Girls Aloud may be UK's most famous successful band from the Popstars series, they didn't cross the channel to France except for a few people like me who buy their CD from the net rather than from what they hear on local radios now. And I have collected all their studio albums, not like a fan(-atic), but like pop music addict who liked what he heard.
Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts, Kimberley Walsh, Cheryl Tweedy (then Cole after she got married)and Nadine Coyle started things nicely enough with Sound of the underground, which led them into Sugababes' musical footsteps rather Spice Girls'. Their music was sometimes a little bit too rocky for me but there was always enough pop/dance appeal for me to finally buy the album. The soon quasi monopolistic involvment of Brian Higgins' production team Xenomania was a promise there would be enough for me to like too. And the perfect songs and hit singles came one after the other. I will only name the best ones in my book : The show, Love machine, their covers of Grease and I'm every woman, Deadline & diets, Androgynous girls, Long hot summer, Models, Sexy! no no no, Call the shots, Can't speak french, Close to love, Turn to stone, Love is pain, and finally the fabulous The loving kind, co-written with the Pet Shop Boys, and their final single Untouchable.
I learned the girls put the band on hiatus to work on solo projects with sadness and a bitter taste of what was to come, like it has always been with every ex-members of boys/girls bands whow ere successful together but never reached the same pop stardom on their own (Gary Barlow, Spice Girls, Jo O'Meara, etc.). Some did succeed though, like Robbie Williams, but it was less pop, and some did incredible good music alone (Rachel Stevens) but didn't stand the test of time... I was fearing the same would happen for the Girls Aloud soloists.
Surprisingly, it wasn't the girls' most leading vocalist (who has always been named as Nadine Coyle) who started the fight, but the one who wasn't as vocally talented but who got the flashes & people medias all on her, cute sexy Cheryl Cole. Backed up by her TV exposition in X-Factor's TV show, she released her first album 3 Words at the end of 2009 after her first single Fight for this love shot straight at number one in the UK charts. Signed to Girls Aloud record company, Fascination, label of Polydor/Universal, she chose a more R&Bish side of pop than what she used to sing with the four other girls, working with Steve Kipner, Wayne Wilkins, Taio Cruz (her best track on the album, Stand up, that should have been a single !), Soulshock & Karlin, but mostly with the Black Eyed Peas' leader Will.I.Am, who produced 5 tracks out of 11 on her album (and laid vocals on 4 of them). Although the songs didn't appealed to me first, feeling her vocals were very poor and the production way too R&B for me, the commissioned remixes of either Cahill and Moto Blanco put the song on orbit around my heart, adding some extra disco/dance beats. Two other singles were released from this top selling album, the title track, a duet with Will.I.Am I admit had some charm, but all the more in its house transformation by Steve Angello, then Parachute, which was finally listenable after the Buzz Junkies remixed it for the clubs and my ears. In the end, her first offering wasn't really my cup of tea and I felt betrayed after all the hopes I had to see the five girls do solo stuff I would love as I loved their Girls Aloud music.
This year, while everybody thought her new recordings would fit an album re-release with bonus tracks in the UK and for the US market, Cheryl released a brand new single, Promise this, before a brand new album, Messy little raindrops. Previous main producers were kept on board (Wilkins, Kipner & Will.I.Am) while new recruits came too for several tracks. Promise this shot straight back at #1 and I felt the same as for her first single : the remixes were better than the original. I must admit Almighty Associates, Digital Dog and Nu Addiction remix teams can't do no wrong in my book these days so it was an easy job for them to better the irritating Alouette-wet-oh-wet-oh-wet sampling song. I hate it even more by murdering this french children song. I still feel the same about her new single The flood, which I only find boring in its original production form but that I can like to listen when remixed by The Wideboys (or The Alias). Thankfully, there is better pop moment on this second album and I feel Lady Gaga's success has been aimed at sometimes... (Yeah yeah or the superb final track Waiting).
In the meanwhile, there was talks that Nadine Coyle was preparing her own solo album and that she had signed to a major record company for mainstream global success. I feared already a MOR bland pop goal to appeal to the masses for mothers' day & christmas sales. In truth, all that was said about her solo stuff was wrong !
First, not only did she not get signed by a major, but she had to work on her own label to see her songs released. She did manage to get a distribution deal with the Tesco stores but that surely didn't help set the albums & singles charts on fire with her debuts, the Insatiable album and single.
