First Siobhan Donaghy, now Mutya Buena – those Sugababes that have flown the nest are starting to make music for themselves, and doing rather well by all accounts. But while Donaghy has pursued a route that takes her closer to Kate Bush, Buena looks intent on staying true to the street.
A possible concern is that her voice, which falls naturally into mid-range, would suffer without the fulsome soprano of Keisha Buchanan to complement it. Not here, as a combination of flexed vocal chords and clever songwriting give her a sound of urban sophistication, picking up where she left off with the Sugababes but introducing more soul.
Suffer For Love taps into this most obviously, a yearning song that, believe it or not, complains of getting hurt over and over again. Hard to believe that Buena should have such a vulnerable side, given her street tough exterior, but she manages it quite convincingly. Just A Little Bit also goes soulful but with a full gospel choir pitching in as the chorus gathers, again integrating styles in a pleasing way.
Yet as with the Sugababes it’s in the razor sharp pop moments that this record takes off. Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control) could easily be a song from the band�s cutting room floor but Buena makes it her own, helped by punchy production from Groove Armada. Real Girl, despite its reliance on the Lenny Kravitz sample, is a good girl power radio single. And Not Your Baby brings in the attitude and edge she does so well, a UK equivalent of Brandy, only with spice.
Even the ballads avoid regulation, though Wonderful is too sugary for someone of Buena’s sharpness. That said, she does a good job with it, and complements it with a clever reworking of the Ronettes classic Be My Baby. Aided by Amy Winehouse, it’s a paean to a hip hop loving boyfriend, and despite an awkward verse is one of the album’s defining moments.
While the collaborations are an important part of the album they don’t deflect the focus from the main protagonist, and Buena makes an easy transition from band member to solo and centre stage. Her distinctively husky vocal sounds better than ever, and when married with modern soul beats presnts her as a solo artist of a high order.