Album Reviews

Sugababes – Overloaded:The Singles Collection

(Universal) UK release date: 13 November 2006

Sugababes are the most successful girl group of the 21st Century. Such are their powers that by the time the sun sets on their career, it is widely predicted that they will have halted climate change, ended third world poverty, synthesised a cure for cancer, and resolved the forecasted fisheries crisis.

In addition, their unlikely credibility has survived ‘working’ with Sting. No mean feat.

Therefore the gods dictated there should be a greatest hits package. And the Sugababes, or more pertinently their record and management companies, did agree.

And a good job too, as Overloaded:The Singles Collection is a best-of collection that ranks up there with the career grab-bags of all but the most untouchable of global pop icons. Stack it up next to a party pack of Shangri-La’s, Bananarama or TLC collections, and Overloaded will win hands down.

All this in an age when singles are supposedly a defunct format, and that the girls decided to release their greatest claim to immortality a full seven years into their career (that’s Push The Button in case you didn’t know).

It’s now been eight short years since school chums Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Shiobhan Donaghy first decided to get together and form the flexibly amorphous brand known as the Sugababes. Though they probably didn’t put it quite like that at the time.

Since that time, the girls have managed to pull off the pop dream of consistent reinvention and commercially contained innovation that has eluded all but the most hardy of ambitious souls, from the wiliest pop theoretician down to the most pre-packaged chancer.

Over 15 tracks, the reasons why the girls have discovered a new formula for pop longevity slowly swim into focus.

Big marketing-push singles like Round Round and Hole In The Head have more hooks than Dewhurst’s. The inevitable follow-up ballads like Stronger and Caught In A Moment have the right combination of flint-hearted yesterday’s-news disposability and fragile sensitivity to make man-done-me-wrong psychodramas believable.

The various production teams, consistently swapped and discarded for that breathless march into the future, leave enough quirks to individuate Sugababes records from lesser outfits that tried to emulate the formula, such as 411 and Liberty X.

Xenomania drench Red Dress, the first single to feature new member Amelle Berrabah, in billowy Northern Soul brass, while the static-charged mash-up of Richard X‘s Numan-worshipping Freak Like Me has already passed into legend.

Industry award ceremonies have attempted to variously shoehorn the ‘babes into specious genre compartments in an attempt to deafen them with backslapping gongs.

Taken together though, its obvious that all 15 singles have been targeted with the deliberate trajectory of a cool, knowing middle ground to identify with (witness Hole In The Head’s ’11 coffees / And Ricki Lake on TV’).

Fourth member Heidi Range may have left Atomic Kitten because she wanted to sing more R ‘n’ B style-material, but mostly this is sturdy, tough-sounding pop that wouldn’t alienate those (misguided) souls who wouldn’t touch R ‘n’ B with Justin Trousersnake‘s flat-cap.

Though the girls themselves appear curiously impassive throughout TV spots and carefully constructed video’s, many of the tunes offer enough tantalising confidences to keep the public interested.

Having survived two bailouts, the likes of Overload, Run For Cover and Good To be Gone may even detail / predict / recap breakdowns, family conflicts, or simply not liking the other two very much. Or maybe that’s what we’re supposed to think.

Whatever, may the Sugababes long continue getting caught in the middle. And, dude, if at least half of Overloaded doesn’t push your buttons, what are you doing reading a music site in the first place?

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More on Sugababes
Sugababes – Overloaded:The Singles Collection
Interview: Sugababes
Sugababes @ City Hall, Sheffield
Sugababes – Taller In More Ways