Tag Archives: Girls Aloud

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective (Part 2)

 

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective. Part 2~Album Tracks

Why do we find it so hard to celebrate success? When Girls Aloud’s first album launched, the reception had one common thread: Confusion. The music critics clearly felt hard done by, as they had been ready to declare the manufactured, too many cooks production, product of reality TV a yawn-inducing disaster. And when it wasn’t they didn’t really know what to say. Why not offer up any of the following: Awesome? Well done? Can’t wait for the follow up? Most of the reviews I have read end by reminding the audience that the girls will struggle to maintain their career at the same level.

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Hindsight is marvellous isn’t it? While Girls Aloud’s march of success wasn’t without bumps in the road (and fists in other people’s faces) it is clear to anyone who has been paying any attention at all that they didn’t peak with album one.

So I am here to celebrate my favourite Girls Aloud tracks from every Girls Aloud album because while the quality of their work really does speak for itself, I needed an excuse to look through millions of Nicola gifs:

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It’s not stalking if our marriage is only in my mind…

Let us get some bias out the way: These are not the tracks that are necessarily musically their best because I am not fit to judge such things and the order they have been put into is largely pedantic. These are simply my favourites. I decided to do a Top 20 only to discover I actually couldn’t narrow it down to that few. That is how much I love this group. So, after more hours than I care to admit, I was able to give you a Top 24. You are welcome. I say that, because more people read Part 1 than I was expecting so I guess I am not the only one who needed some closure after the demise of the best pop group of the past 20 years.

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The night the lights went out…Ok so that wasn’t actually the moment they broke up and we were all expecting it but…still…Nooooo…

Between December 2002 and their dispantion in March 2013 Girls Aloud released 7 albums in total, two of which were single collections including limited new material. Taking the ‘Hits’ records out of the running (although their new tracks will be counted in the actual list) here is how I feel about them as a whole starting from fair enough to ohmygodiloveit:

EARLY GA

5. Sound of the Underground (Album: 1. Peak Chart Position: 2. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 1)

Before Xenomania and the great Brian Higgins took over proceedings completely, the sound of Girls Aloud struggled to get off the ground. While there are a lot of songs with fun, silly, danceable choruses, the girls themselves get lost a bit and man oh man the ballads are bad. In the end, while several of them nearly made the cut, only 1 album track from their début made my personal list. I would still recommend it for completion’s sake but it is not a must have.

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4. Out of Control (Album: 5. Peak Chart Position: 1. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 4)

Some reviewers gleefully pounced on this record as evidence that Xenomania were starting to run dry. While I disagree and actually enjoy it a lot, I see where they are coming from. This is an album that plays it a little safe compared to what came before, but it still has moments of sheer lunacy and joy that more than make up for any repetition or lacklustre ideas. Plus Nicola and Kimberly get to sing a lot more than they usually do which is never a bad thing.

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3. What will the Neighbours Say? (Album: 2. Peak Chart Position: 6. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 4)

To be honest with you, there is nothing between this and Tangled Up. Both of them are excellent albums, this one may have the edge on Tangled Up purely because of how it took things to the next level for Girls Aloud musically, but I swapped them when I saw how I rated the individual tracks on the actual list…It was tough though. This is not a game to me…This is super cereal.

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2. Tangled Up (Album: 4. Peak Chart Position: 4. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 5)

See above. Excellent album, some cool songs, a couple of missteps, but pretty awesome. This one kind of felt like the most experimental musically speaking which meant a lot of the tracks are not the most personal sounding songs in the world, but I forgive it because man alive can I dance to them…

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1. Chemistry (Album: 3. Peak Chart Position: 11. Number of Tracks in my Top 24: 7)

What the Hell British public? Just as the good people at Xenomania mastered the modern pop album, interest seemingly began to drop off, going by the peak chart position. Thankfully their subsequent singles collection and a successful tour revitalised things but if it had all ended here it would still been quite the triumph. Chemistry borders on a concept album as most of the material talks about the fast paced modern world, the illusion of fame and success and generally just being a 20-something with lots of money. It is so close to perfect it hurts a bit: But one or two incredibly insipid tracks, that don’t fit with the flow at all and just scream management interference, stop it just short of being a greatest hits collection in its own right.

Bizarrely you can get a special edition version with a bunch of Christmas songs on it, which is a bit like throwing Hava Nagila on the tail end of ‘Pet Sounds’ but ok…whatever sells more units I guess.

Additionally the single choices for this record baffle me beyond belief but we will get to that in Part 3…But enough of any negativity. Chemistry has 8 tracks (Plus an intro) that were not released as singles and 7 of them appear in my top 24. If you have to own only one Girls Aloud album, this is the one.

Enough of this nonsense! Let’s have some slightly different nonsense! Right now! Yeaaaaahhh…

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24. Live in the Country (Out of Control)

 

I debated not putting this song on the list because so many fans seem to really hate it: I think it is because in the same year Memory of You was a B Side Live in the Country made the album and so I do understand. But this is my list and frankly any song which conjures up images of a pissed up Sarah Harding staggering around a village fête is ok by me.

The track was created as a response to band member Harding’s choice to swap London for a farm and while the chorus isn’t all that, the verses are awesome and the drum/bass descending into animal noises alone deserves a mention.

Best Lyric: ‘I want a stall at the fête selling strawberry shortcake, and walls that are very discreet’ Excellent.

Best Vocal: While Kimberly’s crisp delivery of the line above is fantastic, I have to give it to my girl Nic for her beautiful slight mispronunciation of the word eccentric with: ‘I’ll be out of my head, but they’ll say I’m eccentric, and look the other way…’

Any Live Performances?: Nope.

 

23. Control of the Knife (Tangled Up)

 

Girls Aloud do reggae…Kind of. The ska influences are undeniable here and while it isn’t as impactful as a lot of their work it is fun to dance to and it is kind of cool to have them tackling something new. I love the juxtaposition of the horns that kick in at the end and the repeated refrain (Got sweet hassle, sweet talking me, got cheap babble, cheap talking free) in a computer voice. However it is missing a much needed conclusion…Enter the live version…

Best Lyric: ‘You’re keeping control of the knife…But I’m not your darling’ is enjoyably cold for such an uptempo number.

Best Vocal: Well I will have to take it to the live version to answer that…

Any Live Performances?: Yes, they did it on their Tangled Up Tour to great effect. Bringing in Kelis’s ‘Trick Me’ at the end works surprisingly well as does Cheryl barking out dance instructions. Speaking of Cheryl the look she gives the camera as she howls: ‘I’ll never let you trick me twice!’ is genuinely a little scary. Hell, everything about this performances works because of her: The aggressive way she attacks the choreography is superb. She may not be the strongest singer but damn, the tiny Geordie can work it:

 

22. Here we Go (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

One of the most important members of the GA team is Miranda Cooper, former pop star and Xenomania lyricist. Normally she works with a crew and GA to make the magic happen but on this occasion this song was one she had written for herself. Recorded under her alias Moonbaby, this would go on to be the theme to a somewhat popular show called ‘Totally Spies’ and was also recorded by the lead singer from Aqua. So by the time the girls got it, well, it was somewhat second hand and that kind of shows: It sounds a little more generic than a lot of their best stuff.

Nonetheless, they still seem to have fun with it, especially when it comes to the dirtier lyrics. That opening line, delivered by a then still 18 year old Nicola, ‘Put your tongue in my ear, it’s queer but kind of fun’ sets the tone nicely. Plus there is a brilliant synth hook, some good guitar work and the build up to that nearly-but-not-quite rock chorus is a nice ride. And yes. Totally Spies is a children’s show. And yes. They changed the lyrics a lot to make it broadcastable.

Best Lyric: By a country mile: ‘I don’t do sex, but I do do second base…So I suggest you wipe that frown from off your face’ Outstanding…

Best Vocal: They swap back and forth a lot in this one but I still can’t quite get over Nicola’s ‘Put your tongue in my ear it’s queer but kind of fun…’ but Kim also does a great job with ‘I suggest you wipe that frown from off your face’

Any Live Performances?: Yes they did this on their first little tour and it comes to life a bit more than it does on the recording. I like Sarah best in this one actually as her shouty vocals lend itself to the spirit of the original track more than the others:

 

21. Love is Pain (Out of Control)

 

That intro always confuses me because while the song is a sharp, smooth, cold bit of glacier dance pop, I always think of ‘The Bad Touch’ in the bit before the vocals…Make of that what you will. Unsurprisingly, this is largely considered to be a song about Cheryl’s cheating Husband but it is the simplicity of the track and the underplayed vulnerability in the delivery that sells it for me, not any behind the scenes drama that may or may not have been going on. A solid bit of break up dance music.

Best Lyric: None of the lyrics work well out of the context of the song, where the mood it creates is the thing, but there is something about the line ‘…Feel I could wipe you’ that appeals to me. The idea that you can just wipe a person who hurt you from your mind is pretty appealing…they should make a film about it or something…

Best Vocal: Easily Nicola’s opening verse…While Cheryl also does a great job with her moments, I think Nicola’s dainty delivery (‘I couldn’t have sung any softer without whispering’ she complains in a behind the scenes interview) is just stunning.

Any Live Performances?: They first did it on some ITV special and it is a good performance for Cheryl’s wounded puppy dog eyes for sure (seriously, girlfriend was hurting…) but the Out of Control Tour gave the song the wind machine it deserves:

 

20. Real Life (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

I really, really like the lyrics to this song. To me, it is about the gamble of fame and how addictive it is and how everyone just wants a little more…Soon it is no longer a bit of fun but an occupation where the outcome really matters. You need people to love you in order to keep doing it and once you are on that kind of ride, that relies on others almost 100%, it is not up to you when you get off…But maybe I am reading too much into it. After all this is a song that talks about kung fu twists.

Best Lyric: ‘Dance while your dollar’s going up up up, catch your lucky number while it’s rising, rising…’

Best Vocal: Nadine’s bridge is suitably dramatic: ‘I think I’m falling! I’m not done crawling!’

Any Live Performances?: I have heard it made an appearance on their Greatest Hits Tour but the full version was also part of the set list during their first outing around the country and includes some excellent work from everyone:

 

19. Some Kind of Miracle (Sound of the Underground)

 

This is the only non-single I like enough to take with me from the first album but I really do find it charming. It was originally going to be a single until they were asked to sing a cover for a Richard Curtis film…Which is kind of a shame because this song deserves to be heard. On the surface, it could belong to anyone but the bridge and chorus both have an intense quality I love, and for me it is how I used to feel at discos…there is something just beyond adorable about a song with lines about a ‘dj box’ and a ‘glitter ball’ and then there is the ‘ba-ba-ba’ which just reminds me of 5pm CBBC drama theme tunes, and then out of nowhere that line ‘something kinda sexual…makes doing you incredible’ Jesus that escalated quickly…This is where the similarities between this and my school disco experience come to an abrupt end.

Best Lyric: ‘I roll my eyes as if I don’t care anyway, but deep inside I close my eyes and pray’ sums up my flirting technique.

Best Vocal: Again, they swap around a lot so there is not a lot of time to take in interpretation plus to add to my confusion I have both the version that was going to be released as a single and the original album track where they all sing different lines…I think it has to be Cheryl who says: ‘I’m tired of hanging round the DJ box pretending that I’m cool’ Just because I am a little bit obsessed with the inclusion of that phrase and the way they make it fit…Is that what you call it? Really? A DJ Box?

Any Live Performances?: Sadly not, but here is the alternative version which differs a bit (it is a bit more polished) just for a change:

 

18. Deadlines and Diets (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

Another almost single, this kind of feels like an All Saints song tonally (specifically Never, Ever. I swear I wrote this before seeing the same thing written online in a Stylus review…) and is that rare thing: A Girls Aloud song that is kind of cool. Well, as cool as any song that includes the line groovy can be. Although, Cheryl’s delivery suggests it is being used in a post-modern sarcastic way…Does that help?

This is another song that was recorded by Moonbaby, but unlike ‘Here we Go’ I feel like Girls Aloud succeed in making it their own. These are girls who you can imagine waking up, looking around and going: ‘Oh fuck, not again.’ Especially Harding.

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The repetition of the bridge and chorus gets a bit old, but perhaps it is to emphasise the cycle of one night stands? Whatever, they sound great and it really sells the story: It has me reaching for the aspirin every time.

Best Lyric: The filthy innuendo of…’Wham bam, my life’s a disaster movie…But as I’m going down I’ll grin’ Tee hee.

Best Vocal: I know my bias is starting to show for the ginger one, but on the recording Nicola’s defeated and dry delivery of the final bridge/middle 8 is just too good.

Any Live Performances?: Yes. And check out those market stall dresses…You can tell this was their first tour huh?

 

17. Close to Love (Tangled Up)

 

You heard it here first: Girls Aloud need more wood. Yep. So this song is stupid but it isn’t cheesy: the production is excellent and it is all just so enjoyable. It is that kind of song that you have to bop to, just for the sake of moving. It is proper disco with funny lyrics and frankly sounds like it has been around forever. I can’t listen to that chorus without grinning. I don’t have much else to say about it: It is fun, fast and damn fine.

Best Lyric: ‘We’re gonna start this fire, cause I know I should, watch the flames go higher, we’re gonna need more wood’ Innuendos FTW.

Best Vocal: Nadine sounds pretty awesome in the live version, but I gotta go with my girl Nic, for the second bridge.

