In pop, there have always been two types of girl groups. The good girls, like The Supremes, Destiny’s Child or the Spice Girls. And the bad girls, like The Shangri-Las, TLC or Bananarama. Bad girls go clubbing all night, take the piss out of boys who try to chat them up, drink them under the table, ditch them and then stagger off together into the sunrise, when they’ll finally crash into bed (and without taking their make-up off first, either). Bad girls look sulky in photographs, never get their tits out, and moan about absolutely everything. In other words, they rock.
The Sugababes, of course, are bad girls. Their second album is crammed with bad girl signifiers, from the credit thanking Mac and Rimmel for the slap to ‘Round Round’s central hook “I don’t need no man/Got my kicks for free”.
Bad girls also tend to clash with their record company (and each other – in fact, all girl groups clash with each other). So it’s apt that this is the ‘Babes‘ first album on Universal after being dropped by London last year, and with Heidi XXX replacing Siobhan XXX, the original member who allegedly went to the toilet in Japan and never came back.
With two number ones (‘Round Round’ and ‘Freak Like Me’) already numbered among the tracklisting, ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ shows that the bad girls are back where they should be – on top. And about half of it lives up to the promise of those two brilliant singles. ‘Switch’ is a punchy ode to getting rid of your boyfriend should he start kissing you on the head and boring you (fair enough), ‘Stronge’ is an effectively widescreen, En Vogue-style swooping ballad and the bleepy ‘Supernatural’, despite shamelessly ripping off Brandy’s ‘What About Us’, shows that the Sugababes shine best in a cyber-soul setting. ‘Virgin Sexy’ seems destined to be misinterpreted as a paen to paedophilia (it’s actually sung from the point of view of a girl for whom sex “scares me, like Freddie”), but is officially the best song with ‘virgin’ in the title since Madonna‘s ‘Like A Virgin’. And ‘Just Don’t Need This’ deserves props for the fantastically awful couplet “The way I’m feeling now is mental/The problem first starts in your dental.”
As for the bad tracks, there’s a massive faux pas in the form of ‘Shape’, a cover of Sting‘s ‘Shape Of My Heart’ featuring unctuous vocals from the tantric one, and too many songs here are just bog-standard R&B. But it’ll keep them in slap and snakeskin boots – and for bad girls, that’s a triumph.