Does this ring a bell? A group of attractive young women, dressed in miniskirts and midriff exposing tops, paying as much attention to the visual side of the act as the musical side, and shouting whenever they can about female empowerment? Are we really ready for a Spice Girls revival?
To be fair to Pussycat Dolls, they were going before Posh, Scary, Sporty, Baby and Ginger were mere twinkles in Simon Fuller’s eye. Back in 1995, LA dancer Robin Astin put together a cabaret act to perform at Johnny Depp’s Viper Room club. Before long, they’d attracted the attention of major celebrities, and soon Gwen Stefani, Carmen Electra and Christina Aguilera were performing with them.
Their line-up constantly evolved, and although none of the original Dolls are involved in the 2005 version, the concept remains the same. For this is music as that most terrifying thing, The Brand – as well as the inevitable flyers inside the CD cover advertising ringtones, mobile phone wallpapers and a “chance to win Nicole’s hoodie”, there’s a make up range available and also a clothing range.
It’s all a bit depressing to be honest, as amongst all these wonderful marketing opportunities somebody seems to have forgotten about the songs. PCD is full of mid-tempo, bland soul numbers that are a bit at odds with the Dolls’ feisty image. You won’t find the RnB suss of Sugababes here, or the pop genius of the best of Girls Aloud – instead, there are ballads which sound like Mariah Carey cast-offs, and homogeneous poppy dance workouts that sound like they’ve been put together by a machine.
Having said that, the single Don’t Cha is rather good – a silky, sexy little number with a refrain of “don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me” that will become ubiquitous by the end of the month. It’s a shame that Busta Rhymes is as typically annoying as ever, but he doesn’t spoil the song too much. Bite The Dust too is full of dramatic string parts, reminiscent of the more funkier side of Destiny’s Child, while I Don’t Need A Man has some nice synth lines which bring to mind the classic late ’00s sleek house of Inner City.
Elsewhere however, it gets rather grim. Right Now has the feel of a Broadway musical and is presumably aimed squarely at the band’s gay audience, but comes across as impossibly contrived, while Beep (featuring Will I Am from Black Eyed Peas) proves infuriatingly irritating with it’s constant use of the ‘bleep machine’ – “I’m gonna do my thang while you’re playing with your bleep” runs one rather risible line.
Stickwitu is the compulsory soulful ballad, and although it’s nicely sung, it doesn’t particularly stick in the mind very much. The Dolls’ voices do well at harmonies, but none have a particular strong vocal – this need not be a problem, as Girls Aloud have proved, but there’s no real personality here either. Any of the songs here could have been performed by any other US pop-soul group: the Pussycat Dolls are lacking that indefinable something – the X-Factor, if you like, before Simon Cowell bastardised that expression – that would distinguish them from the rest of the crowd.
One thing that they do have in common with the other girl bands out there is the cover version. Yes, where Atomic Kitten murdered The Tide Is High and Girls Aloud took a red hot poker and rammed it up the backside of I’ll Stand By You, Pussycat Dolls here tackle Gloria Jones‘ Tainted Love. Soft Cell can remain safe in their knowledge that their version remains the definitive. The Dolls even have the nerve to throw in the steal of Where Did Our Love Go that Marc Almond managed to make sound so poignant – the effect is anything but here, and just sounds like karaoke.
Yet, just as you’re recovering from that sacrilege, the Dolls go one step further by covering Feelin’ Good by Nina Simone. All the emotion and melodrama of the original is ripped out of the heart of the song and we’re left with a pointless, faux-jazz version. They may as well have strutted over to Simone’s grave and performed a stiletto clad dance upon it. Later on, they sing the Dean Martin classic Sway, and the listener will cry. But not for the right reasons.
However, what’s clear from PCD is that music is secondary to the Pussycat Dolls. There’s a half-decent album struggling to get out here, but it’s rather drowned by the image and ‘brand opportunities’ of the Dolls’ paymasters. And by the look of things, it’s paid off nicely – but just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good and this album is living proof of that.