Any Live Performances?: Yes they did it on the Tangled Up Tour. Now that is clearly not them singing live on the chorus (that may have been added in post production though) but the dance routines crack me up on this one and it is as fun as a song like this should be. Any video that starts with Cheryl slapping Kim’s arse is going to be a good ‘un:

 

16. Crocodile Tears (Tangled Up)

 

While I will always love up tempo Aloud, this is one of several slower songs that demonstrate that with the right balance of pretty music and a spot on emotional pitch the girls can sell the fuck out of something more ‘adult’ in theme. It is about a break up but unlike a lot of girl band ballads, it has a darker shadowy vibe with a kind of resigned shrug of defeat behind it. Rather than wringing their hands and crying their eyes out, I imagine them staring numbly at the extra toothbrush, unsure of what to do next.

Musically it is hard to pin down quite what they were trying to do, but it works for me anyway. But most of all, and I can’t always say this, it is the performances that make the song. I really feel the morose defeat behind lines like: ‘ we better stop…before we tumble’ I can’t say how much direction they got with their delivery but it is just the right balance of genuine heart break and irritation at their bad luck.

Best Lyric: While I enjoy ‘stupid Cupid took a terrible landing…’ I like the emotional simplicity of ‘Why on Earth did you leave me? Did you need to leave me?’ best of all. Those two lines say so much with so little.

Best Vocal: I really like Sarah’s heartfelt ‘I gotta stop…dreaming away now’ but Kimberly’s trademark light delivery fits beautifully with her ‘Why on Earth did you leave me?’ It suggests a suitable bewilderment that comes with being dumped.

Any Live Performances?: Given that there are some lovely vocals on this, I am sad they never did it live.

 

15. It’s Magic (Chemistry)

 

A Nicola solo! It’s a Christmas Miracle!

Like the B Side ‘I Don’t really Hate You’ this doesn’t quite feel like a complete song in how it meanders and it took takes a few listens to ‘get it’ as a result but I got there in the end. It tips the hat to 80’s dance pop at every turn  and there is an odd urgency to the production despite the mellowness of the sound. While I wouldn’t have said no to it being a group effort it is nice that Nicola got an opportunity to carry a whole song (her second incidentally, but this one works better for me) and she pulls off an understated delivery with flair.

Best Lyric: For some reason I love the line ‘I need some help shifting this heartache’ It is such a relatable sentiment.

Best Vocal: It is all Nicola, but I like her delivery of ‘With you, only you, I know that I can be myself…funny how I can find that with you and no-body else’

Any Live Performances?: No. I guess I understand why…This is more about the production than it is about the performance.

 

14. Watch Me Go (Chemistry)

 

I usually find songs about sex kind of bland, like they have been written by people who have heard of this thing called ‘doing it’ but have never actually engaged in the activity themselves and, to be honest, the initial lyrics of ‘Watch me Go’ are no different. All this talk of all day fuck fests involving bondage and laboured metaphors about explosions (Like cum! I get it!) just scream: ‘Isn’t this filthy, aren’t we bad?’ which just sucks. (like cu-Ok we ALL get it)

But the beat is truly fantastic and then, in classic Xenomania fashion, there is a sudden shift in tone with the cheerful verse: ‘Strippers and the vicars in the back…’ What? What’s happening? And suddenly the song becomes a parody of ‘sexy’ with all this chat about taking it from a big trombone, like something out of a Carry On film…and then back to the super serious sexy song. But they are not done there, ending the song with a possibly pissed up Sarah Harding singing in a mocking voice ‘I know what you’re thinking you’ve been thinking about my butt’ What??? It is almost like these moments have been inserted to catch out people who are not listening properly and it is gloriously fun.

I have read reviews comparing this song to works from Salt n Pepper, Gwen Stefani, J Pop (in general) and Michael Jackson and none of these are inaccurate. The JC production is fantastic and it is real grower. And yes. That is another sex reference. Enjoy.

Best Lyric: ‘Strippers and the vicars in the back, First man cracked, Jump on the main line track, I take a little bit of pay, okay, and the beat of the big trombone!’ Because I didn’t see it coming. There’s another for you.

Best Vocal: Cheryl has a lot of fun with the ‘strippers and the vicars’ and Nadine has some great moments but I have to give it to Sarah’s hilarious fade out.

Any Live Performances?: Thank goodness they did this one on the Chemistry Tour. Even Nadine once said she wishes she could have done ‘Watch me Go’ more often. Plus how much fun does Cheryl have with her bit? And then there is my beautiful awkward Nic…God I love her.

 

13. Love is the Key (Out of Control)

 

That apparently Georgian choir intro going into a hook that I swear is so immediate that I felt I must have heard it somewhere before, is a strong start somewhat undermined by Kim’s silly faux American accent doing a largely typical ‘opposites attract’ song. Yawn. Hell, they even have Nic say the line: ‘I don’t mind the friction, cause opposites attract’ They are not even trying to pretend it is anything…nope. End of sentence. It isn’t anything.

Pushing aside the laziness of the verses the clang-clang electro country thing is great, the bridge (written by Kim herself) and the chorus are enjoyable enough. While Kim’s bridge lost me a bit by using the word guy three times it got me back with lines like ‘Now we’re picking out the tiles and curtains’ and ‘If you love somebody don’t ask why…Cupid mystifies’ And then there is that…’oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’ that MUST have existed before! Point is, there is a lot to get down to, not least of all the excellent inclusion of a harmonica solo in the fade out played by none other than The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Yep. A member of The Smiths features on a song with lines like ‘I’m mocha-chocca latte, you’re more espresso shot’

I will let him tell it:

‘I was working with Brian Higgins on a Pet Shop Boys record, and let it slip that I liked the guitars on a couple of Girls Aloud’s early singles. So he got me in a headlock, took me from behind and, before I knew it, I had a harmonic in my mouth.’

That’s show biz, kids.

Best Lyric: I like the line about picking out tiles and curtains. It is recognisably mundane and evocative, Cokieblume said pretentiously. Thanks Kim.

Best Vocal: Kimberly’s drawl on the word ‘blonde’ makes me roll my eyes but hell, it works. This is her moment really.

Any Live Performances?: Yes. They did a wonderfully camp version on the Out of Control Tour

 

12. Wild Horses (Chemistry)

 

So…While ‘Wild Horses’ is a great combination of sinister and delightfully fizzy, it is perhaps most fondly remembered as the song that has Girls Aloud making train noises. And quite rightfully so. What starts of as a classic backing vocal style ‘whoo-whoo’ builds to an actual ‘WHOOO-WHOOO’ and it is, of course, brilliant. But then, so is everything about this song.

The creepy intro that goes into the silly, sassy chorus, then a naff childishly delivered verse going straight into a much, much darker part musically aided by a snarling, low vocal by Sarah who has never sounded better. I love the shifts in tone considerably, it gives the track an urgency and an edge that is just so enjoyable. I read one review which likened the love affair discussed in the lyrics as being about sex so bad it becomes like sexual assault. Jesus. Quite a reading for a song with faux train noises, no?

Best Lyric: Is it wrong to award this to the train noise? I’m sorry but…I have to.

Best Vocal: Sarah’s work in some of the verses is genuinely great.

Any Live Performances?: Yes but sadly not the whole song. It goes into single ‘Wake me Up’ which is no bad thing but I wouldn’t say no to a whole performance of ‘Wild Horses’

(Skip to the end for classic Nadine/Nurhdeen bantz)

 

11. Racy Lacey (Chemistry)


The fact that so many of the stand out tracks on Chemistry got buried by lacklustre singles like See the Day and Long Hot Summer is a bit of a mystery. But I suppose when a large percentage of your fans are preadolescence, your pop princesses can’t be seen to be twisting round the stage celebrating/condemning a girl who has ‘a PHD with her legs apart.’ Although overall I imagine the average 12 year old girl can relate more to a song like this than a love ballad.

‘Racy Lacey’ is nasty despite of, or perhaps because of, how upbeat it is. These 5 are way, way too comfortable berating a girl for chewing up and spitting out men. It is undeniably the taunt of the playground bully more than a wry observational song about modern sexuality made all the more explicit by how it was introduced/performed on the Chemistry tour. Make no mistake: Lacey is the school bike and we should all hate her for it.

The intent and message of Racy Lacey always makes me think of a girl I knew at school who had a ‘reputation’ who one day confided in me that she was actually a virgin and had only ever kissed a couple of boys. I repaid her confidence by writing her into a play several years later. And putting her on this blog. Sorry. But the point is this: Some people are not always what they seem and the ‘na-na-na-na’ vibe of Racy Lacey never fails to conjure up this girl in my head.

Confused messages about casual sex aside, Lacey has a backing track that wouldn’t be out of place on an Austin Powers soundtrack, it is a send up of the groovy, complete with wacky sound effects, as well as a catty snarling chorus that is irritatingly memorable and an abrupt ending that concludes one of the best pop albums of the last 10 years with one hell of a mic drop. Unless you have the extended version with all the Christmas songs…Seriously…why?

Best Lyric: That is a very silly question. ANY song that has the line ‘She’s got undulating, grundulating, grinding hips’ gets a lifetime pass from me.

Best Vocal: I enjoy the mean girls bridge and chorus performed by everyone best of all but I do think Nadine stands out with her withering ‘And she’s worn them out by half past nine’

Any Live Performances?: Yep. Lacey got a delightfully tacky outing on the Chemistry tour. Bet that woke up the parents who had brought their kids to the concert…


10. Waiting (Chemistry)

 

I first heard this song while watching the Chemistry Tour and I immediately fell deeply in love and it remains a track I listen to a lot. However it stops short at number 10 because the recording just isn’t as good. The live performances are full of the energy and zest a tune like this needs and the studio work falls flat in comparison with none of the girls nailing the humour and pace such rich work highly deserves: it always feels a bit like they are struggling to keep up with it.

Having said that, it is still great. Musically it has a retro vibe running through it but it doesn’t broadcast it-That opening riff is so wonderfully assured, keeping in mind this was made before Mark Ronson started trying to bring funky swing back to the commercial mainstream. The lyrics are some of my favourites ever with wonderful golden nuggets spread throughout. Just…I genuinely can’t even handle the line: ‘Hey there buttercup…You’re like a peach on ice’ Read it again. Say the words out loud. I treasure and cherish the minds that brought that image into my head.

Best Lyric: As above. But for the sake of happy fingers I will write it again: ‘Hey there buttercup…you’re like a peach on ice.’ Fucking…yes.

Best Vocal: I think Nicola’s ‘Mr Magic is not some toy’ sounds great and bonus points to Sarah for ‘If every guy’s a dog then baby throw me to the wolves, I’ll never get to heaven with my glass half full’ I have no clue if it is trying to be flirty, sexy or just weird but I love it.

Any Live Performances?: For reasons I still don’t understand yet appreciate they incorporated ‘Waiting’ into the Out of Control Tour setlist, keeping in mind this was an album track from an record that came out about three years earlier. I guess they just like singing it: The live versions are much, much better than the recording. While I love that in the OOC performance a more confident Nicola found yet another ace way of saying ‘Mr Magic is not some toy,’ the energy and goofy dancing (especially from Cheryl) in the Wembley performance is off the charts.


9. Every Now and Then (Ten)

 

When Girls Aloud got back together to celebrate their ten year anniversary after three years apart, it was fair to say the fans were disappointed that the new album was packaged as a greatest hits collection when we were all dying for new material. But then we heard the 4 new tracks that padded out side one and…well…what I thought of the singles will have to wait for part 3, but my fucking God…Xenomania were awake again and God bless them all.

Every Now and Then is quite the banging tune. It is all kinds of intense and while the robo voice effects/icy production have been done better elsewhere it is still top drawer Aloud. The build up to the chorus is sublime and when it hits…All you can do is grab hold of something and hang on tight.

We all knew the end was nigh. When I heard Every Now and Then I wept a bit. Because it was over and because it was over. You see, they shouldn’t have ended because they were still phenomenal. But they should have ended because they were STILL phenomenal. It remains a fitting send off to the group that I genuinely do think about every now and then.

Best Lyric: ‘Never ever going back, I said I never would again, it’s better now that we’re apart, but I still think about you every now and then’ Does that not just sum up break ups so tidily? Xenomania should do Hallmark cards.

Best Vocal: Nicola sounds perfect in the opening, Cheryl sounds appropriately heartbroken with ‘but my heart won’t beat again’ and ‘you know why’ but Nadine’s voice really soars on this one in the chorus and ‘it flickers now and then.’

Any Live Performances?: No. No. Nope. It’s ok…I’m fine…

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I’m not really over this. Fucks sake they did Call Me Maybe on the last tour but not this?!

 

8. Miss You Bow Wow (Out of Control)

 

This song could well be the worst thing that ever existed. Or, more likely, a fairly innocuous bit of fluff. But here is the thing…I couldn’t tell you. I am not fit to judge it because it makes me happier than words can possibly explain. I have for the last several years screamed ‘I REMEM-BERRRR…’ at random moments quite a lot of the time and it never fails to fill my heart with a kind of lit up joy. Hell, I sing it so often my Partner regularly joins in with lyrics they made up themselves. Sometimes it alarms me just how much of my spare time is spent this way. You know how you can work out how many years people spend filling in tax returns and bathing etc? I suspect at least 5% of my life so far has been spent bellowing the lyrics to ‘Miss You Bow Wow’

And what lyrics. I ask you, not for the last time on this list, what the actual fuck is this song on about? He is looking bow wow wow? What??? Oh the words are quite remarkably dumb and yet they repeat them over and over as if that is going to help! The guitars and lines like ’20 minutes in the holiday bar then I slip into your girlfriend’s jeans’ suggest they were going for something with a little edge and if that is true they missed the mark with unutterable ineptitude…But if they just wanted to make another electro pop ear worm that is both perfect and ridiculous at the same time that I could dance around my room to then I salute you Xenomania…I DO remember living the dream…

Best Lyric: It does have to be: ‘I remember living the dream…20 minutes in the hotel bar, then I slip into your girlfriend’s jeans’ Horrible magic.

