Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll (Polydor)
With the majesty of the New York trio’s third LP It’s Blitz! well and truly sealed, it remains only for us to pick over the singles in an effort to throw praise on them once again. Come on, folks! Praise them! Everyone’s doing it! Heads Will Roll begins with a synth intro not dissimilar from Queen’s I Want To Break Free, but rather than Freddie Mercury dressed as a housewife, Karen O is thrust before us: enigmatic, magnetic as ever. Because she now sees her voice as an instrument, not merely the focal point atop instrumental wizardry, we’re treated to an ever-more nuanced and considered performance, changing in timbre and colour, but precise and needle-sharp when it needs to be.
But what the balls is she on about? Silver on the wet streets? Glitter over everything? Off with their heads?! This is the sort of disco-gone-gory that might be more aligned with the ugly, solemn, Quaalude-enhanced side of the genre, but the sass and swagger remain totally intact. As Karen O’s foxing words trip out of her mouth and splat on the dancefloor, the listener is left in no doubt as to what kind of party we’re attending.
Even the video (in which a man turns into a wolf and rips the band and assorted revellers to fucking shreds with balletic aplomb) lets us know that this is not a light-hearted (of glass) affair. The drama has to come from the frisson of direct wordage in a style normally associated with the human act of frivolous dance. But then again, don’t all the best disco songs deal with considerably darker issues than the music suggests? With Heads Will Roll, Yeah Yeah Yeahs show us their updated version of that maxim and produce one of their most entrancing and consummate singles to date.
BOOM, it’s out and you know it. This was snaffled from Artrocker magazine (IT TAKES UP A WHOLE PAGE, LAD!)
Girls Aloud – Out Of Control (Polydor)
Largely, where attempts are made to engage with Girls Aloud‘s desired critical audience is where they come across with less conviction. Revolution In The Head is one such example, a rather vague and simplistic rallying tune in the girls’ ‘sassy’ mode. Worse, though, is the faux-ragga intro which seemingly has no relevance apart from how, y’know, reggae songs are about revolution and stuff. Still, the arrangement is extremely inventive – listen out for the droning oboe line in the background, it’s an eerie and almost inaudible effect that is more powerful to the subconscious than any of the lyrics.
Fix Me Up is very unsexy because of how brazen it is, Live In The Country is purely bizarre, but the worst song here is undoubtedly the closing We Wanna Party. Seemingly an attack on emo kids, or maybe Goths, it aims so directly at its targets that the term ‘preaching to the converted’ might be a tremendous understatement. Of course their existing fans will share the opinion. The purpose of this song is, arguably, to put forward the notion that Girls Aloud are very aware of their position in the media and for them to gain further valorisation from ‘serious’ music fans, but it comes off as slightly ignorant. “We wanna party but we got no love!” is slightly too strong a refrain to be as intelligent as it hopes.
Still, The Loving Kind is as wistful as they come and another excellent example of the pleading, beaten lyrics working far better than any others. Without sounding chauvinistic, Girls Aloud come across far better when they are devotional and not spurning their men so strongly and obviously. As far as their audience-splitting trick goes, they can’t ever stick with pure pop or attempts at crossing over into credibility. The fact is that they only achieve that credibility when they don’t mean to, when they’re simply singing songs with emotions and without agendas. In terms of furthering perceptions of the ‘girl band’ as a form, type or genre, Girls Aloud will only succeed if they ignore the external influences that have somehow convinced to them to strive for critical success. Deny it all turns they probably will, but it’s difficult not to think that someone has told them “hey, you girls could be Madonna when ‘Ray Of Light’ came out”. It’s not a guise that suits them – they should react to Out Of Control with a follow-up of the purest pop possible.
Read part 1 of this review here.
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.