WALKING PRIMROSE!: GIRLS ALOUD
What could have been a disaster in the slick R;n'B world of 2002, turned into a brilliantly brazen, occasionally bizarre, accidental genius triumph of Great British Pop. Bucking the trend of what reality TV pop should be. Girls Aloud avoided the familiar trope of imagining they had finally realised some hard-won goal after years of setbacks, and adversity. (“All This Time”, “That’s My Goal”, “When You Believe”). Dull, dull, dull. Instead they downed a margarita, flicked a finger or two, and cast a wary eye over relationship dramas via some downright oddball lyrics about jumping on tutus and counting dirty sheep. Could almost be Kate Bush....
Not that everything Girls Aloud and Xenomania did turned to gold. They liked a cover version, A little too much. And they were pretty crap when it came to ballads – probably because their air of dishevelled, mischievous ‘girls about town’ didn’t lend itself to overly serious emoting. But they could deliver a bop that sometimes dispensed with the dreary idea of having verses altogether. Hurrah! Here's their 10 best bits.
10. Can't Speak French
What might have seemed lightweight and throwaway at the time now seems a pitch perfect summery breeze of a track where the girls collectively agree that their lack of linguistic props in the bedroom shouldn't hold them back in the quest for a bit of ooh-la-la. Wisely, they're happy to let the funky music do the talking. The video sees them exercise their Marie Antionette fantasies to full effect, and check out their brave French version of the song (Je Ne Parle Francais) where they prove that - yes - they really can't speak French. And in the case of Nadine and Cheryl, English also appears to be a bit of a stretch
9. Hoxton Heroes
Girls Aloud B-Sides and album tracks gave Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper full reign to push the envelope and take a few pot shots at the weirdness of London celebrity culture. 'Swinging London Town' and 'Models" are two of the best, but 'Hoxton Heroes' is a pin point satire on a very 2006-specific, trilby-wearing East London rock wannabe with a black book full of connections, and no discernible talent ("You couldn't get into RADA....you'll need more than jeans and a parka...") The withering put down of "how many tracks have you sold? Hmmm...none," is a brilliantly casual score. Pop 1: Rock: Nil. Also, the second Girls Aloud track to name check Primrose Hill- fact fans.
8. Something New
What. A Bop. After a three year break, 'Something New' is an emphatic 'we're back' statement of showing just who the leaders of the pack are. Each 'Alouder gets to to play to their strengths (so Kimberley does a 'talky' bit), and - as Popjustice pointed out - they brilliantly nick the 'alien invasion sound' from Lady Gaga;s 'Bad Romance' for the verses. The video isn't their greatest work, and admittedly the live performances of this track mainly consisted of them walking quickly and pointing, But how great is that 'follow the leader' ending?
7. No Good Advice
How to follow up the success of 'Sound of the Underground' and prove you're no flash-in-the-pan reality TV upstarts? Release something even better (...some might argue.). 'No Good Advice' takes the surf-guitar pop template of their debut and runs with it. This song ups the ante in depicting Girls Aloud as snotty, gum chewing, fag-smoking schoolgirls behind the bike sheds. Girls your mother definitely warned you about. It's a defiant, St.Trinians-with-attitude song with a great 'My Sharona' glam stomp to it. Those outfits in the video though...
6. The Show
Oddly under appreciated in the Girls Aloud canon, this was the moment that beard-stroking music critics from The Observer sat up and took notice, and everyone seemed to agree that - yes - this is great pop. A bridge that could be a chorus, gives way to the actual chorus and then there's a sort of sub-chorus. Hooks, hooks, hooks ladies and gents. It also has an underlayer of anxiety in pondering what to show and what to keep behind closed doors when it comes to relationships and pop life in general. But when they wonder aloud whether they should have 'hung around the kitchen in my underwear'...the implied response is.....no chance.
A great Balearic-kissed juggernaut of a banger, where hints of Spanish guitar give way to a sun-kissed Ibizan night full of drama and possibility. It's both titanically awesome and shows a trance-like vulnerability, especially with the urgent but strange, mediative lyrics at the end ("Without any meaning we're just skin and bone, like beautiful robots dancing alone.") It's the Girls Aloud 4.00am dark night of the soul moment of looking around a club and thinking 'what am I doing here?"
4. Something Kinda Ooh
The daffyness of the lyrics ("Jumping on my tutu....makes my heart go boom boom') makes it sound like this track could be a Lulu/Gina G hybrid Eurovision entry. But that distracts from the panicked claustrophobia of the lyrics as we're racing towards a 3.00am finish and desperate end to a night that will culminate in the next morning when "I won't even know your name". There's a fine line here between empty pulling-in-a-club-as routine, and dismissive finger-wagging at boys who try to cross the line. But there's also real pathos in trying to conform to modern life norms when there's an admission that "I can't tell you how sad I feel." Rather than celebrating confidence and sexual liberation, it seems to be saying...'these are our lives...isn't it horrible.'
3. The Sound of the Underground
Presumably because it had to be recorded at breakneck speed, there’s a real urgency about “Sound of the Underground” and thankfully, any rough edges were wisely kept from being smoothed over (witness Kimberley’s pure Yorkshire accent in “a mixed up sigggnnnn!”). And they all look a tad forced in the video, as if they're doing what they think pop stars do, rather than quite believing they're pop stars themselves. The twangy Beach-Boys surf guitar that starts things off sounded so off kilter in 2002 but it's there to do that clever thing of being able to recognize the track within the first few seconds. Thereafter, there's no time for sappy boy/girl antics....this is all about girls only drama in all its grit and glamour. And it many ways it also made for the strangest Christmas Number 1 for ages...completely non-festive, a little bit angry sounding, with just the mildest hint of panic attack. Who expected this record to be so different sounding? And so great!
As a lesson in how to write a hit record, ' Biology' tears up convention. It 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 .
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.
1. Call the Shots
And talking of alchemy, 'Call the Shots' is just pure perfection from start to finish, a shimmering mid -tempo kind-of-bop that shines like some alluring pop bauble. It's quite a grown-up sounding song for Girls Aloud, and one that breaks their own rules by reverting back to a very traditional verse-chrous-verse structure. And although Nadine does the heavy lifting, Nicola's middle-eight steals the show, the vulnerability in her voice almost cracking as she sings "I've seen life flow by, like a river/ So full of twilight, dreams that glitter." Pop magic right there.