Best Vocal: The best bits are sung by Nadine, Cheryl and Sarah together so it is hard to single anyone out, but Sarah seems to be having the most fun with it and it suits her voice.

Any Live Performances?: Oh hell yes. From the Out of Control tour. Half the views on this video are me. I love this performance. Nadine may flub the lyrics to her solo but makes it up with her riff, Cheryl and Sarah are having a ball, and even my sadly silenced Nic gets a gorgeous moment at 3:18 and watching them jump and down like idiots on the second chorus is just…This is happiness.

 

7. Models (Chemistry)

 

A stonking opener to a superb album and the most single ready song they never released, Models is a fast paced, pissed off, sarcastic scene setter-Letting you know the tone of the album right off the bat. The theme of the record, to put it simply, seems to be: Is modern fame not just shallow and a bit shit? Which is a wonderful back bite to come from a now established and possibly world weary reality TV show commodity.

And the thing is, they can pull it off. Sure Cheryl was thrust into the middle of exactly this sort of bullshit by dating a footballer (‘only A list allowed’) and the rough edges borne of the council estates most of them grew up on was beginning to be rubbed out altogether, but they can still sell the Hell out of a song that needs a bad attitude. Each of them bring something to the table on Models whether it’s a silly posh accent, a Northern twang on the chorus, or bellowing the word ‘shit’ like her life depends on it (God bless Nurhdeen) each girl is fed up of London Fashion Week and the like in her own special way.

It is a heady, toxic, delirious slice of perfect electro pop and a genuine triumph of modern music. Models: Because when Girls Aloud get bored, the vocals get better.

Best Lyric: There’s a lot of funny stuff, the chorus is pretty great, but my personal vote goes to: ‘The girl’s got style, legs for miles, seen ’em walk all over you…’ We know that couple, yes? Sure we do.

Best Vocal: I really love how much Nurhdeen loves: ‘You get your kicks like flies to shit buzzing round the model zoo’ Fucking class act that girl.

Any Live Performances?: They seem to be having a whale of a time during the Chemistry tour…and with songs this good I’m not surprised:

WARNING: Photo compulsive epileptics beware! There are a lot of flashing lights in this one.

 

6. Girl Overboard (Tangled Up)

 

Girl Overboard is dance music at its most joyfully dramatic and I really love that the mood of the piece fits with the best of serious Aloud: All emotionally desperate but achingly beautiful. How dare I call it a ‘piece’ you say? Well fuck you, I would take ‘Girl Overboard’ over…well, insert any highbrow nonsense you dare here please. The girls sound great, the music is intense, the beat bloody well means business and I wave my arms up and down shouting ‘Oooh-oooh’ every time. It gets awkward on public transport.

Reading reviews of this song (and indeed the album) the phrase ‘Euro’ comes up a lot and while I can understand why (is it possible to listen to it without imagining you are in Ibiza getting an STI?) I will defend the lyrical content as being more interesting than your average floor filler. I have always interpreted it as a comment on the out of control head rush of the sudden fame the girls experienced. It is so easy to get lost. As with ‘Real Life’ above I might be giving Cooper and Higgins too much credit here but I can relate to that feeling of being overwhelmed and trying to stop for a moment to take in what is happening.

Or maybe it is about a girl who fell off a boat, I don’t know.

Best Lyric: ‘Somewhere along, I played it wrong, fell into a world so far from home’ Just…yes.

Best Vocal: I like everyone here, which is always nice. But I will single out Nicola on the last ‘somewhere along…’ as her vulnerable vocal suits it best.

Any Live Performances?: Yep. After the big intro, Girl Overboard kicks off the great Tangled Up tour. It is good stuff too. As with pretty much every track on this tour DVD it sounds like the chorus is dubbed but pushing that aside the solo moments are superb. Nadine really brings it, Nicola remains my Queen, and Sarah sounds fantastic but, rather unfortunately, my takeaway from this performance is that the choreographer clearly had their work cut out. The routine in the dance break, without the ‘boys’ to cover them, just screams ‘I am 14 and I made this up in front my mirror’ and I kind of love it:

 

The final order of the top 5 was a nightmare. Each of these songs are actual classics. Indisputably perfect. To try and write about my love for them hurts my heart. It is like trying to write my wedding vows or something. How can I condense the strength of my feeling into a few measly lines? The world must know though…So here we go…

 

5. Graffiti My Soul (What will the Neighbours Say?)

Originally composed for the Britney Spears album ‘Me Against the Music’ I am surprised her ‘team’ turned it down given how well I feel it would have suited Brit-Brit’s distinctive vocal styling and the record she put out that year. Apparently she recorded it but in the end they felt the lack of chorus was a problem. Cheryl said that the way Brit delivered the line ‘You dream of touching me there’ still haunts her nightmares and frankly I feel we all deserve to hear that. But oh well. All the more for Aloud.

You may have spotted I have not yet posted the link to the song. I feel it deserves a preamble before it literally blows your socks off. Xenomania are at their best when the lyrics are insane/catchy, the beat is big and bad and there is a hook to cling to. Here that hook is the guitar riff taken from the song ‘It’s not the Drug’ by Peplab. Supposedly Brian Higgins went all the way to Amsterdam to ask to nab it for the track and the band, presumably startled when he leapt out of a stripper cake or something, said yes. Combine it with utter filth and you have pure joy.

Utter filth? Hell yes. Remember all the innuendo in Here We Go and Deadlines and Diets I mentioned ages ago? Well for Graffiti my Soul they thought ‘fuck subtlety with a lubricated horse dick, let’s just literally give the 18 year Catholic girl the opening gambit of…’

 

That’s right. Nadine Coyle has a fist full of love that’s coming your way. And boy oh boy oh boy does it make me giddy:

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Are you honestly telling me you feel nothing? Sure it is a noisy, chaotic, brash mess but it is also 5 young girls declaring an open heart as good as suicide and warning would be suitors that they are not yet interested in kids and cash…It is a celebration of being young and horny and they sell it without being too gratuitous. Unlike the likes of the Pussycat Dolls, when Girls Aloud sing about sex it doesn’t feel like a marketing gimmick trying to hook in boys-This is one for the girls. And yet it doesn’t feel patronising either. It understands the joy of being desirable without any of the longing for longevity. Kind of like being a teenager in a reality pop band…

Plus, even if you are not 20 years old and eager to do the knuckle shuffle on a Saturday night with a ‘walking talking mannequin’ you just met at a bar, it is still one of the most danceable songs I have ever heard.

Graffiti my Soul gets me going in a way I can’t explain. I want to weep. Just…thank you Xenomania. I stamp my feet in gratitude.

Best Lyric: Could there be any other? I’ve been waiting more than a year to write: ‘Spike heels and skin tight jeans, I’ve got a fist full of love that’s coming your way’

I’m sobbing right now. I love it sooooo much.

Best Vocal: Oh it has to be Nadine. I can’t get enough of her battle cry. Her ‘I’m complicated…And I celebrate it’ is also great.

Any Live Performances?: Oh the school disco vibe is strong in this one:

 

4. On the Metro (Ten)

I never thought I’d live to see the day a Girls Aloud song NOT produced by Xenomania would get this close to my ears so very often. But here we are. In late 2012, Girls Aloud released their final album and of the 4 new tracks my stand out favourite was produced by…The Committe. Nope. Me neither. Whoever they are I want to shake their hands. The President, the Vice President, the whole committee. But having said that the production is probably my least favourite bit of the track as it isn’t actually that pleasant to the ears for the most part. Eventually the nasty bit fades to the back of your brain but that doesn’t change the fact that you now have a headache.

But it is all worth it. It is fabulously camp and manages to be both horrendous and glorious at the same time. But the real reason this song beats some slightly better disco/dance tracks for me are the lyrics. So who was responsible?  One of them, producer DJ Fresh, was extremely irritated that the song was never released as a single. I share his distress.

But anyway back to the lyricists. Oh look at that-

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Of all the blogs, in all the internet…I wish you would come to mine.

Can I just take a minute to talk about how much I love Nicola Marie Roberts? Because I do. I love her so much.

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I know the context. And no I am not sharing. Still love her.

Keep in mind when the group was formed the world didn’t really know how to respond to the moodiest of all moody teens. Kimberly had alluring lips, hips and a natural warmth, Sarah was all lairy, Nadine had the pipes and Cheryl captured the nations hearts with her frank Geordie ways. Nicola got near constant shit thrown at her because she rarely got solos so just kind of hung around the stage looking a bit awkward and generally like her cat had just been run over, not to mention she had the audacity to have red hair and pale skin…But I knew. So when all the girls went away to work on solo projects I waited patiently. I wasn’t even worried. I knew when Nicola emerged again that would be good enough for me.

But as high as my expectations were she surpassed them. Sporting an attitude so thick it wore a dunce cap and wearing many silly outfits, Nicola reinvented herself as the talented one. Not the ginger one. Not the ‘ugly’ one. Not the rude one. Although she mentions all of these labels on the record and wears them as badges of honour. Her war wounds. But more than emerging with her pride still in tact Nicola had arrived as the only one in Girls Aloud who understood how to be witty in song.

Her triumph may not have lead to global superstardom or even a ‘local girl dun good’ story but nonetheless the same critics who called her out for sticking out like a sore thumb in the girl band photo shoots now hailed her as the saviour of weird pop.

But here is not the place for a glowing review of the phenomenal ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ This has all been leading up to one thing: Her contribution to Ten, the gloriously spot on On the Metro.

 

This is a story we all know. Many of us have lived it. And the detail is sparkling. Nicola is in a bar, nursing a drink, a dude comes over dancing self consciously, she thinks it is going well, but when she returns from the bathroom he has gone and so she heads home on the train in drunken tears, writing his name on the window. While Robyn nailed the pain of watching your love make out with another at a disco in ‘Dancing on my Own’ and Sia the self destructive nature of binge drinking in ‘Chandelier’ it is Nicola Roberts who wins the ‘Dancing gone Wrong Song’ prize for nailing the horror that is the night out hook up that doesn’t even last the whole night.

Oh and guy from Liquid in 2005? The one who kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful? I know that you feel the same baby, but I don’t have your number only got your name, so do look me up won’t you?

Best Lyric: Oh lordy…Let’s go with ‘I left my heart at the disco, now I’m crying on the metro’ It is so simple but really highlights the juxtaposition of the dramatic and the mundane that inevitably comes when you are hammered.

Best Vocal: I’m not just saying it cause she wrote it but Nicola nails that opening: ‘A hundred O’s and X’s lighting up the dark, now they turn into a question mark’ and she really relishes singing about her soda pop.

Any Live Performances?: In Classic Nicola style, this was her response when a music website asked their readers if ‘On the Metro’ should have been the lead single off Ten:

Did I mention I love her?

But thank goodness it didn’t go the same way as Memory of You, Every Now and Then and #3 and #1 on this list. They did perform it on their final tour. I was there. Actually during this song I was so close to the girls I could have reached out and touched them. But I didn’t. Sarah seemed to be having a hard enough time keeping up without such a distraction. I simply cheered. And cheered. And cheered.

(WARNING: More flashing lights.)

 

3. Singapore (The Sound of Girls Aloud, Special Edition)

This one nearly went on the B Side list seeing as it was recorded during the Chemistry sessions but didn’t make the cut. But it did make it to AN album. I only looked it up because I was doing a youtube quiz about their songs (Oh sure, you’ve made better decisions?) and I didn’t recognise it. Why did it take so long for me to discover? Well Singapore was unceremoniously banished to the second disc on the special edition version of their FIRST greatest hits album which was actually just all their singles. Yeah. I am a fan and all but I am not THAT much of a completest. So even though it has become one of my favourite songs period, it nearly passed me by due to the poor choice to give it the Memory of You treatment and shove it as far away from the limelight as humanly possible.

I sort of understand why though. Singapore seems a bit unfinished. After a great intro/bridge/chorus, the ‘Dreams means more’ section meanders horribly, always making me think of the classic jingle ‘beans mean Heinz’ some of the rhythm/rhymes are tenuous as all hell and the song kind of tails off when it runs out of things to say.

Having said all THAT…It actually makes me cry the happy/sad sort of tears when I am in the right sort of mood. It captures the inevitable doom of the long distance relationship in an almost unbearably tender and poignant fashion. Behold. And let the stop motion jelly babies tell you the story:

It contains some of my favourite lyrics and vocal work and very possibly my favourite (is this true? It feels true) chorus they ever did. Just listen to it…The sentiment is spot on: The suppressed emotion behind a line like: ‘Ciao, I’m waiting for your call’ when it immediately follows a line like ‘God it nearly breaks me’ just speaks volumes about the pain they are in. It is actually proper clever and stuff.

And then there is: ‘In my head I can see our long goodbye…you kiss my lips as I try to fix your tie’ You can see it can’t you? She is thinking about the time they will have to say goodbye even as they have this little intimate moment…She can’t enjoy it because the sadness is coming…

The chorus flows so beautifully, the bridge is truly heart breaking, with Cheryl really nailing her self frustration as she coos: ‘Gotta stop believing what the movies say’ Man, I feel I could talk about the lyrics forever. Oh just one more…Who can resist Nicola struggling to fit the word ‘tropicana’ into the opening verse? If you can, I hate you. So…Get out.

