It seems like there’s always one in every girl group who tries to go the arty/indie route, as if the constraints of commercial pop was something they were forced into at Taser point by some cruel industry ringmaster, rather than y’know, something they openly competed and strived to get into in front of millions of people.
Still, though, gimmicky as it can seem, the adult-pop adventures of many a former popstrel can sometimes offer tantalisting results, from Shakespear’s Sister to Kylie’s indie adventures to Siobhan Donaghy from the Sugababes' Cocteau Twins impressions. No? Just me on that last one?
Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud comes armed with contributions from Joe Mount of Metronomy and hawt dance producers including Diplo and Dragonette, as well as what seems to be a hefty lyrical persecution complex about being the so-called ‘ugly one’ out of Girls Aloud (a bit like being ‘the thickie’ out of Wittgenstein, Francis Bacon, Leonardo Da Vinci, Einstein and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, we imagine).
But after this, will we be calling her ‘the cool one out of Girls Aloud’ or ‘the one out of Girls Aloud who really should have just waited for the reunion?’ Only one way to find out...
'Beat Of My Drum'
The Diplo-produced itchy-glitchy-look-at-me-I’m-well-bitchy strut of this should need no introduction. If you like weird noises and hot women shouting, there’s not really any faulting this. If you don’t, you probably need to have a massive word with yourself.
Features the line: “I’d like a phone call/I’d like to hear something like this – WAHWAHWAHWAH”. Personally I’d be a bit freaked out by a phonecall like that. The slightly wacky, affected half-spoken vocals here might irk a little, but the classy, Sophie Ellis Bextor-ish glisten of the sugar-spun electropop goes down smooth.
Ah, the glories of the extended pop metaphor. Here Nicola shows her vulnerable side by comparing herself to a yo-yo spinning haplessly on the finger of a hot’n’cold lover. The “oh-oh-oh” chorus is as winning as those always are, and the impulse-speed space synths are broken-heartedly beguiling.
You could mistake this for one of GA’s more downbeat, cheeky numbers such is its slomo disco perkiness, right up until the point where Nicola gets her sugared falsetto on. While it’s clearly aiming at Kate Bush-eerie, the results are more hackle-raising than ‘Cloud Busting’.
An eerie twinkle of descending notes and a single-minded pulse that’s a bit hipster Italo-disco in its stylings. It’s like a heart of glass, y’see, but more opaque. Or something. Nicola’s growls and warbles are right on the borderline between intriguing and irritating. The terrifying battle-yell of “HEAAAAARRRRRRT” it breaks into as the synths get gnarly, though, is pure chilling.
Well, you can tell this is one of the Joe Mount produced tracks right off. With an ominous, Oriental-tinged track, it could be a doomier offcut from ‘Nights Out’. In this downbeat context, Nicola’s vocal contortions and willful flaunting of her dark side make a bit more more sense. “I don’t like nasty words they hurt me like you’d never know / But don’t think I won’t put a smiley face on and do the show… don’t like people who leave comments on the internet / They presach they’re perfect while killing you with intellect”. It’s kind of like a song version of that bit on Scrubs where Carla rips off the top of her head and all the crazy streams out all at once.
'Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime'
A chilly, Hurts-esque synth pop cover of The Korgis’ maudline ’80s one-hit wonder? Um, alright then.
'Say It Out Loud'
More straight-ahead Katy Perry-ish high-energy pop, albeit decorated with Crystal Castles-ish 8-bit bleeps here and there. The chorus is a big old fuzzy hollering rush and no mistake.
Pure silly pout-faced camp disco with girly-wirly vocals that’s somewhere between Heartbreak and Teena Marie.
'Fish Out Of Water'
Again by throwing Nicola into the deep-end of a completely different context, Joe Mount achieves one of the more notable tracks on the record. And yes it does sound a bit like Metronomy with one of Girls Aloud singing over the top. But what’s wrong with that, like? Whether these two tracks sit snugly in the context of the rest of the album is a different question.
'Take A Bite'
“Just because you’re twice the size of me / Doesn’t mean I’m scared of World War III". An adorably bolshy strop-pop ‘come and have a go’ number that nods a little bit towards MIA, but is more what Jessie J would be like if she wasn’t so unbearable.
'Sticks + Stones'
A lot of the album is about the pain Nicola suffered in the glare of Girls’ Aloud’s fame. Joking aside, it’s hard to imagine what it must be like for a teenager to submit to that kind of sniping scrutiny, and this relatively understated ‘Beautiful’-style ballad goes some way of explaining it without over-egging the point.
Well, it’s admirably honest, if trying a little to hard to be weird, and its LOOK I’M WELL QUIRKY charms might well grow on us with repeated listens. Unlike the work of her fellow Girls, there’s some actual depth and wit here.