It is a shame 'cos the album is very good, made of good pop like Girls Aloud's albums were made of, all co-written by Nadine, and produced by the cream of the cream of pop producers from all over the world, and Nadine's voice has never sounded so good, without the sharing leads of her four other girls, and no auto-tune effects like on Cheryl's records where it was used to mask her poor vocals as much as to maker her sound like the other trendy popstars of the moment.
In reality, Insatiable is the perfect new Girls Aloud album. Nadine's vocals are in the front. There are some backing vocals behind that could have been by her ex-collegues, and it is as if Xenomania was still inspiring and producing it ...except they are not ! So what we all took for the Xenomania style was in fact the Girls Aloud's core inspiration made of Nadine Coyle talent, I guess.
Her voice has always been so recognizable and powerful she was meant to go solo one day, even after she got dumped from irish popstars' group Six because she was too young and after she won her place in Girls Aloud. This solo work sounds so right for her. I only hope people will forget she doesn't appear on TV every week, she doesn't do magazine's front pages every day and doesn't sell her life and body to sell her music. I know Cheryl's cute but Nadine ain't ugly, isn't it. And she knows how to SING.
The album starts with a dark sounding electronic track, Runnin', that builds up into a strong catchy chorus as a first song of independance. Her next single Put your hands up is an uptempo hitsong you'd easily mistake with a Girls Aloud new track. I hope she'll get higher in the charts than her previous one (Insatiable got at #26 in November just after Cheryl shot at #1 with the crappy Promise this...). Chained follows in an american pop/R&B kind of song you'd bet has been written by Ne-Yo or Taio Cruz, except it is not. Nadine co-wrote it with new producers Gareth Owen & Ricci Riccardi ; Surely single #3 !
Insatiable only appears at 4th position on this CD and you can't help thinking they knew it hadn't the instant appeal a comeback hitsingle had. Else, they'd put it as an opening track for sure... The Wawa remix betters it slightly but it is a grower with an anthemic chorus that was co-written by Robbie Williams' past hitmaker Guy Chambers. When Red light starts, it feels like it was Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus part 2 : the overwhelming ambiance is dark, the beat is phat, binary and there's even the same dirty guitar. But when the chorus comes, it all sounds back into Girls Aloud pop/rock territory. It even has a Slash a-like guitar solo. Strangely, it is co-written/produced by the same duo who did Chained, in a whole different atmosphere ; they must be very talented and this one could have BIG single potential too.
My sexy love affair starts with a little piano and Nadine takes a smooth and breathy high-pitched voice a la Mariah to sing this sweet pop song and I must say it doesn't work at all ! Her voice sounds lame that way and Nadine loses everythign that made her recognizable and lovable... This one's the big mistake of the album : shame on Toby Gad who's behind this !
He's also responsible of You are the one, an acoustic guitar-led pop/folk song that is charming and uplifting, after a Lullaby that hides a powerful more uptempo chorus than its title would have made us think.
Guy Chambers is back again on two other songs, the beautiful and warm piano-led self-produced Natural, and Warm, whose production role was left to Ricci Riccardi, like for Insatiable. It is a nice mid-tempo that lacks a little something more to be more memorable.
Swedish duo Quiz & Larossi produce next track, Rumors, and the long calm intro only makes us anticipate the ascending chorus melody. This song may sound too monolithic but it gets into your brain and you can't help but love it in a Westlife kind of way if you know what I mean... This is one that definitely fits in the MOR X-Factor-ish winner's single type of power ballad.
Unbroken comes just before the end and it is a soulful sing-a-long midtempo Nadine wrote on her own and that is produced by electronic wizard William Orbit with an organic arrangement. Nadine's voice goes back in the falsetto notes but the result sounds better and more powerful than My sexy love affair. It is I'll make a man out of you yet that closes the album with a calm piano, full strings and brass arrangements. The song was co-written with Desmond Child but it wouldn't have sounded out of place on an Elton John's album rather than a Shania Twain's. It is a nice and joyful way of ending the CD, with nearly gospel backing vocals helping Nadine reach a Grand finale.
Surely not the perfect pop album, but not everybody wants to be another Kylie I guess..., but a better one than Cheryl's both first ones, definitely. Now it's up to you to choose your side - or wait till next Girls Aloud solo. There are still three of them.