In the often vacuous world of manufactured pop, the Sugababes continue to show the X -Factor wannabes the way. Not only that but they seem to be able to cut off record company manipulation before it goes too far, not content to allow their careers to be dictated.
Instead their songs continue to fizz with attitude, the threat of rebellion just beneath the surface. Their best vocals tingle with a nervous energy, the tension not quite resolved. Take the edgy yet euphoric single Push The Button, a winning portrayal of subtle female come-ons going unnoticed by their man. All three girls excel here, and it’s by some distance the best song on the album.
Happily that doesn’t relegate the rest of the tracks to filler material, although two songs in the middle miss the mark. Ugly fails to convince, too obviously a follow-on from TLC‘s Unpretty, but at the same time seeming to say “we’re all ugly, but I’m better looking now than I used to be” – mixed messages. It Ain’t Easy, whilst featuring a nervy vocal from Keisha, lifts much of its source material from Goldfrapp‘s Train, complete with an unsuccessful bridge passage.
These are, however, the only blots on the landscape. Gotta Be You is an electric piece of club R&B, a dancefloor anthem in the making and surely a future single. Red Dress, another singalong chorus present and correct, struts its stuff over a super funky bassline. Bruised is another whose chorus lingers long in the memory, though its lyric seems to suggest, “I goose when you get close” instead of “bruise”.
The mandatory ballads don’t necessarily show the girls at their best, but contain enough to stop attention wandering. Follow Me Home, a Christmas single candidate if ever there was one, is a sure-fire radio hit but too obvious in its aim. 2 Hearts goes some way to making an impact as an unconditional love song, but the trio don’t strike you as girls that are easily won over.
Lyrically, too, the girls’ songwriters are on the button, and the whole formula – such as it is – works. The three vocalists – Heidi’s sweetness, Mutya’s urban attitude, Keisha’s silky smooth – work perfectly together, yet retain a pleasing roughness around the edges, coming through the post-production intact.
This album may not be a huge advance stylistically but then why change a winning combination? There’s plenty here to keep the fans more than happy, and many of their contemporaries would kill even for their greatest hits to be as good as these. They remain the band all the others want to emulate, the triple ‘X’ factor.