The life of a manufactured pop band is not a happy one. Constantly being told to watch what you eat, being shepherded from one kids TV show to the next, being derided as not being ‘proper’ music at every turn, before being cast back out to obscurity, with only the chance of a spot on reality TV in a few years time, if you’re lucky.
It’s not really turned out that way for Girls Aloud though. Now officially the country’s most successful girl band ever after their 16th consecutive Top 10 hit, they’re in the curious position of being feted by the ‘serious’ music press, the tabloids and students as well as their presumed target audience of young girls and kids. And going against the rules of manufactured pop, they seem to getting more popular by the day.
Tangled Up is the girls’ fourth album, and it’s as if someone has sat down, thought about what makes a Girls Aloud song such great pop, and then magnified it five times. It’s 47 minutes of pumping, slightly demented electro-pop, with more hooks than a fisherman’s basket and not a maudlin ballad or an ill-advised cover version in sight.
And that is a very good thing indeed. Where previous Girls Aloud albums always dipped when the obligatory cover version was wheeled out, on Tangled Up there’s no drop in energy. There’s conventional pop here as well of course – the irresistibly catchy Call The Shots is at first disappointing in its normality until that chorus glides in, leaving you singing along for weeks on end.
Elsewhere, Girls Aloud’s regular partners in crime Xenomania give the impression of having the best job in the world. Close To Love is an absolute riot, a joyous hi-energy stomp which has more innuendos than a Carry On script (“we’re gonna need more wood” indeed…), before warning off guys “with terrible hair” to “back off”. It’s utterly, utterly daft, but shot through with such conviction that you can’t help but love it.
Girl Overboard has a suitably ’80s sheen to it, but it’s Can’t Speak French which is the real highlight here. The tempo is taken down a slight notch, a swing beat kicks in backed by some squelchy synths, and there’s yet another chorus that stays in your head forever, aided by the gloriously silly lyric of “I can’t speak French, so I’ll let the funky music do the talking”. It’s possibly the best thing they’ve ever done.
Elsewhere, there’s the slight whiff of ska to Control Of The Knife, and the utterly barmy futuristic techno-rock hybrid of Fling which sounds like Gwen Stefani would had she grown up in Manchester and survived on a diet of fags, Red Bull and vodka. The latter is also notable for mentioning “a bit of ding-a-ling”, 35 years after Chuck Berry upset the moral majority. Klaxons may even want to lend an ear to the spacey I’m Falling if they want to avoid the curse of the Mercury Prize when recording their next album.
They’ve also kept the capacity to surprise – Black Jacks has an introduction bizarrely reminiscent of Suzanne Vega‘s Neighbourhood Girls before spiralling off into a swirly, shouty number that sounds like nobody quite on earth. It’s inventive moments like this that get you very excited about what Xenomania have planned for Franz Ferdinand‘s upcoming third album. We’ve not even mentioned Sexy! No No No, which seemingly has no chorus and not much of a tune, but still sounds more exciting than a thousand nu-rave wannabes.
In fact, the only real disappointment is the terrible sleeve and the disappearance of Hoxton Hero, apparently a stab at generic indie bands who wear trilby hats and play cheap guitars – a track that was pulled at the last minute on the grounds that it was “too controversial”. Here’s hoping it turns up on a B-side somewhere down the line.
So Tangled Up is yet more proof that when it comes to disposable pop, there’s nobody in the business that does it better than Girls Aloud. Forgot all talk about guilty pleasures – if you love pop music that’s original, inventive and sometimes exhilarating, you need this album.