The new group worked quickly in the studio, releasing three singles, "Colour My Life," "Excited" and "How Can I Love You More," in 1991. All went into the Top 10 of the U.K. pop charts. Those tracks eventually made their way across the Atlantic to become underground club hits as imports, generating a huge buzz about M People. Those three singles are included on the U.S. version of "Elegant Slumming," which is actually the group's second album.
Their debut album, "Northern Soul," which also includes the premiere singles, was released in 1992 to widespread critical acclaim. A subsequent tour established the M People as one of the U.K.'s top live bands. By using the musicians who'd played on its records for the tour, M People distanced itself from the lip-sync stereotype of dance artists.
The 1993 release of "Elegant Slumming" in the U.K. yielded three more Top 10 hits--"One Night in Heaven," "Moving on Up" and a version of Dennis Edwards' R&B staple "Don't Look Any Further"--and the stateside buzz intensified.
Proving that the music has actual weight is one of Pickering's main goals, one that's nearly as important as actually making the music. From the album's title (lifted from author Tom Wolfe's withering description of New York socialites who threw fund-raisers for the Black Panther Party) to the music's ability to unite various elements of society, Pickering sees a powerful political subtext in the music.
"Dance music brings far more people together than any rock music does," he insists. "It speaks to youth culture because it tends to have a far more optimistic message than rock music. I think young people these days, in England, throughout Europe, and even in the States, they need hope. They don't need to be told they are living in a (expletive) hole. They know they are."
With the U.S. release of "Elegant Slumming" (which is made up of five tracks each from their two U.K. efforts), Pickering intends to bring the same positive vibe to U.S. fans that has made the outfit one of dance music's great hopes in Europe.
"I think the main thing with M People is optimism and self-belief," he explains. "That's why the dance scene is so big here. We've had some lean years and people want to hear something other than a band telling them that everything is doom and gloom and that they're all finished. That's one of the reasons the album has the title it does."
How does Wolfe's putdown of pseudo-political socialites convey hope?
Pickering chuckles. "Initially," he admits, "I just liked the sound of 'elegant slumming.' But in England, if you have no money it's called slumming. I just felt that for a group of young people who have no money, who are so oppressed by a variety of social and political circumstances, they slummed very elegantly."