Review: Girls Aloud
Tangled Up (Polydor)
Sometimes, sheer staying power is enough. In the capable hands of the Xenomania production team, Girls Aloud have racked up enough successive Top 10 hits to lay claim to the "most successful girl band ever" title.
But just what is being celebrated in Girls Aloud's case? Sixteen modest UK chart hits, achieved after blanket multi-media coverage, unlike the media monoculture that produced, say, The Supremes, The Shangri-Las, or even Bananarama. But despite some success elsewhere in Europe and Australia, as far as I can ascertain, Girls Aloud have failed to generate a single chart placing in either Japan, spiritual home of girl-group idolatry, or America, the only territory that really matters.
There's certainly no echo of the global phenomenon that the Spice Girls became, and the main reason is obvious: who are these girls? Because outside of their core fanbase, disinterested observers who could spot a Sporty or a Posh at a hundred yards would be hard pushed to name all five Girls Aloud, let alone put names to faces. Like so many young female pop and film "stars" today, they seem blandly interchangeable, pod-people grown in Simon Cowell's back garden before being sent out to take over the world.
This is not necessarily a drawback. Unlike male vocal groups, which thanks to the form's origins in gospel, have traditionally thrived on combining strong, distinct vocal personalities, girl groups have either featured one dominant voice – Martha Reeves, Diana Ross – or, more usually, presented a united front in which the voices are blurred together in a close-harmony block: essentially, they're all just footnotes to Phil Spector. Which is fine if the songs are as strong as "Be My Baby" or "Then He Kissed Me", but less satisfactory if they're forgettable, formulaic fare like "Sexy! No No No..." or "Call the Shots".
And there's plenty more where they came from on Tangled Up, an album replete with minor variations on that familiar Xenomania stomp-beat, and lyrics mostly involving romantic come-on or brush-off, preceded here more than once by the phrase "there's something I want to tell you, boy" or suchlike. There's the standard half-hearted forays into dilute heavy rock and reggae, and there's attitude aplenty, of the sort described in terms like sassy and feisty, rather than smart or sensitive. Indeed, monoglot ignorance is the order of the day in "Can't Speak French", whose protagonist seeks to bridge the yawning cultural divide by opting to "let the funky music do the talking". And the music says: who are these girls?