Girls Aloud – Out Of Control (Polydor)
Out Of Control represents a simultaneous step forwards and backwards, not just for Girls Aloud, but for girl groups in general. There are attempts at authenticity that, on the whole, will work among the record’s audience, but there are misfires that will alienate both their already-ensnared fans and those (of supposedly more discerning tastes) who want to valorise them in higher critical circles. In the last few years, it has become increasingly acceptable to laud Girls Aloud and, to a lesser extent, some of their contemporaries as examples of acts doing nothing more than producing fine, unpretentious examples of what they do best – popular songs. This is all well and good, but the message has become distorted with Girls Aloud, and critics are becoming increasingly insistent that they are the high watermark in intelligent pop.
Their sixth album, then, goes some way towards prove these critics right – there are flashes of excellence throughout. Some of the vocal performances are sweet and well-delivered, particularly from Sarah Harding, and there are differing shades from track to track that encompass dance, soul, classic pop and several ambitious (for the existing audience) hybrids. Lead single The Promise is a simple and effective mission statement of sorts, both weary in lyric and buoyant in execution and arrangement. Taking cues from The Blues Brothers cod-soul and exhibiting an insanely confident and strident chorus, it works on every level as an example of the noughties pop song. It’s reflective and referential of its influences and has the requisite ennui in the lyrics to make lunges at the desired critical audience, but because of the girls’ public persona (we’re in a privileged position whereby we can see their lives unfolding in the tabloids) we can’t help but feel these lyrics are truer than most.
“Here I am, a walking primrose…” Harding sings plaintively. “My Aladdin’s lamp is down and I got a fear…ooh baby down here” chimes Cheryl Cole (slightly below her range). These are strange, curiously admirable attempts at poetry that lend the song a rare excellence that doesn’t last for the remainder of the album. Production choices here dictate that the girls aren’t all that polished (this is by no means a criticism), and we can hear the timbre of the ensemble grating like a live performance. It’s heartening that, with occasionally the most synthetic of musical backgrounds, there has been an attempt to humanise the vocals.
Part 2 of this review will be published tomorrow. Until then, have a listen to Girls Aloud at their MySpace.