Three-piece girl group Stooshe have, at last, arrived – albeit six months later than anticipated, with their debut album, London With The Lights On. The delay was explained thus by the girls’ ‘people’: “Following a late rush of creativity which has seen them write some of the best songs of their career, Stooshe have decided to delay the release of their debut album until March 2013 so they have time to record these songs for inclusion on the album.” The influence of major label machinations can be detected on the resulting album, and not in a positive sense, as it finally sees daylight at the end of May.
The BBC Sound Of 2012 nominees and two-time Top 10 Singles Chart visitors paint the image of being “badass”, and have already toured as support to Nicki Minaj. Yet all the soul and aggression of this image seems to have been sucked out of their debut. A track originally titled Fuck Me was retitled Love Me, and it was this new version that gave the girls their first UK Top 5 single. It sees an appearance from Travie McCoy, famed in the pop world for his work with Bruno Mars on hit single Billionaire. Whilst the pop credentials of McCoy are indisputable, what he adds to this track is highly questionable; he enters with a “Yo! It’s Travie” and a pathetically short rap that the album could definitely do without.
The main problem with the album is that it constantly feels like a compromise. The talents of Karis, Courtney and Alex – who were put together as a trio by their manager following auditions and high street fashion shop scouting – are self-evident, and need no additional help. Yet to coincide with the album’s release, the group were seen singing on top of a London bus during rush hour to commuters and passers-by at, amongst other locations, Oxford Circus and Bond Street. Whilst an impressive PR stunt, and understandable to a degree given the group’s gestation, this sort of behaviour reflects exactly what the label want out of Stooshe – an X Factor/The Voice-style girl group, without their having actually appeared on either show. However, by promoting and managing them in the same way as such groups, there’s a risk that their natural talent and feisty personalities play second fiddle to the machine’s manufacture of product.
Besides Love Me, the album is musically impressive but instantly forgettable. My Man Music is due to be a summer party/dance floor favourite with the infectious chorus “Step left, step right, pull your knees tight, Do the butterfly, to the side, to the side”, with an underlying samba pattern which surely signals the reincarnation of La Macerana.
Although overlooked up until this point, the main positive aspect is the wit present throughout, leading to, all in, a highly entertaining 50 minutes. Lyrically, it’s like listening to a trio of teenagers on the bus home, gossiping, trash-talking and giving some banter to passers-by. This is reinforced by ad-libs such as “Hey diddle diddle, my cat needs a fiddle!” and lots of spoken word that is engaging, and not at all tacky.
The trio aren’t merely a hilarious gimmick though, and the soulful tone of all three of their voices, with various leaps and Mariah Carey-esque slides, complete with rich harmonies on tracks such as Slip and My Man Music, reinforce their standing. Yet the packaging and production of the album, and subsequent PR stunts such as the London bus performance, allude to a poor copy of the dominance of girl groups such as Destiny’s Child circa 2001; and while there’s no obvious Beyoncé among them, the group have the potential to be rather more.
It is perhaps inevitable that these feisty personalities have been reigned in on their debut album, but it’s such a shame. With these three soulful Londoners, there was the potential to take the pop world by storm with exactly what there’s a need for right now: a pop group with a bit of substance. Instead of such nonsensical lyrics as One Direction’s “You keep making me weak, yeah, frozen and can’t breathe”, Stooshe present realism with an added touch of wit.
Tracks such Hoochi Mumma conform to the R&B expectation of discussing “Goldiggers” at least once per album, but with lyrics such as “She’s like the local piece of brass, the boys like her, she’s all Lycra and no class” that Kayne West wouldn’t be seen within spitting distance of, Stooshe have an opportunity to add their own sense of wit, and a much needed dose of talent, to the R&B girl group genre. The feisty personalities and powerhouse vocals have stayed intact, making it even more of a shame that the very essence of the group seems to be absent on London With The Lights On. Hopefully it’ll return soon.