BIOLOGY / GIRLS ALOUD
Updated: Nov 19, 2018
UK Chart Position: 4
Sometimes there’s a strange symbiotic connection between producers and artists that just works. The songwriting/production team of Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper that makes up Xenomania were responsible for some of the most properly “out-there” pop moment’s of the 00’s. And Girls Aloud recorded most of them. That’s not to say the Xenomania magic didn’t work elsewhere (Sugababes, Ellis-Bextor). But it didn’t work consistently for everyone (Pet Shop Boys) and sometimes it didn’t work at all (Mini Viva anyone?) Girls Aloud were very much the muse of Xenomania, not so much “Biology” as a litmus-test chemistry, fizzing and sparking at will. (To emphasise the point, the cover art for this single has each ‘Alouder placed in a test tube, an ironic dig at the ‘grown in a science lab’ view of manufactured pop).
It’s easy to forget the bravery that both parties showed in the early days of Girls Aloud. Their first Popstars-The-Rivals endorsed single didn’t lazily pander to the R’n’B sounds of the times, and instead went out on a limb with a twangy surf-guitar sound. “Love Machine” sounded like George Formby on crack. Their lyrics could sound like drug-induced gibberish (“Something kinda ooh, dancing on my tutu”). Not that everything was pop gold. They’re not brilliant at ballads, and their cover versions err on the side of being a bit lazy (although “Jump” has a brilliant, electric-buzz stop/start bit at the end.)
It’s maybe no coincidence that all five of Girls Aloud are from the North/ Northern Ireland. There’s a ballsy, give-it-a-go attitude to them which saves them from being too slick and boringly on trend. In some ways, it feels they should have existed in the 80’s…where their curveball singles would have fitted right in. No other manufactured pop band before or since had quite got beard-scratching music critics on side whilst still selling shed loads of records. With “Biology”, they had The Guardian positively salivating.
As a lesson in how to write a hit record, it tears up convention. It’s does away completely with the notion of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight, and instead is a patchwork quilt of chorus’s seemingly stitched together at random. Neither of these musical segments particularly relate to the previous one, but somehow (and I don’t know how) the whole thing hangs together. It starts, with a show-tuney stomp (which resurfaces at the end), and goes through a strange bit about getting a coffee and running off to Alabama (oddly) to escape a destructive, all-encompassing relationship that all parties know will win out at the end.
But the lyrics aren’t really the point here. The charm is in its heady, ever-changing landscape of music sections that gallop towards the finish line, each bit almost elbowing the other out of the way. The video mirrors the music perfectly, as they evolve from Southern belles, to domineering secretaries and back to sexy glamour-pusses.
Like a science experiment that could badly backfire, it somehow magnificently goes right, a periodic table mash up where element meets catalyst to produce something incendiary.
The moment: The opening piano-led stompy bit that signifies “yes, this will be brilliant”.
In a word: Elemental. Experimental. Or just mental.