But more than anything else, that chorus. I can see this lost soul, stumbling around the street, bereft without her love, watching the sun go down in dismay, turning down the invites to go out, wrapping themselves in his 2nd favourite hoodie (he took his favourite one to Singapore obvs) even as the sad karaoke track bubbles cheerfully behind them, fading out…Ok just ONE more listen…

Dark streets…only suffocate me…
Best Lyric: ‘In a world where the sun don’t always shine…I can see tropicana in your eyes’ is fantastic but let’s just take another hour or two to admire how each line of the chorus feeds the next: ‘Dark streets only suffocate me, now you’re off to Singapore, heart aches, God it nearly breaks me, Ciao: I’m waiting for your call’ Romeo and Juliet can eat shit and die as far as I am concerned. That is pure poetry. Ok I know R&J is not a poem…Just shut up ok?

Best Vocal: Kim and Sarah get a raw, raw deal with the Beans means Heinz section. Seriously. The other three truly get a chance to shine though. Nadine DOES make my heart ache, I TRULY believe Cheryl when she says she wishes he was with her but my Nicola wins again. Her delivery of the tropicana lyric is charming but what cinches it is the way she sings the line ‘That’s the way I feel…You’re all the love I need’ she KNOWS it doesn’t rhyme. Listen to her: She wants to say kneel so bad…It makes me smile every single time.

Any Live Performances?: Nope.

Chery Cole

Cheryl is angry too…

But at least someone animated some jelly babies dancing for me. It helps. It really does.

 

2. Black Jacks (Tangled Up)

I have previously discussed how part of the charm of Xenomania comes from the bonkers nature of their lyrical content. Sure we all love a bit Zimmerman and Tupac and all that poetic truth but sometimes there is something a bit charming about singing along with a song and then going: ‘What the fuck did I just say?’ A lot of pop at the time Girls Aloud were flying was just dull. Like all the words had been spoken and so it was just about putting them in a new order. Essentially love is important, break ups are hard, money is good and the DJ better turn up the music or else. And then you get an album track like Black Jacks which has a chorus opener like ‘there’s black jacks running down my back and I say stop cause I love you baby’

What the actual fuck does that mean? It is like they put some clichés in a blender and switched it on. Then stuck the chunks together in a random order. What is a black jack anyway? They never do say.

Here’s the middle 8:

‘Teacher didn’t you know, I’m getting into the boat, these boots are making me slow, ain’t you going too fast, the future’s set in the past, you keep on telling me so’

What?

Out of context it is almost too silly. It is drivel, about nothing at all. But then you add that fabulous 90’s Northern soul sound and couple it with 60’s psychedelia and it suddenly fits. It is urgent, fun, brilliant…It works so well. I feel alive when I listen to this song. I want to run out into the street and start swinging someone round in a circle against their will:

 

Each section works together and separately. The opening is a great build up handled deftly by Nurhdeen, then there is the joy of the punchy, shout out along chorus and that rowdy ‘New York nothing’ segment is spectacularly well placed…There is nothing I would change. Oh except more Nicola. Always more Nicola.

I don’t have much else to say except…

Best Lyric: ‘There’s black jacks running down my back and I say stop…cause I love you baby’

What does that mean???? Nobody knows…I don’t even care. It just works.

Best Vocal: Nadine dominates most of the vocal on this one, I prefer her delivery of the line: ‘Wasting my time, out at sea when you’re following me all the way’

Any Live Performances?: They performed it during the Tangled Up tour and I quite enjoy Sarah’s enthusiastic whooping for a change and their exuberant shouts during the ‘New York Nothing!’ segments. Also Nadine changes the line ‘Jumping IN your face’ to ‘jumping ON your face’ which is pretty excellent.

 

Nearly 10 thousand words later we have arrived at our destination. I would apologise for the delay but it was a hell of a ride…

 

For me anyway. I enjoyed it.

 

1. Swinging London Town (Chemistry)

Swinging London Town is the best Girls Aloud album track that was never a single and never performed live by the group. And no. It is not just because Nicola Roberts named it her favourite Girls Aloud song. And because her voice dominates it. And because…Nicola…

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Where was I? Oh yeah. So shit gets real fast with this one. Right from the off the music is blistering, the lyrics are saturated with biting satire, the beat is crazy, the tempo shifts just as it is losing you and then the whole thing builds to an almighty climax. It tells the story, paints the pictures, invites you in and the girls sizzle, smirking their way through the dizzying tunnel of electro pop into the delicious cool pool of cynicism. It is a masterclass in not giving a shit delivered by a team of writers who care too much and it is as close to perfect as a frenzied ‘here we fucking go!’ kind of track can ever, ever be.

I love it. I worship it. I bow down to Swinging London Town:

(More crazy flashing for a short time but it might be worth a seizure in my personal experience, the song is that good) 

Lots of people have compared this to ‘West End Girls’ by the Pet Shop Boys and it is easy to see why. In many ways Girls Aloud and Xenomania did pick up that particular baton and run with it. The synth, the guitars, the buzz-it is so groovy. That is my main point you should hold on to. In my enthusiasm I will be getting pretentious but more than anything else the song soars with how much you want to dance to it. Keep in mind that the year this album came out the biggest, most heard songs around the globe were Maroon 5’s ‘She will be Loved’ and James Blunt’s ‘Your Beautiful’ We needed Chemistry. So badly. Girls Aloud saved the charts. And the fact that the album only got to #11 suggests we didn’t even say thank you.

Do I mean Girls Aloud saved the charts? Or do I mean Xenomania? Nope. This time I mean the girls themselves. Many critics like to single them out as the least essential members of the team but fuck that. Each girl takes their section (Sarah Kimberly, Nicola, Cheryl, Nadine, Nicola again because yessss) and performs the hell out of it. They seem to understand that they are part of the problem. Sure the price of the cocktails make them choke on their sushi, but it is all they have. Even the music fades in and out, teasing the fleeting nature of reality pop success. Sure it is empty and frivolous but in their world weary delivery you can taste their fear-This is all temporary.

‘I guess I’m neck deep in it and starting to drown, along with all the wannabes in swinging London Town…’

Sure all the big female soloists have money notes and key changes and can perform basic 5 part harmonies (something I am sure all the members of Girls Aloud would admit when cornered they never got the hang of) but can your Mariahs and Christinas take lines like ‘I pussyfoot from drink to drink in swinging London Town’ and make it sound so true? Or how about ‘Now a downward slide to rehab and all of it for free’? Or ‘Daddy’s Bentley still full of gear?’

Do we know them? Really, really know them?

I honestly believe Xenomania cracked it here: Marrying the best the girls could offer with superb lyrics and a stomping beat. Chemistry was at least partially meant as an experiment exploring the shallowness of fame in 2005. Swinging London Town is the final report-Fame in 2005 is both attractive and repulsive. Simultaneously inviting and horrific. Like holding down a job, having children and dying-Nobody knows the truth of it until it is too late to escape.

So you might as well dance.

Best Lyric: Oh God, don’t make me choose! I personally have a soft spot for Kimberly’s verse. ‘Do you know the me that wakes in places, faces I’ve never seen, the mother of all hangovers to remind me where I’ve been, and if I stop, I’m sickened, it really gets me down, so I step back into the city lights the Queen of London Town’ That moment of self realisation immediately masked with extra strength delusion is so wonderfully human.

Best Vocal: Another tricky one, just reinforcing I made the right call by putting this song at Number 1 on my list. I think they all sound wonderfully distinctive-Sarah’s growl, Cheryls light touch, Nadine’s gurn, Kim’s crisp delivery, but I have to give it to Nicola. Is it bias? Possibly. But listen to her lament the fate of the poor little rich girl who does it cause she can and admire the final verse where she closes the door to the party gently but firmly behind her with the most beautiful parting shot.

You already know the answer to the live performances one. Gutted.

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Well if you made it through all of that there is a chance you are crazier for the Aloud than I am. In which case you will want to return again in the future for Part 3 when I go through the GA Singles and rate them in order of personal preference, thus revealing my very favourite Girls Aloud tune.

Nicola is shaking with antici-

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pation.

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Girls Aloud: A Retrospective (Part 1)

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective. Part 1: Intro/The B Sides

Back when I finished up this post, I announced my plan to write a retrospective focusing on the tenure of Girls Aloud as Pop Champions. Now you might have read that and assumed that I was going to talk about the ups and downs of fame as experienced by Cheryl, Nadine, Sarah, Nicola and Kimberly. So here is the thing: I’d be lying if I said that the members of Girls Aloud don’t interest me at all. I am not cool. I freely admit to being fascinated by show business, however naff and low rent that may seem. But I don’t feel I have anything much to say about them as individuals or as a group. This passion piece is about one thing and one thing only: The Music.

Because that is why I love Girls Aloud. It is not about the public feuds, the misdeeds, the footballer husbands, the feisty attitude, the Ghost Hunting, the fashion…Although…

Frequently named one of the sexiest women in the world. Anything is possible.

As I discussed in the aforementioned post, Brian Higgins and his team at Xenomania are the source of some of the best pop music of the last decade and that is in no small part thanks to the fact that Girls Aloud were willing to take chances. Higgins talked about early encounters with the girls when he was working on tracks for their first album. When presented with second single ‘No Good Advice’ the girls complained: This isn’t our sound’ and he, brilliantly, pointed out that they didn’t have a sound as they couldn’t create music. Burn.

Let’s stare at him until he admits we have musical talent. Ready…Go!

There and then, Higgins issued an ultimatum: Either they accept that he knows what he is doing and they don’t or they find someone else to write some songs for them. After a time out, the girls were able to admit that Higgins and Co were bloody good and agreed to let him do his thing and that right there was the best decision of their career. To be successful as a reality TV act you have to be able to see beyond your own ego. You don’t need to be a musical genius, you just need to recognise when you are in the presence of one.

That’s not to say Girls Aloud are not part of the music. In fact, Higgins will have fisticuffs with anyone who tries to claim otherwise, saying: ‘It’s great artists that make the producer great…no matter how good a tune might be, if the girls couldn’t take charge of it and make us excited, we’d chuck it out.’

I usually enjoy their vocal work on the records and almost always love their stage performances. I think it is unfair to dismiss them as talentless. They may not be remarkable but there are flashes of real humour, understanding and skill in their work that can only be attributed to them. They all brought something to proceedings but for anyone just dying to know here is my personal ranking:

5. Sarah Harding

At Her Best Vocally When: She has some solid moments live where she demonstrates a surprisingly strong ability to hold long belting notes and nail a kind of scratchy throat sound in her lower range. On the records, that scratchy whine of hers often sold some great lines.

Not So Good When: For a singer she has appalling control over volume and her ability to hit notes/sing in key/be on pitch reliably is 50-50. Overall, the sound of her voice live doesn’t appeal to me as much as the others but I know a lot of people rate her so it comes down to personal taste.

On Stage: Her stage persona was a bit too desperate for me (Her constant assertion that she was a rock chick also wore me down) but it did seem to get fans all riled up, so fair play. Rather worryingly she really didn’t seem all there in the last tour, but I was always touched by her emotional display during the weepier songs.

In a Word: Needy

 

4. Cheryl Tweedy (Cole) (Fernandez Versini)

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At Her Best Vocally When: Hold the jokes. I genuinely think her head voice and mid range vocal has a lovely tone and a nice soft quality that while not exceptional is pleasant to the ears. In some of the songs where there was a bit of rage/sadness needed she brought a convincingly bittersweet quality to her delivery.

Not So Good When: Frustratingly limited, no strength or flexibility in her range. Some of her live performances, particularly as a solo artist, sound flat throughout.

On Stage: Easily the member of the band who connected with the fans best even before X Factor she remains a fairly charismatic live performer and I always enjoy her in high energy choreography routines. While her live vocals are more miss than hit I feel the group would be poorer without her as she always seems really into it in a way that is infectious.

In a Word: Zealous

 

3. Kimberly Walsh

At Her Best Vocally When: She is allowed to be sultry and smoky. The nicest thing about Kimberly’s voice is when she infuses a bit of ‘glam’ into her lower range. It has an easily identifiable tone and is very nice indeed. Her delivery is always clear and crisp thanks to being a Stage School Pro and she actually has a bigger range to her voice than she often got to sing with Girls Aloud.

Not So Good When: I don’t know if it is nerves or what, but her voice often goes quite shaky when she sings live and it makes it sound like she has a very limited vocal range which is not reflected in her theatrical successes (a long run in a West End musical would be tricky if you couldn’t sing at all)

On Stage: Kimberly is a solid dancer and clearly wants to be there, (I feel like I am writing a school report card now) While she is rarely the stand out for me on any one song she is a team player: The consummate professional who comes across quite chummy and affable for the most part, she puts her all in and has a quality pout.

In a Word: Fair

 

2. Nadine Coyle

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At Her Best Vocally When: Despite the fact I resent that she gets the lion share of the vocals, I do see how it ended up happening. Easily the Aloud with the best control over her voice and this is all the more impressive when you consider her range and ability rivals some of the big divas. She is often pointed as the only member of Girls Aloud with a good voice, something I would (and do) dispute but I have to admit she has a strength to her voice that colours the songs sometimes to the point that they would fall down without her. Some of her big belting notes have left me with goosebumps and she can riff like nobody’s business.

Not So Good When: Sometimes she overeggs the pudding a bit in her desire to push her voice in a way that sounds displeasing. Her innate ‘Irishness’ sometimes means the very clever lyrics get lost and I personally find her vocal on many of their records quite bland and uninventive. Sure, she can really belt, and I love it when she does, but she doesn’t make much of some of the verses that don’t ask her to bounce around vocally.

On Stage: I think she is the most guarded Alouder in terms of her personality which often makes it seem like she hasn’t got one, making it harder to connect with her on stage. Despite this, I much prefer her live voice to her recordings and she has given the world some truly inspired riffs, struts and poses. God bless you Nurh-Deen.

