be said, do not concern her. They're still wonderfully stush, but at times, very down-to-earth. Vernie still switches on The Box when she returns home and cuts her eye when asked if she's ever selected one of her own promo videos. "Honey, who do I need to when they're always on?" Her partners give up their props with a simultaneous "You go girl!" Indeed. You go girls.
The single 'Don't You Love Me' is released March 3rd, the album 'Before The Rain' is released on March 17th on EMI records