The difference between a great pop-house record and a generically competent one can seem inscrutable. It’s not that the great ones are hard to detect – “Lola’s Theme” is like “Ride On Time” or “Dreamer”, the house beat smoothly assembled into a railgun of euphoria, punching brass or vocal samples into orbit. But why these particular payloads of joy, in this arrangement, compared to those other would-be bangers and anthems?

Maybe it’s just serendipity. Simon Marlin, the remaining Shapeshifter (the other half of the duo left in 2017), has enjoyed a respectable career as a house producer without ever recreating the alchemy of “Lola’s Theme”: in interviews he acknowledges he owes his career to this one tune, which leads to a complex relationship with it. Like Radiohead and “Creep”, for a while he stopped playing it, until he realised the DJs he admired still had “Lola’s Theme” in their bags.

He’s candid, too, about how unassuming the origins of the track are. Lola is his wife; the title was a working title. It’s called that because she happened to put on a record one morning – Johnnie Taylor’s 1982 LP Just Ain’t Good Enough – and Marlin heard something in the brass intro to “What About This Love?” that caught his attention. He played the track again, pitching it up. His life changed.

Perhaps this is the salient difference between genius and genre – a good ear, a stroke of luck, and the sense to turn that luck into something more by the application of sound decisions. Like a lot of house tunes, “Lola’s Theme” draws not just on pre-house samples but on the wise choices of genre predecessors. Anthony White’s excellent early-90s piano house tune “Love Me Tonight” provides the words and half the melody for the chorus – just as with the speeding up of Taylor’s velvety boudoir soul into a fanfare, a small piece of tinkering and re-stitching turned a strong hook into an unstoppable one.

Two golden hooks might have been enough – for me, though, the best decision in “Lola’s Theme” was a third one. The group recruited a singer, Cookie, from the London Community Gospel Choir, to turn the track into a song. Not just any song – Cookie’s gospel background is crucial, because the emotional power of “Lola’s Theme” is the power of redemption and transformation, the sense that something or someone has come into your life and done to it what Simon Marlin did to that old soul tune.

Nobody can belt out transformative joy like a gospel singer. But while the style and techniques Cookie is using were designed for Jesus, pop has long since borrowed them for more secular redemption. It’s the sense of personal salvation that matters. Cookie’s gospel belting, her expansion on the truth found in that Anthony White sample, makes “Lola’s Theme” a tune that can resonate with anyone who found someone, or something, that tilted the axis of their lives. Her performance makes the song earn that fanfare.

Score: 8

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