In a Word: Diva

 

1. Nicola Roberts

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At Her Best Vocally When: Timbre! I am partial to the soft, gentle and often fierce quality that infuses the vocal chords of the Ginger One. She is the only Aloud who is reliably funny in her delivery (Examples WILL follow) and for my part has the most pleasant sounding sweet quality on every song where she got a line. There weren’t many singles where she was given the opportunity to show off but she made up for it by really making the most out of her small moments. As the years went on, she demonstrated a fantastic range, can make her voice soar, and has a spine tingling ability to connect to the material, however nonsensical it was. She has two distinct ‘characters’ in her voice: Little Nicola who has an almost criminally tender quality and Miss Roberts who has the most phenomenal belt. Easily one of my favourite vocalists of all time and by far my favourite out and out pop star.

Not So Good When: She often overdoes vibrato and sometimes her top range can sound screechy. It is not to everyone’s taste. In the early days she sang too quietly and I suspect that cost her the right to take centre stage in the first couple of albums.

On Stage: Here’s the thing: Nicola freely admits she wasn’t a good performer at first. And man, she wasn’t. Although she moved beautifully (second to only Cheryl) and clearly loved to sing, there were times when she would look like she would rather be anywhere than in a big arena singing with her pop band and quite frankly her grumpy ass face just made me love her more. But from the Tangled Up tour onwards she started to get more confident and began to sneakily steal the shows with her ethereal beauty and a real shining star quality. I especially can’t get enough of her interpretations of certain moments in the songs she is just so…

Yes. I love Nicola Roberts. I loved the nervous, awkward, dour faced Nicola and I LOVED the angelic, graceful, beaming Nicola. I will never not love her.

In a Word: LOVE

Now I have covered that and had fun looking through Girls Aloud gifs, It is time to talk B Sides.

What is a B Side? Well, it used to be the additional and less important song on the reverse side of a phonograph record. In my day, it was generally the superfluous bonus tracks on CD single releases. Sometimes B Sides break through (‘Rock around the Clock’ possibly being the most famous example) but 9/10 they get ignored and as such are usually reserved for lower quality, unfinished material.

Brian Higgins has spoken about how important it was not to forgo quality in B Sides because what was going to emerge as a strong single was never clear in the early stages. In the ‘Collection’ album sleeve, Higgins explains:

‘We would not worry about specifically trying to write ‘hits’. We just wrote a load of stuff that covered all of the musical possibilities we wished to experiment with at that time with the band. On many occasions therefore, the B-sides were songs created within the main body of work – they were not afterthoughts, they were songs that at some stage were vying for a much greater prominence…

Girls Aloud has always been about blurring the edges between pop and indie, creating confusion and breaking down artistic boundaries. If Girls Aloud ever have a legacy, I believe it will be that they show how pop music offers unlimited possibilities for artistic expression.’

Expressions like these…

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With that said, let’s dive in. My Top 10 Girls Aloud B Sides:

 

 

10. Blow Your Cover (B Side of Call the Shots)

I don’t really know why but I always imagine this being performed by flapper girls:

This is what it is like in my head…

I just want to move constantly when it is on. It is so wonderfully goofy. The lyrics have some cringe factor, with chat about ‘Sexy señorita’ and the exaggerated ‘Say what?’ and then there is the bit where I was convinced they were saying ‘Chilli gives me the bends’ when the internet suggests it is ‘Chilling gives me the best’ Ok that makes even less sense. I nearly omitted it from the list because the lyrics are sooo stupid but…Hell that chorus just wins me over. You win, Higgins. Now back to flapper dancing…


WEEEE!

Compared to the A Side: Call the Shots is a really strong single that can’t be overshadowed by the B Side but ‘Blow Your Cover’ is still pretty fun.

Best Lyric: I am partial to ‘Don’t show that sucker your soul, he’ll get his hands on your gold, you won’t know how much he stole, until he’s gone’ Wise words indeed. Well…words, anyway.

Best Vocal: The vocal work is a hodgepodge of noise but Cheryl seemed to have the most fun with some of the odder phrasing as her voice stands out during the ‘Say What?’ moments.

 

 

9. Nobody But You (B Side of Biology)

I often felt like Girls Aloud struggled with classic girl band ballad type songs. Xenomania were always at their best with the floor filler stuff. But every now and then they were able to combine pulse pounding music with sweet sickly ballad tripe and create magic. ‘Nobody but You’ is something in between and that is possibly why it didn’t make it to the Chemistry album which has its quota of sad sounding love songs. It is a shame that it got demoted to B Side while their uninspired cover ‘See the Day’ not only made the album but was released as a single.

It is unhurried and steady, flirting with being a boring r n b love song, but then it is eerie, like the girls, who all sound great in their solo moments, have been slowed down: They sound like wind up toys being let go and running out of power. The song kind of spins out at a strange pace but still has a solid beat throughout. The lyrics are pleasantly ambiguous about the quality of the love with lines ‘I care about love boy, I care about you, but I couldn’t think of anything better I’d rather do’ and ‘You slide into my head, my so-called life gets kind of grey’ Is this a good thing? It doesn’t sound that great. If it is great why do they cry all night? Oh well. Pretend happy is better than nothing. (copyright: Tony Kushner. I don’t think he was talking about a Girls Aloud song though)

Compared to the A Side: It is a very, very different song so really I find it easier to compare it to the other slow songs on the album and I do think this one deserved to make the final collection more than ‘No Regrets’ or ‘See the Day’

Best Lyric: There are a lot of great moments but ‘ You are so damn divine…I’d like to peel back your love and climb inside’ rings truest to the icy sadness of obsession. Passion is not always on fire, you know.

Best Vocal: Nicola’s delivery of ‘The rain goes into hiding…when I see you in a crowd’ and ‘My eyes they sparkle…even when you’re not around’ because the lines are either very loving and hopeful or very sad and clingy depending how you want to hear it and only her voice can tell both narratives.

 

 

8. On a Round (B Side of No Good Advice)

The warning sirens blare, the drums kick in…And then the fun begins. This is the earliest B Side on the list and the only one that comes from their first album: Very early Aloud was a bit more hit and miss for me as they were working with multiple producers but this is just so childish I have to love it.

Despite this NOT being listed as a Xenomania track…I am dubious. It is quite hard to find who wrote it and I can’t help but believe Higgins was involved anyway. Hell, the lyrics seem to be Xenomania just boasting about how good they are at writing songs, talking about how to build a solid sound that gets people moving. And boy, will this get you moving. The chorus almost sound like a jump rope melody a kind of playground ‘na-na-na-na’ anthem. This is matched by the youthful, silly energy of the girls who still can’t believe their luck that they are getting to be popstars.

Compared to the A Side: The two songs go very well together and cement the fact that if Girls Aloud were going to follow the Reality TV route and get hustled out of the charts, they were not going to go quietly. It sounds a bit unfinished compared to ‘No Good Advice’ but I actually like the rough production, it always makes me think of them knocking this out in 1 take and then going for lunch. But ‘No Good Advice’ feels like the more legitimate single.

Best Lyric: ‘No need to change a thing, don’t touch it, keep it on a round’ I always imagine Higgins delivering this line to the girls after their protest that ‘No Good Advice’ wasn’t ‘them.’ He knew what he was doing…

Best Vocal: The vocal work is fairly indistinguishable here but I would say the most stand out moment is actually Cheryl’s confident delivery of the opening line: ‘Don’t let that beat sleep in the suburbs, keep it buried underground, if you know what’s good for you, keep it on a round’

 

 

7. Dog Without a Bone (B Side to Sexy! No, No No…)

This song was initially a single contender, around the time they needed a hit to go with their Singles Collection ‘The Sound of Girls Aloud’ and to me this demonstrates the high standards of Xenomania that this was eventually rejected in favour of something a bit more frenzied and urgent. Because…this is a tune. It has a fantastic shout along chorus, (I always picture stomping around the dance floor pointing at people in a needlessly aggressive way) a great growling riff and even pays homage to classic glam rock in its execution. Are you honestly telling me you can’t imagine David Bowie snarling this one out during his Jean Genie phase? Yeah I went there. And if you come at me I will just shout ‘You’re like a dog without a bo-o-ne’ while pointing in your face. That’s how I roll.

Compared to the A Side: ‘Sexy!…’ Is easily one of the most experimental songs they did, and in comparison ‘Dog Without a Bone’ seems quite safe. I still think it stands alone as a thumping track though.

Best Lyric: I think I have to go for the whole flipping the bird chorus: ‘Oh you’re like a dog without a bone, hanging round my heels every night, it’s like you got nowhere to go, babe are you for real, cos this ain’t right…You’re like a dog without a bone, hanging round my heels for just one bite, tonight I’m dancing on my own, baby cos it feels right.’

Best Vocal: I do enjoy Nicola’s indifferent delivery of the second bridge, but Nadine’s voice delivers just the right bark in the ‘five inch bullet’ sections. Pun very much happily intended.

 

 

6. I Don’t Really Hate You (B Side to See the Day)

This one took a while to register at first, but once I got into it I couldn’t get enough. Plus it is one of the rare occurrences where Nicola sings more than the others. Huzzah! And why not? Who else could deliver a kiss of death like ‘I don’t really hate you…Just don’t want to date you’ so flatly. Brutal.

‘Soz babes…’

It is basically one of the meanest yet most reasonable brush off songs I have ever heard. It goes in a few different directions and the melody, while kind of clumsy and undecided, fits well with the head space of the narrative voice. The first bit is them firmly letting the person know they are not interested (Don’t tell me I’m beautiful, I’m not available) and then they are getting angrier (put out your fire…you’re sticking to me like glue) and then they try and be nice (You’ll find your way, don’t wait around for me), back to mean (I’ve got a secret that I think you ought to know…the happy people are the ones who have a soul) before surrendering to their indifference in the chorus and then it goes into this really bittersweet, slightly patronising section where they wish the person all the best and reassuring them that they will find love someday…Admit it. You have either been rejected with this line or rejected someone else with it.

‘I Don’t Really Hate You’ is kind of beautiful, even though it is held together so awkwardly. Nonetheless, the lyrical content is great and the music does work even if it took me a while to accept it. After all, they don’t have all day to polish that distinctively disconnected style in every track. I just wish they had done it with this one. Because seriously…’I Don’t really hate you…Just don’t want to date you’ is such a painfully familiar sentiment.

Compared to the A Side: This is sooo much better. ‘See the Day’ is ok, but nothing special. It is a cover after all. I really would have liked to see so many other songs from ‘Chemistry’ be a lead single and ‘I Don’t Really Hate You’ certainly deserved to be heard too.

Best Lyric: As is clear, I am a big fan of a lot of these lyrics (Hence my sadness that the hasty production loses a lot of them) and Kimberly’s bridge: ‘I’ve got a secret that I think you ought to know…The happy people are the ones who have a soul’ stands out as being kind of mean in a ‘where the fuck did that come from?’ kind of way. But the winner has to be the chorus: ‘I Don’t really hate you…just don’t want to date you…There’s not much else to it…don’t wanna talk about it’ Ooft. I felt it.

Best Vocal: Nicola steal this one easily with her faux sweet: ‘To tell the truth you’re just too good for me…all I do all day is chase my dreams’

 

 

5. Androgynous Girls (B Side to Love Machine)

I fucking love this song. Yes. We are at the cursing with enthusiasm portion of the evening. It is just so cynical. 10 years before Lorde lamented how boring boasting rich people are, Xenomania were acknowledging what is fashionable is very often bland and unrelatable. It drips with disinterest and ‘so fucking what?’ about everything. The first verse makes an effort to be a-typical pop: ‘I told ya, Last Monday, your friends are ca-oool’ before descending into ‘I think, I feel, I said Oh no I want you honey’ like they are just shrugging their way through the clichés.

And then that chorus. They really sell the ‘isn’t life pointless? We may as well piss about’ (not actual lyric) feel of the whole thing and it is an earworm and a half. Even when Xenomania are half assing it, I can’t get it out of my head. Not to mention the riff behind the whole thing is groovy as all hell. Disagree? No worries guys. Shit will happen. What a beautiful life.

Compared to the A Side: They fit together nicely, musically speaking, but when standing side by side this song does start to look weak.

Best Lyric: ‘Pretty boys back in fashion with androgynous girls and pretty soon shit will happen…what a wonderful world’ Impassivity this naked is always alright by me. I would love to hear Steven Wright saying these lyrics.

Best Vocal: I actually enjoy everyone in this, it is hard to pick. I suppose Nadine does the best job with ‘I think I feel I said oh no I want you honey, but as I liked my lips you turned and said no worries’

Here is the demo version which sounds a little more raw, and a little bit better (ie I can hear more Nicola):

 

Now the next two songs are, aside from the chorus where she gets support from Nadine and Nicola respectively, Cheryl solos. They would also be where I would go to try and convince Cheryl naysayers that she is worth a bit of your time…

 

 

4. Crazy Fool (B Side to Whole Lotta History)

I love how the intro of this sounds like a retro video game before heading into this pretty dark place with a scorned Cheryl whose vocal just steams over with long held back bitterness. Unlike most Xenomania lyrics, this one is not hard to decipher. Her Ex is dating someone just like her and she finds it funny. In an angry way. Cheryl might not have the best range (has she even nailed down one octave? Not being horrible, genuinely interested) but I really like her voice on this one. The growl behind it, burns. It is a total smack down on whomever it is about but equally makes her seem quite petty. Everything about this just buzzes with dodgy energy and I love it.

This was actually recorded quite a bit before any of her marriage drama, which dominated so many headlines, but perhaps Brian saw which way the wind was blowing when he gave her this. Who knows? Either way, it is a tight little pop song which for me is up there with the best of angry disco. Let’s boogie our rage away!

Compared to the A Side: Whole Lotta History is one if their better sad ballads but I would take this over it any day. It would need to give the other girls more to do before it became a single though.

