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The Ultimate Collection
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  • Released nearly ten years after their Boxing Day breakup ruined millions of bubblegum pop fans' Christmas leftovers, The Ultimate Collection is the second major-label compilation from relentlessly cheerful quintet Steps. Coinciding with their four-part Sky Living TV documentary series, which sees each of the group's five members recount her or his own personal experiences of the band, the inclusion of a brand-new track, a karaoke-style cover version of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" that sounds as exactly like you'd expect, suggests they might be testing the waters for a full-blown reunion. They'll have to drastically update their sound if they do, as other than the Italo house-inspired "Deeper Shade of Blue," which fits right in with the current retro-dance revival, these 20 tracks couldn't be more quintessentially late '90s/early 2000s if they tried. Nevertheless, Steps were never the most fashionable of pure pop outfits anyway, and there's still much to enjoy here, from their triumphant cover of the Bee Gees' "Tragedy" to the Britney-esque "The Way You Make Me Feel" to the melancholic dance-pop of "One for Sorrow" and "After the Love Has Gone," although it would take a glutton for punishment to sit through the novelty country hoedown of "5, 6, 7, 8" and their tacky rendition of Kylie classic "Better the Devil You Know" more than a few times. Other than the superfluous new track, there's not much for loyal Steps fans to get excited about, with only three changes from 2001's Gold: The Greatest Hits. However, with its chronological track list and substitution of non-singles "Only in My Dreams" and "Baby Don't Dance" for two double A-side tracks that were previously omitted ("You'll Be Sorry," "I Know Him So Well"), it does in fact paint a slightly more rounded picture of their impressive chart-bothering back catalog. It remains to be seen whether any future material will have anywhere near the same impact as Take That's similar TV-led re-formation, but as a nostalgic journey back to a more innocent -- and indeed perhaps more fun -- pop era, The Ultimate Collection is undeniably a hugely enjoyable listen. ~ Jon O'Brien
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