This wasn’t supposed to happen. Manufactured girl groups, especially those formed on TV talent shows, are meant to release a few singles which obey the law of diminishing returns, squeeze a couple of albums out, lose a member and then disappear back off to a life of domestic drudgery.
Girls Aloud‘s third album in as many years proves that the normal rules of pop music don’t apply to them. Their last album, What Will The Neighbours Say, was packed with sparkling pop gems and, unusually for a pop group, hardly any filler tracks (we’ll discount those cover versions). Chemistry achieves the almost impossible in bettering its predecessor.
It’s an album sprinkled with the usual Xenomania magic – the single Biology is about as far from tired formula as you can possibly get. It sounds like three separate melodies condensed into one, from the Muddy Waters-apeing riff at the start, through to the glorious pop sheen of the verses, and having the sheer balls to wait two minutes before even introducing a chorus. It’s certainly hard to imagine the Pussycat Dolls coming up with something as downright exciting as Biology.
The other single, Long Hot Summer, seemed to be greeted with disappointment by Girls Aloud aficionados, but with its lyrics about cross dressing boyfriends running down the Old Kent Road with their pants on fire, it sounds beautifully, brilliantly insane here. It’s also the only summer record that sounds just as good on a wet windy night in November as it does in August.
However, every single track here could be a potential single – Models is a hilarious sidesweep at celebrity hanger-ons (“You get your kicks like flies to shit, buzzin’ round the model zoo”), set to one of the most infectious melodies you’ll ever hear, while Swinging London Town sounds like the best night out you’ll ever have set to a frenetic dance beat. Wild Horses meanwhile, is just barmy – it starts with a choirgirl introduction before galloping off into another typically fresh sounding Xenomania tune. It even has the audacity to feature a ‘woo-hoo’ after the line “your train is running late and overdue” which is either impossibly cheesy or a work of pure genius. Possibly both.
They even manage to do a decent cover version this time – their version of DC Lee‘s See The Day should wipe away all memories of I’ll Stand By You, and will be the girls’ Christmas single. It probably won’t reach number one, although if Whole Lotta History had been released instead, that would have hit the top spot as it’s simply the best lovelorn ballad since All Saints‘ Never Ever.
It’s an album full of little touches that you only notice after a few listens – the little Röyksopp-like keyboard riffs scattered through It’s Magic, or the fact that nearly every song has a quotable lyric nestling in its verses. Like that other successful graduate from reality TV, Will Young, Girls Aloud have stamped their personalities over every single track here – could anyone else have recorded the laugh out loud, seemingly throwaway Racy Lacey (“She’s made seduction a work of art, a PhD with her legs apart”) and made it sound so damn enjoyable?
In a year where Robbie Williams, Madonna and Rachel Stevens have all released new records, Girls Aloud have effortlessly bettered all three with Chemistry. It’s an album that will make you laugh, make you dance, make you feel happy and make you feel sad (in a good way) – if you don’t at least secretly enjoy some of it, you’ve officially no soul. And if nothing else, it gives notice that when Girls Aloud’s greatest hits album is finally released, it will be a stone cold classic.