Best Lyric: The delivery is what sells this more than the individual lyrics but I get a kick out of the line: ‘Bet you didn’t even think I knew about that girl that you’ve been talking to…Now you do.’ It is all in the pause.

Best Vocal: It is practically a Cheryl solo and you know what? Good on her. She nails it.

 

 

3. Hoxton Heroes (B Side to Can’t Speak French)

In its own quiet way, this song was actually very controversial. Music press picked up on it after Xenomania writer Miranda Cooper talked about it in a Guardian interview saying that she and the girls had written a song ‘slagging off the whole indie scene’ That is putting it lightly. Girls Aloud (Consisting of Cheryl here, and Nicola helping in the chorus) have a lot of fun sticking two fingers up at the guitar toting pretty boys and their hangers on who feel confident that they can look down at manufactured pop when they couldn’t produce memorable music if their life depended on it.

Part of the controversy came from the fact that the girls seemed to be lampooning their most vocal fan base: Wry hipster types…

Who? Me? Nope.

But to me, that is part of the fun. Even the chorus is the adult equivalent of going ‘So’s your Mum!’ There is very little menace in it. It makes it all the funnier that it sincerely upset some people.

Personally I feel Girls Aloud earned the right to suggest that anyone and everyone ‘get a sound of your own’ when they single handedly saved Pop from disappearing up its own arse in the 2000’s. ‘Hoxton Heroes’ is a battle cry from a war that was won long ago: I will spend the rest of my life unironically loving Girls Aloud. Other people can listen to Coldplay wannabes that are going to be the ‘next big thing’ and sneer at my ‘taste’ but I will know they are just sad because they didn’t get into RADA. Better luck next year, Devon.

Compared to the A Side: The A Side is good…This is better. The low level production does let ‘Hoxton Heroes’ down a bit. Still, I wish more people could hear it. Pop should have a sense of humour.

Best Lyric: So many to choose from it hurts…’I don’t know your name…You’re just another band with a different game…You’re all the same…You said you played at Reading then you chart at 57′ Sure success can’t be measured in numbers but…This lyric just makes me think of all the fucking bands that have failed to entertain me on every conceivable level as they indulge in their terrible and always long (why so long?) efforts at music. This is totally fine by me as long as they are not smug about it. As long as their terrible band isn’t their whole identity. Because seriously…Get a job.

Best Vocal: Cheryl’s brilliantly snarly: ‘Walk round the place like you’re number one…So why don’t you write a tune that we can hum?’

 

 

2. She (B Side to The Promise)

At this point in proceedings, I just want to remind you how much of an afterthought B Sides usually are. But this is so complete. A neat, total and genuinely awesome song. Many years in, and they still weren’t running dry creatively. It is addictive, well sung, well paced and, like all the best Xenomania songs, fucking deranged.

I put this higher than I was initially expecting just because I find it so cool. The arrangement begins in quite a conventional way before that brilliant descent into earnest rock that putters out so soon after it arrives that it is hard not to want to hear it again right away. There are so many production touches from the guitar work throughout, to the slinky, sly delivery of the Bridge that leads into the shouty chorus (‘Hey! She’s got your number!’) to the inclusion of lines like ‘Midnight…cruising up to heaven in the neighbourhood…In skin tight…Balenciaga, damned if she’s looking good’ What? What the actual fuck? But they play it so straight. I just love it. Try not loving the chorus and that outro. Go on. Try. I dare you. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…

Compared to the A Side: The A Side remains their most popular song, according to polls and such, and won them a long desired Brit Award but I would have loved to have seen ‘She’ released as an A Side. It would have been a bitching single.

Best Lyric: In part because I love Nicola but I do enjoy: I see her… working on the double playing who’ll be next, Tequilia…half a pint of trouble and we’re heading west’

Best Vocal: Everyone is on it in this one. Nicola is as charming as ever in the first verse and I love her ‘playing who’ll be next’ delivery, Kimberly talking about cruising (cruising!) Cheryl’s shouty bit of the chorus, Sarah was a good choice to sing about smoky eyes…But Nadine crushes the outro especially the yelpy ‘you’ leading into the commanding: ‘You in the middle, grab your coat, let’s go!’

 

 

1. Memory of You (B Side to The Loving Kind) 

This song was initially only released on the 7 inch vinyl record version of The Loving Kind. So I didn’t hear it right away. I could have missed it. If it wasn’t for the murmur. The murmur that this song was one of their best. When the fans got the chance to vote for the Disc 2 tracklisting of their second Greatest Hits album, Memory of You won by a landslide. Here is what some critics had to say about it:

‘Memory Of You’ (…) is a total corker.’

‘[“Memory Of You”]…it’s epic, angelic (read; godly), uplifting, inspiring, quite attention diverting (I swear on my deceased guinea pig I’m not able to concentrate on anything with this song blasting through my rusty speakerphone) and, not to mention (and probably the most important one of them all, too:), unbelievably good.’

‘Because, quite frankly, most B-sides are shitty remixes or boring instrumentals nowadays which will be forgotten about in approximately three seconds. But then there’s this one: simply astonishing, rather confusing (because what are those lyrics about, really? A holiday in Japan? The wonders of the universe?) and sounding like a massive hit record from the twenty-second century.’

‘It’s absolutely fantastic and it just gets better every time I listen to it.’

‘Memory Of You (originally called Japan) is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Girls Aloud have ever released and bloody deserves to be a single.’

‘…How does one define the concept of a “B-side” again? Because I thought the B-side was a passively listenable extra from an album session, often times not developed much further past its demo format and usually better off left slapped onto a bonus CD on a greatest hits compilation. Well, I’d like someone to explain to me how the b-side to Girls Aloud’s “The Loving Kind” fits that definition, because judging from what I’m hearing, “Memory of You” damn near eclipses its host single.’

‘Far more dance oriented than pop (think early’90’s club!), the song finds Kimberley and Nicola taking the lead in an edgy, frostbitten, electro-tinged haunter. With the aid of super serious, super slick vocal performances, the ladies delve into a territory far from the camp quality that has become the signature Aloud sound. Go darker, Aloud…This works brilliantly for you.’

‘Best Aloud B-side, ever.’

Yeah. Pretty much what they said. This song is a fucking masterpiece. I cry when it comes on. That’s all I have to say. This is beyond beautiful. I want it so badly. Even when I am listening to it. Listen to it. Let it take over your brain. And please, please, create an acoustic folk cover version of it and send it to me. Love, Cokieblume.

Compared to the A Side: Sorry Pet Shop Boys. This trounces the very good ‘Loving Kind’

Best Lyric: ‘Late at night I dream I’m falling into love again…25 electric angels are dancing in the rain’ Does it make sense? No. But I picture rain stroked window panes and the dead eyed lost girl pulling flakes of paint off the frame wondering where he is…It is one of the most evocative songs I have ever heard.

Favourite Vocal: As much as I love Nicola and her chat about sheep, Kimberly’s robotic delivery works well on this wistful track and the section that goes ‘When I lost you in Japan…’ is goosebumps inducing. And that chorus…

Much to the chagrin of die hard fans, they never did sing this one live. However I don’t mind too much. While it would have been nice for their final tour to include a few more fan favourites rather than a cover of ‘Call me Maybe’ (I wish I was kidding) I almost feel like a live version of this would never live up to the recording. Interestingly, Nicola did a solo version for the B Side of one of her solo singles. Much to my surprise I find I do prefer Kimberly singing it. Make of that what you will:

Honourable mentions that are also worth a listen if you enjoyed this: The Crazy Life, History, It’s Your Dynamite, Why do It? (That’s the song title. Not me questioning what I am doing with my spare time)

Next Time on my Girls Aloud Retrospective: We look at the best of the Album Tracks. I am excited.

So is Cheryl. See?

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(With thanks to http://xenomania.freehostia.com/artists/girlsaloud.html and http://girlsaloudgif.tumblr.com)

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Reviewing Number One Singles from the Year 2002 (Part 3)

Reviewing British Number One Singles from the Year 2002: Mid October-End of December 

 

 

Date of Number 1: 26.10.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland

Song Name: Dilemma

Fact: Kelly had previously topped the charts twice as part of Destiny’s Child but this was the first solo (duo?) number 1 for both

My Take: Settle down, kids. I am here to tell you of the Great Long Ago. Back in the Great Long Ago, it was not clear which member of Destiny’s Child were going to break away as the stand out star. Sure, sure, Destiny’s Child was always a vehicle for B’s ego that went through members like a particularly catty sorority, but her plan for worldwide domination was derailed slightly by a clumsy effort to become an actress. Thus paving the way for Kelly Rowland to be the first DC star to release a solo record. While Beyonce donned an afro and an innocent smile for an Austin Powers sequel and a crappy feel good film about a choir respectively, Kelly was scoring a worldwide smash with Southern hop hop rapper Nelly. But Beyonce was not going to take the success of a lifelong friend lying down.

She set to work releasing her own duet with a marketable rapper type, her then secret boyfriend Jay-Z. While ‘Bonnie and Clyde ’03’ was critically acclaimed it also had to face down accusations of plagiarism and while it did well it was not as commercially successful as the Nelly/Kelly collaboration. 1-0 Kelly. Yes, children. There was a time when Beyonce being the most important person in the whole frigging world was NOT a forgone conclusion. And mobile phones looked like this:

What does it want from us???

Yes it is fair to say that way, way back in ’02 things were looking pretty damn sweet for Kelly Rowland. And it shows in the video for ‘Dilemma.’ she is confident, charming and lookin’ fine. But the song, you ask, is it a good music? The melody is sweet and catchy and, like a lot of songs that year, completely inescapable at that time. Unlike Kelly, I am not crazy about Nelly. Maybe it is his cockiness, the lack of emotion in his delivery or his annoying little face plaster and gormless face. Who knows? (The answer is all of those things but especially the plaster one) But this song is very easy to consume and the chorus is painfully easy to retain. In fact, the star of the show (apart from the old school phone in the video) is definitely Kelly Rowland.

It is hardly a new idea for a rapper to bring in a suitable female vocalist to warble sweetly over the chorus to add a softer, feminine mood to a love song. However normally the girl has been seemingly chosen at random and is fairly generic. But the narrative of the song and accompanying video is actually quite easy to get invested in (for four and a half minutes) because Kelly brings a lot of personality to her character. I had never consciously heard the word ‘boo’ used to describe a boyfriend before and I really like its inclusion and her delivery here. It is pretty sweet. Plus the look she gives the girl Nelly has taken to the movie is just solid gold. I have spent quite a long time looking for it online but you will have to settle for another shot of the really old phone:

Sorry

Round 2 of Kelly vs Beyonce: The Solo Careers didn’t end so hot for Kelly (More on that if I ever get round to writing about 2003) but cheer up girl: Round 1 went well.

 

Did I own it: No. At the time it annoyed the hell out of me because the chorus would get stuck in my head for days. I have mellowed on it now.

Could I sing along now: We have talked about me and rapping…But yes.

Worth remembering: Hmmm…I have to say not really. It is good but the only thing that elevates beyond many, many duets like it was the chemistry between Nelly and Kelly (the rhyming names mean it was meant to be) and that God damn ear worm of a chorus.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 9.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: DJ Sammy & Yanou feat. Do. (Yes, Do. That’s the end of their name.)

Song Name: Heaven

Fact: This is a Bryan Aadams song remixed by a Spanish DJ, a German producer and sung by a Dutch singer. It sounds like the set up of mildly xenophobic joke, but it is just a fact. I wouldn’t joke in the fact section.

My Take: Hypocrisy thy name is…Well still Paul McCartney but also me. I am a hypocrite. I wrote off the Ketchup Nonsense because they rereleased it within the year but DJ Sammy did the same thing, bringing out this dance track as a stripped back ballad known as the ‘candlelight mix’ mere minutes after the success of the clubbing version. Even worse, there was a third edit made especially to capitalise on 9/11 grief in America which includes a little girl talking about her Dad. People assumed her Dad died in the two towers attacks in 2001, and her voice on the track was a sobering reminder to cherish the innocent…Actually she was just a random DJ’s kid who was told exactly what to say and given emotional direction. Lovely. I have decided not to try and find that version, dubbed the 9/11 remix, because I like my ears and I don’t want to have to cut them off.

So why am I a hypocrite? Sure I think it is cheap and lazy to keep bringing out the same song over and over and I think the twice released 9/11 remix, which it should be noted was an unauthorized production, is pretty fucking gross. But…I really, really like this song.

Now I don’t usually get dance music and I don’t really see the appeal of clubbing. I love a dance but not to dance music. I just find it tediously repetitive. Not like writing about chart music that is always fresh and fun…Look how much fun I am having!!!!

But this track…It has what it takes to get me on the dance floor. I can move to it, it builds to a fist pumping chorus, the vocal is pretty but not demanding my full concentration, it is largely distinguishable from other dance tracks but has that tried and tested feel to it, it is different enough from the original that the two are not really comparable and similar enough that the genre swap is not offensive, the lyrics are easy to remember and shout out along with the track, the beat means that you can jump up and down while lights go flash/flash/flash and it is totally, enjoyable naff.

All the ingredients are there. And it makes a sweet trance like cake. Heavenly.

Yes I went there.

 

Did I own it: No actually. I wasn’t yet at an age when I was going out a lot (Well, I never did reach that age but there was deffo a point when I was going out MORE.) so I never really wanted to listen to this kind of thing. It is only with time that I recognise the appeal of ‘Heaven.’

Could I sing along now: Yes. Would you like me to? I warn you, my vocal is fearless and filled with passion.

