In the six years that they’ve been together, Girls Aloud have demonstrated a pretty ferocious work ethic. A big tour every year, five albums and a greatest hits set, and no less than 19 singles. Really, they make the famously prolific Ryan Adams look like a bit of a slacker.
Of course, it was never meant to be this way. Manufactured bands, especially ones chosen by TV talent shows, usually have a couple of hits and then fade away. By now, one member should be carving out a career in TV, there should be eating disorder rumours about another and, ideally, there should be rumours that at least one girl hates the rest of them. Ah, hang on a minute…
Away from the tabloid gossip, the secret of Girls Aloud’s success is very clear – they are, simply, a brilliant pop band. Xenomania may write and produce the songs, but in this quartet they’ve found their muses. Those quirkily futuristic pop epics just wouldn’t be the same coming from Dannii Minogue or Texas, for example.
Out Of Control is, as usual, chock-full of those trademark, otherworldly electro-synth songs, but it’s kicked off by a track that out-Spectors Mark Ronson. The Promise is the perfect opener, with horns blasting, some heavenly harmonies and a chorus that glides in and scoops you up in its arms. You can just imagine Adele and Duffy cursing their luck that they didn’t get a song of such quality.
That’s the only retro-sounding number here though. Synths shimmer and basslines pulse, and every so often there’s a moment that will make you exclaim delightedly “what the hell was that?” (the 30 seconds of actual farmyard animal noises that see out Life In The Country being a prime example).
Most attention will be focused on The Loving Kind, and with good reason – it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. Co-written by Pet Shop Boys with Xenomania, it’s a gloriously melancholic disco stomper, with some classic Neil Tennant lines (“I know you may be disinclined to find the love you’ve left behind”) and a production that will make you want to dance and cry. At the same time. There’s a nod to Call The Shots, but this is even better.
Love Is The Key is another example of the album’s variety – starting off with a Gregorian chant, it soon knuckles down into Northern Soul territory and even has a bluesey harmonica solo in the outro. Untouchable is an epic seven-minute electro-thumper which builds slowly, explodes into life, drops out brilliantly, then bursts back into life with a lovely and poignant lyric about “beautiful robots dancing alone”. The teeny-boppers may well scratch their heads, but it’s one of the classiest and most ambitious pop songs of the year.
Love Is Pain will probably garner most tabloid intrigue, having as it does a lyric concerning infidelity sung by Cheryl Cole (“It don’t matter to me, just be faithful to me”) but it’s another treat musically as well, a dark, pulsing electro-ballad with one of those chorus that incessantly buries itself into your brain.
Admittedly, Out Of Control doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights that Chemistry or Tangled Up did so well – Revolution In The Head is an ill-advised experiment with dancehall, while We Wanna Party seems pretty throwaway to be closing the album, despite featuring scenester-baiting lyrics such as “we’re so depressed we wear our shades at night, with our distress we might just fade away”. Rather oddly, it was originally recorded by Lene who used to be in Aqua.
Yet as ever with Girls Aloud, the truly great moments outweigh the average. Miss You Bow Wow could well be the most exhilarating song of the year, being almost ridiculously danceable, having a gloriously soaring chorus and some surreal lyrics about “slipping into your girlfriend’s jeans”. The drum-n-bass inspired Live In The Country also has hysterical lyrics about living on a farm, selling strawberry shortcakes at a fete and acting all eccentric, which is worth the price of the album alone. Out Of Control is, generally, yet another excellent album from a group who may have risen from a lot of people’s ‘guilty pleasure’ to becoming full-on national treasures.