Worth remembering: Hard to say. Compared to the other Euro dance songs I have endured as part of this project this is fantastic but on a large scale…I am going to say yes just because I enjoyed it SO much more than I remembered.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 16.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Westlife

Song Name: Unbreakable

Fact: This Number 1 marked the 50th Anniversary of the UK Singles charts. I wonder if it considered asking for a divorce?

My Take: So I am not allowed to have fun anymore? I enjoy one silly dance song and have some nice words for Kelly Rowland and suddenly I’m the bad guy? I have already sat through a Beatles cover by Gareth Gates have I not served my time yet???

This is just so boring. It doesn’t even sound like a real song. It sounds like something constructed in a lab designed to test just how badly innocent drivers want to live. If this came on the radio while you were driving home, could you stay awake? I would rather take my chances in the never recommended sport of Sleep Driving than ever listen to that from start to finish again.

I am never nice about Westlife but this, funnily enough given the title, has broken me. It is the worst of a bad lot. It feels like someone is very, very slowly licking my face. But not someone pretty. Someone like Jeff Goldblum in the second act of The Fly.

5 boring Irish guys actually willingly sang a song this fucking dull. Nobody made them do it. They did not arrive in a foreign land wanting to make it as a dancer only to be kidnapped and forced into a studio to shake their souls for a quick buck. This was their career…their 11th cocking number 1. Why aren’t they good at it yet??? WHY???

 

Did I own it: No

Could I sing along now: More

Worth remembering: Westlife. Please 2002/3 I am counting on you!

 

 

Date of Number 1: 23.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Christina Aguilera

Song Name: Dirrty

Fact: This did pretty well here despite her new ‘raunchy’ image being a turn off for her fans state side: In the US ‘Dirrty’ failed to make the top 20.

My Take: Oh thank God…This isn’t Westlife. Thanks Chris, babe. I mean that. Because there was a point when there wasn’t a huge difference between the dross she sang and the awful crap Westlife churned out. She was singing naff ballads and hitting everyone over the head with the oversized mallet that is her voice for a good year and a half before…this.

What has been great about looking back at ‘Dirrty’ is the reminder that everything cycles around. Right now, at the time of writing, people are going a bit apeshit over Miley Cyrus and her choice to wear less clothes and wiggle her arse when cameras are pointed at her. People are questioning her sanity because she likes pot and sticks her tongue out a lot. None of this would be anymore than a mild nuisance to the average member of the press if it wasn’t for the fact that she had been the property of Disney throughout her adolescence. That transition from child star to young adult is not an easy one. But how quickly we forget: This is not new. Hell, just over a decade ago people were watching Christina rock up in assless chaps and wondering if she had lost her damn mind.

Let’s.

Keep.

Some.

Perspective.

I am not going to get on a soapbox about the pressure female stars have in particular to behave/look/eat/smile a certain way, because what can I say that you don’t already know? But it is still fun/depressing to see that we as a society are easily distracted by stupid ass nonsense that doesn’t really matter. (Welcome to my blog!) Miley might keep working. She might not. She might be in trouble. She might know exactly what she is doing. It might be she is genuinely exploring the type of woman she wants to be. It might be a cold and calculated business plan.

But back to 2002. If Christina’s attempt to reinvent herself was a business choice it was not a lucrative one at least not at first. I mentioned back in the ‘Lady Marmalade’ review that she was already starting to distance herself from the squeaky clean Disney shtick and experiment with bizarre hair and revealing clothes. So new. But it would seem that, by and large, the world was not ready as it didn’t garner good sales in the USA although the second single (you may have heard of it) undid some of the damage. But the marketing gimmick of ‘I’m not a little girl anymore’ did  serve a purpose. People talked about the video. People talked about her. Despite the fact that critics were unimpressed with ‘Dirrty’ as an example of her new material it sent a clear message to the music world: I am done singing big cheesy ballads.

Until this flops. Then it is right back to the cheesy ballads!

Ok, now on with the song. Hilariously, I fell for this whole thing at first. I was 14 when this came out and I remember listening to the lyrics and actually thinking: ‘What a wild party she is having! Gosh! It has spilled over into the parking lot you say? Oh Christina, you rascal!’ Now, I cringe at how naked this whole charade is. Of course this was a business decision, of course she is deliberately trying to provoke shock and outrage, OF COURSE those trousers are uncomfortable and a misguided statement of independence. How spent, how done. I mean, how many ways are there to say: ‘This party is off the hook?’ It turns out not that many. There is nothing original about ‘Dirrty.’ Not one thing.

Having said that, I used to dance inappropriately to it a lot and it is still works in that regard. Also I believe the way she acts in the video…felt right to her. She seems to be quite at home rolling around in a boxing ring. Sure, the whole thing is desperate as all hell, but she actually seems to be enjoying this more than when she had to do that whole lip biting Disney princess routine. I may cringe at her attempts to be controversial but I am pleased that nobody seems to have made her do it.

The musical arrangement is fine if not especially memorable, her vocal is actually quite good: The nature of the song means she can’t riff it to death so she is left having to bark that distinctive yelp rather than OD on vibrato and I quite like it. She makes this partying business sound really serious, a quality I always find appealing in cheesy pop songs. I mean how can you not enjoy lines as simple as ‘sweat dripping over my body’ delivered like this: ‘Sweat dripping over my BOD-EY!’ We get it Xtina, you don’t have to yell at us.

Redman’s rap is a pretty uninspired conclusion though. I feel that name checking other, better rappers on his guest verse was an error. It just made me want to go listen to some Lauryn Hill or Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Christina seems to know instinctively that she needs a hook for that last round of choruses and she went with the always popular dirty bathroom orgy:

Yes I Googled this…Shut up, it is research…

Christina’s ‘arrival’ may not have worked for everyone but her career would soon be receiving one hell of a boost…Until then it was up to us Brits to appreciate her ‘dirrty’ side. You are welcome ‘Tina.

 

Did I own it: I taped it off the radio before purchasing the album it came from after being encouraged to by my Fair-weathered Friend who lived across the road from me. She kept saying I should buy it and, sick of hearing her go on about it, I did. She immediately borrowed it and didn’t return it for months. I wasn’t as sharp at 14 as I am now.

Could I sing along now: Yes. It is very fun emulating the distinctive, impressive and ridiculous style of Ms A. She is both an excellent and terrible singer at the same time, quite a feat.

Worth remembering: No. If it wasn’t for all the silliness that was her image shift and her gurning performance I wouldn’t have remembered it at all and I had nearly forgotten. The same cannot be said for Single the Second from ‘Stripped’ the album. But that is another story for another day.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 7.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Daniel Bedingfield

Song Name: If You’re Not the One

Fact: This was released 12 months after his début single

My Take: This song got made fun of a lot by a boy at my school who liked doing the falsetto leap in the chorus. Badly. I associate the ‘silly voice’ version I heard so often with this track to the point that I was surprised to hear it again after several years and learn that Daniel actually has a very strong voice. I much prefer his voice in the first bit of the chorus which has a gorgeous quality…To me the falsetto is overkill and made the track ripe for mockery. He is clearly talented and musically competent…But…Ick. Ick is my takeaway from this song.

In fact the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Kind of like ‘Hero’ in the first half of 2002, Bedingfield is just so over earnest and intense: He has a lot of feelings and by Golly is he going to share ’em!

He doesn’t even go here! 

In this song he reminds me of Jason Segal’s Nick Andopolis in ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and I am Seth Rogen’s Ken Miller as the listener. It is just so awkward to hear someone that ok with being vulnerable in that sickly, needy way. It crosses a line. Oh and in case you don’t get the reference, a gift for you:

DB: As long as I am using my real emotions, that’s all that matters.

Me: Lots of wackos use their real emotions.

I love that show…Anyway…

I am ok with him being in touch with his emotions but recording it naked so as to be truly vulnerable (true story) and then releasing it into the world was a step too far. It is like walking in on someone masturbating: It is ok that they have stuff that needs a release but I don’t need to see, hear or think about it. Ever.

 

Did I own it: No. Hated it then, embarrassed by it now.

Could I sing along now: Only the chorus. And not without cringing.

Worth remembering: I guess this was his most memorable hit…I am going to say no though.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 14.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Eminem

Song Name: Lose Yourself

Fact: Taken from the soundtrack to his movie ‘8 Mile’ this song would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song

My Take: Arguably at the peak of his commercial and critical success, Eminem succeeded where so many musicians had failed and made a smooth transition into the movies. So smooth in fact that he made it look easy. ‘8 Mile’ is the semi-autobiographical account of Eminem’s rocky road to becoming a confident, legitimate rap artist but the film ends way before he gets famous leaving lead single ‘Lose Yourself’ to inform us of some of the consequences of fame and the pitfalls of success. You will never guess…It is not as fun as it looks. I know! I was shocked too!

‘Lose Yourself’ is a strange beast. It plays with clichés but somehow emerges as something original: And it is all in the delivery. A call to rise up and chase your dreams until they are caught? Heard it. A famous person whining about feeling like people only like them for their money and success? Yawn. Determined to succeed and failure is not an option? Got it. The bits where he talks almost sound like parody lines of inspirational posters: ‘You can do anything if you set your mind to it, man’ Oh can I Slim, can I? Then that settles it! I am going to build that ship made of Jelly Beans I always wanted to live in and set out on the high seas and I shall call it: Marshall Mathers the 2nd: The Dream Believer Man.

But pushing the Jelly Bean ship aside, and I never say that lightly; he sounds so bitter, so confused, so determined, so angry…When he says ‘best believe somebody’s payin’ the Pied Piper’ another rapper may have tried to sell that as a wry little joke, but Eminem’s delivery always has me reaching for my wallet: He can have my money if he wants it that badly. I just…believe him. The guy was meant to go into acting. I am sorry he hasn’t done more.

But then, first and foremost he is a rapper. His flow is so natural, so quick, simultaneously controlled and raw but also real: it could be generalised emotion like Pink, it could be emotional overkill like Dan, but in the hands of Eminem ‘Lose Yourself’ with all its standard talk of taking your moment when it comes your way sounds like an indignant howl that will not be ignored. And that is because it is based on his reality as he knew it. I am not totally convinced that everything he says happened the way he claimed but I think he sees it that way. And as he is the narrator, his word is law.

This song makes my adrenaline buzz, my blood pump and my feet tap. It is a masterpiece about conquering performance anxiety and coming out of unpleasant experiences with cold eyed determination. While the cynic in me who never sleeps finds some of the lines corny and the sentiment cliché, the part of me that feels things believes in Eminem. Give him the Oscars. Give him all the Oscars. And I’ll go get started on my Jelly Bean ship.

 

Did I own it: Yes. I liked it then, I liked it now and although I liked the film fine when I saw it many years ago I have to say the highlight was by far the last ten minutes of rap battles which are phenomenal and showcase what makes him special much more than any one single ever could.

Could I sing along now: Yes. Every word. But you will never hear it, you lucky people.

Worth remembering: Yes I think so. As did The Academy. Not that Eminem showed up. Legend has it he fell asleep watching cartoons with his young daughter and didn’t bother attending. He only found out about his victory the next day. That’s how he tells it anyway. As I said, he is in charge of his narrative…

 

 

Date of Number 1: 21.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Blue feat. Elton John (Yes. That Elton John.)

Song Name: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Fact: This was only Elton’s 5th Number 1 despite it being his 31st year in the ‘biz. It was Blue’s 3rd.

My Take: For some reason that I still don’t fully grasp, legitimate artists seemed to want to perform with Blue. Elton John isn’t really the type to do something because his record company suggest it. He appears, and I could be wrong, to be his own man. So does that mean…he respects Blue? Or was it just that if they were going to cover one of his songs he wanted to oversee it so it wasn’t butchered? Whatever the story behind it, it happened. And it wasn’t a fluke. Blue would go to duet with Stevie Wonder, who according to Anthony Costa of Blue when he was getting roasted on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ was a big fan and wanted to work with them.

Huh?

Well whatever Mr John and Mr Wonder. You guys have earned your stripes and can do whatever makes you happy. But Blue…what are you looking so cocky about? Stop strutting around Elton’s piano and listen to me a sec’: Do you deserve my respect? What have you done to deserve my love? Prove to me you are worth it. Come on do it!!!

No.

Well this is better than 5ive’s ‘We Will Rock You’ cover from 2000 because at least this fits in a sensible genre for them (sad love song) and they don’t dare try and change it up all that much from the original. Although they do sneak in an entirely unnecessary record scratch noise.

The message of the song itself is a simple idea. It kind of reminds me of a less fun version of ‘We can Work it Out’ by The Beatles, all about trying to manipulate someone into forgiving you and not wanting to take responsibility for a fight. It is not my favourite of Elton’s back catalogue by a long shot: (Oh since you ask it is a toss up between ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’ I think I’m going to listen to that instead, hold on…) but I don’t begrudge the existence of ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ as it captures the ambivalence of an unsatisfying romance quite well and is pleasant to the ears.

But did it need to be remade? Of course it didn’t but is Blue’s attempt to sing it tolerable? In my last review of a Blue song I was obligated to compliment the vocal ability of Simon and Lee through gritted teeth. Nothing has changed in that regard. All 4 of them are competent and Simon and Lee continue to teeter on the line between ‘Satisfactory’ and ‘Good’ As boybands go, they all do an acceptable job. They don’t really bring anything exciting to their little moments to shine though. This is highlighted further by Elton’s chorus. He is not a great singer but he is a musician so has a technical understanding of what he is doing, already elevating him above the Blue boys plus he can emote without trying all that hard. Elton John phoning it in is was always going to sound more convincing than Blue giving it their all.

I have looked up them singing this live just to see for myself how much of their acceptable vocal comes from studio manipulation. My suspicions were first raised when I went to see my favourite musical on tour only to discover Anthony Costa was starring in it. He was a surprisingly competent comedic actor (things took a turn for the ‘no real training’ in Act 2 but props when they are due he did better than I had any right to expect) but his singing voice was terrible. From what I can gather, they are able to scrape through live as long as all the tough vocal bits are given to Lee Ryan.

Ah Lee Ryan. Lee Ryan. Mate. The recording shows potential but I personally object to the way he whines when he sings. It is annoying. It is all the more annoying by the fact that he clearly has one hell of a vocal range. In fact, Ryan claims that Elton John was so impressed with him that he encouraged him to go solo. Which he did. It didn’t work out well. One of the main reasons it didn’t work out well was Blue’s attempts to cross the pond to America were, errr, marred slightly by Lee Ryan’s passion for animal welfare. Yes you read that right. Lee Ryan really loves big animals such as whales and elephants and it makes him all kinds of mad that they are endangered. Here is a quote from a promotional interview he gave:

“What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important. This New York thing is being blown out of proportion…Who gives a fuck about New York when elephants are being killed?”

This is a direct quote. I read the transcript. To what New York thing is he referring, I hear you wonder? A fair question. So here is the answer: the 9/11 attacks. Feel free to read that again. While I can’t find the exact date the interview took place also sources use phrases such as ‘shortly after’ and ‘in the aftermath.’ According to the transcript, his bandmates tried desperately to shut him down, while imagining any Grammys they were going to get washing down a river of hopelessness I imagine, but he shouted over them claiming that he is the outspoken one of the group and says what needs to be said. Clearly in his own mind, Ryan is the Malcolm X of the animal kingdom:

‘Rational thought before engaging in rhetoric is overrated! Incidentally, there is this great new drink you have to try called PAINT!’

I feel Elton may have been backing the wrong horse there. Especially considering if Lee Ryan was a horse and the big race was his career he heard the gun go off, panicked, backed up and stumbled over breaking all his legs.

What was my point? Oh yeah…the cover version is ok but doesn’t need to exist. I feel like I say that a lot. And Lee Ryan is lucky he can sing because there is literally no other job he could do without accidentally killing someone.

 

Did I own it: No. I distinctly remember being annoyed about liking it as much as I did though. Which is sad. The only thing less cool than admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John is secretly admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John.

Could I sing along now: Yes. The lyrics are very easy to remember and I am pretty sure that, should the karaoke machine break while you are singing it, I could provide you with the lyrics at a moment’s notice.

Worth remembering: The song is about as inoffensive as it gets but I can’t honestly imagine ever choosing to listen to it again.

 

 

And now we arrive. It is time. They are here. I have paid my dues talking about Ketchup songs, Westlife, Blue, Gates…I am so excited. So much so I am going to temporarily abandon the format to talk about this. Because my excitement and enthusiasm for this group requires one very important thing: Context.

 

My Take: Look back over the singles chart in the UK 2001 and 2002. Do you notice a pattern beginning to emerge? Television had found a way to influence the Top 10 like never before. Greedy record company executives had discovered they could earn big bucks without needing to come up with innovative material by pushing new, undemanding stars through the medium of reality TV. People would see them, people would know them, people would like them, people would buy them. Rather than the more traditional audience finding an artist through their music, audiences could now find music through artists. Sure it is ass backwards, but the numbers indicate it really, really works.

In 2002, I was 14. Now, I am not going to go into detail about my life at this time, because why would I? But 2002 was a particularly memorable year for all the wrong reasons. But I am not going to sob story it up. I am going to instead focus on one of the few positives of that time. My Saturday Night Routine. It was off the hook. Get this: I would finish my dance/acting/singing school and then go get a cheeseburger and some chips, come home, smother them in ketchup, open a can of coke and watch Popstars: The Rivals. Bliss. It was my escape, my safe place. All would be well as long as I had that first bite of a really cheesy burger and the search for a new girl and boy band. I was really invested in the results of this particular show, because I needed to focus my emotional energy on something unimportant. And it helped. It really did.

I had watched the first Popstars show and most of Pop Idol. I would engage in the narrative, the whole shebang: The auditions, the bootcamp, the voting, the nerves, the families all crying about how hard their 17 year old has worked to be a popstar for so long (why isn’t she in school?) the crappy outfits, the awful puns from the judges, the final victory and then the confetti. The only bit that let me down was the music. That is when I would tune out. The story was over. When is it next on? Oh, Gareth Gates has an album out? Who cares?

And I wasn’t being unfair. Even Will Young, if you remember, has admitted the two songs that were his debut were dreadful. Gates released a cover he had performed on the show Pop Idol. If we flash forward a bit into the future the second Pop Idol winner would sing a song called ‘All This Time’ that told the story of her victory. In slow, ballad form with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. Obviously. Then the winner of Fame Academy, the BBC rival effort of Pop Idol, gave us David Sneddon who penned a song called ‘Stop Living the Lie’ a slow piano ballad about being true to yourself. I think. I wasn’t really listening.

Then The X Factor. Oh Lord, where do you start? The first winner did a cover of a Phil Collins song that had only been released by Westlife a few years earlier. The second winner did a song about his victory. It was a slow ballad with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. The third winner did a cover of the song that the first American Pop Idol winner sang as her winner’s song. It was a slow ballad about her victory with a key change before the last chorus. Oh and a choir.

I could keep going but you get the point. No effort. No passion for music, just a passion for making something that sounded festive and marketable to old ladies and young children. There are lots of those. Let’s give them another key change, they’ve earned it.

I have a point. It is coming. Context is everything.

So in December 2002 Popstars the Rivals came to an end. They had 5 boys in one band and 5 girls in the other and they were going to compete for the Christmas number 1. Boys v Girls! Battle of the sexes! The boys, right from the start, were the obvious winners. The girls by default were the underdogs because girls watch the show and girls like boy bands crooning about love. And what the target demographic wants, it gets. It was also acknowledged that the boys were tighter as vocalists and some people voiced the, somewhat misogynistic, view that boys tend to gel better than girls as people. It was a forgone conclusion.

The boys were christened One True Voice and managed by Pete Waterman, who gave them a cover of a Bee Gees song called Sacred Trust as their first song. It sounded like this:

If you can make through the seemingly never ending 4 minutes and 44 seconds then you are…Well…strange. And yes. One of them is significantly taller than the other 4. And yes, that is the best bit.

I am grateful now and I was then that it wasn’t a song about their victory with a choir. But it is still mind meltingly dull. But they didn’t care. They sang it and sat back and waited for their tween audience to carry them to the top of the charts.

Meanwhile Westlife and Boyzone manager Louis Walsh and Polydor records were assigned the unenviable task of taking care of the 5 girls. Louis had been very, very open about the fact that he didn’t ‘get’ girls and quickly fopped them off to his ‘team’ So what cover version would they be doing? Louis thought the bittersweet Christmas song by East 17 ‘Stay Another Day’ was a sound business plan. It nearly went that way and the girls did give a lacklustre performance of this on the B Side. But for the A Side…Remember Xenomania? The production house of wonders I talked about briefly in the last post? Man at the top Brian Higgins offered them a song.

Now I want you to imagine you are me. Not just me now. Me at 14. You have had a whole year of syco cover versions as a precedent and then the boys premièred their first video ‘Sacred Trust.’ Then the smiling presenters said: ‘And this is Girls Aloud’s single ‘Sound of the Underground.’ And then…I heard this:

YESYESYESYESYESYES

Yes.

Yes.

And nothing ever hurt again. Thank you, thank you…weird silver teenagers! 

Right from that surf guitar intro you know they have broken every rule about what a reality TV show first single should be. I am trying to calm down but it still has the same effect on me, more than 11 years later. I am welling up with joy. This was so much better than it had any right to be. This mash of electronic beats and solid rock, that sound so urgent, this dirty, dirty track, those girls that are not winking or pointing or even smiling. Did Brian Higgins know what he had? Did Sarah, Kimberly, Nadine, Nicola and Cheryl? Did Louis Walsh even listen to the damn thing before it was released? I still remember staring at the screen after it was over thinking: ‘What the fuck was that?’

I wasn’t the only one. Music critics all over the country who had been ready and willing to pour scorn on the song as a way of fighting back against the tide of reality TV musical acts had to lower the pitchforks and admit it wasn’t half bad. I remember at the time there was a lot of qualifying statements being wheeled out. A lot of: ‘It is good…for what it is’ Hell, even I am at it, what with all my ‘CONTEXT’ talk. That is why I want to just lay it out straight: I think it is a great song.

And it hasn’t dated. Lots of end of the decades magazines cited Girls Aloud and Xenomania for taking the pop world out of the dark: it wasn’t kid pop like Bwitched had been or overly sexual like Pussycat Dolls would be or a winner’s ballad or an American r n b snoozefest. It bypassed any route that had previously been on the map and it did it without trying to sound like it had edge. It is to the point, clipped, tight, and you can dance to it. It seems so obvious that this is what new pop acts should have been aiming for but nobody had wanted to rock the boat.

Now for the more musically high and mighty among you you might well be able to point to many similar tracks that were released before SOTU and say Xenomania were inspired by drum and bass, or they sampled this and the vocals are backed up by sessional singers and bla bla bla. Feel free to sit in the corner and take a nap because the point isn’t whether or not this song is actually exceptional. Maybe it isn’t. Hell, for a long time I was sick of it because I had listened to it too often. But you know what it wasn’t? Predictable. And for that reason alone I love it. I love every imperfect, messy, hollow, dazed, dead eyed moment of it.

This is the point where I should clarify: I know I can’t really give Girls Aloud too much credit for how well this record turned out. To be fair, they do a competent job, especially Nadine Coyle the 17 year old Irish girl who even made the key change tolerable through her commitment to the material, and considering they had been popstars for all of 11 minutes I think they deliver what was needed to make this song work. Others will disagree about their charisma and personality and I genuinely can’t argue for too long against this viewpoint: I like them, I get them and while they might not recognise the irony in the sincerely overblown lyrics, they sell it anyway.

My only major bone of contention is the lack of Nicola Roberts, the red head, who only gets one solo line and often slips out of frame in some ratios of the video which I don’t think was an accident. I have much to say about my love of Nicola Roberts but if your first introduction to her was this song you would be left baffled as to how I ended up so committed to her. It is a long story, that starts with the first 3 seconds of this performance:

And ends…never. It will never ends. Nicola Roberts is the love of my life. I am getting distracted. But I love her. She is the only popstar who could play Wembley and look like she would rather be anywhere else.

Pictured above: ‘The Ugly One’ Because the press are assholes. And so are people. 

But the star of the show is and will remain Xenomania. Xenomania, particularity Higgins and Cooper, would go on to write and produce the majority of Girls Aloud material and thus a new age of pop was about to begin. An age so wonderful and so joy filled that I can’t contain my love. Because here is the thing: They were not done being awesome. Not by a long shot. First Xenomania saved the Christmas Number 1 from being a Bee Gees cover. It was a good start. But it was only the beginning.

 

Date of Number 1: 28.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 4

Artist: Girls Aloud

Song Name: Sound of the Underground

Fact: All that stuff I said above.

 

Did I own it: Do you know? I did. I have the single version in CD. I have got it in mp3 form. I have it on their first singles collection and I have the version from their live album. I really like Girls Aloud.

Could I sing along now: Do you know? I think I could.

Worth remembering: Do you know? I think it is.

 

 

 

Round Up

 

Total Number of Number 1’s: 30

 

My Hopes for 2003: The oblivion of the traditional boy band and less key changes before the last chorus. The two are linked.

 

 

Best Song:

Do you need to ask? In fairness, let’s consider this. ‘Lose Yourself’ is pretty brilliant, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ has endured for a reason, although it is hardly representative of the era, the Sugababes had a solid year, I really like the Elvis remix…But no. This is my list and it has to be Girls Aloud. Here is a live version in case you wanted to hear it again. This was performed 10 years after their Popstars victory. It was one hell of a lap.

 

Worst Song:

Tricky. While 2002 threw up a lot less than 2000 and 2001 it was still one disgusting baby. It is a toss up between Will Young’s ‘Anything is Possible’ and Westlife’s ‘Unbreakable’ both of which barley qualify as actual songs. I think it has to go to Westlife simply because while I was bored during the awful Will Young song this actually had me thrashing around in pain such was my body’s rejection of it.

 

Surprisingly Not Terrible:

I was not expecting my fist pumping, jumping up and down enthusiasm for a Bryan Adams dance record. That took me by surprise.

 

How did this happen? Song:

While I thought Elton John volunteering to sing with Lee Ryan would be a cinch for this category, I have to give it to Atomic Kitten because I am still wrapping my head around how this song became an international sensation and why I care so much.

 

Nostalgic Overload:

I find myself coming back to ‘Just a Little’ for this one as this provides another great underdog story. I can’t explain why I like it but I do.

 

A Song to Save in the Time Capsule just to Confuse Historians:

‘If You’re Not the One’ so the historians can shuffle on their couch uncomfortably while Danny Bedingfield gaze into their eyes with a combination of lust and heartbreak…He has so many feelings you guys…But just a heads up he will take your soul so don’t look at it took long. He wants to die with you, he says so in this very song. Does that not sound like a threat?:

 

 

 

Next Time…Well here is the thing…Before I move onto to 2003 I am going to use this space to talk more about one of my favourite musical acts of all time and hopefully convince anyone out there who still remains cynical that Girls Aloud and Xenomania were the best thing to happen to chart music in the past 15 years. I have been working on this ever since their break up last year and in many ways I have been preparing for it all my life. Even if it changes just one person’s mind then all my hard work will have been…Actually no scrap that. One person is not enough! So Next Time…Whether you like it or not…Girls Aloud: A Retrospective

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