Of the four new tracks on “Ten”, the latest Greatest Hits collection from Girls Aloud, none is perhaps as precious as the four-minute-plus epic Eurodance romp “Every Now and Then.” Driving the five-piece straight into classic Xenomania territory with one of their most forward-thinking productions since The Saturdays’ “All Fired Up” (and, naturally so, the exceptionally better of the two). Of course, it’s not just the stunning levels of production that clench this as a hallmark Aloud moment.
Not since “Call The Shots” have Girls Aloud really nailed this kind of song; deep, soul-wrenching heartbreak with both feet firmly placed onto the dance floor. “Untouchable” was certainly close, but of the former two mentioned singles I’d even go as far as saying that “Every Now and Then” is the stronger and better track. This sublime, bittersweet song of the heart deals with a subject we’d all be familiar with and ensures the listener embarks on a rollercoaster of emotions upon its first listen. There’s also the matter of a whopping key-change that comes into play just as you think you’ve got the song figured out, just as you think you’ve nailed how the chorus sounds. Within its first minute the track shifts into overdrive, wallops itself into a higher key, before serving the lessors with the actual chorus, which is a million times better and more satisfying than you could have ever imagined. Little inflictions, like when Nadine croakily sings “I knew it from the start” – and sounds like she’s on the verge of a mini-meltdown – to Cheryl’s gut-wrenchingly telling line “I gave you everything, I even wore your ring”, there’s very little in this complete masterpiece of a pop song that doesn’t leave me for dead, slayed beyond conceivable existence.
That’s what I’ve really, really missed about Girls Aloud. Not just the little things they bring to the proverbial table that make them the greatest pop group since ABBA, but that undeniable ability to rip you apart into a million pieces with 4 minutes of song but still remind you that, no matter how heartbreaking the situation is, you’re going to come out on top. Girls Aloud have always sung about matters from the heart but there’s been this strong, near-feminist approach to a lot of their lyrics (for the most part) over the years. “Never ever going back,” they sing in the chorus to ‘Every Now & Then’, “I said I never would again, It’s better now that we’re apart, but I still think about you every now and then.” There’s this acknowledged melancholy in not only the lyric but the way it’s sung, but not before a statement of their strength and survival is thrown in for empowerment. The chorus, lyrically, reminds me slightly of Cher’s “Strong Enough” which, thematically, follows a very similar pattern; the tears have stopped, I know I am a better person without you but I can’t help thinking about you every now and then. It’s nice we’ve still got some girls in charge who are still hell-bent on putting the boys in their place, as opposed to the current trend where a large portion of our female pop stars are poppin’ puss ‘in da club’ and whailing about guys going down on them or, even worse, singing about how their relationship with a person who beat, kicked and bit the living shit out of them is “Nobody’s Business.” No, not Girls Aloud. Because that would not only label them as hypocrites, it would also reverse the power of their name and serve as an undoing to all of the hard work they’ve constructed over the last 10 years. Girls Aloud are more than just a girl group, they’re a Girl Force.
I discovered Girls Aloud properly in 2005 through Popjustice, also one of my discoveries that year. The year was a rough one for me personally and saw me in hospital for major life-saving surgery on my lung. After the operation I was housebound for 6 months; unable to walk for 3, unable to work for 4 and unable to drive a car for the full 6 month duration. I was stuck in a house where my only solace was the world wide web. After years of straying from my pop roots (I was working as a dance music journalist for a number of years before grounding myself where I belonged; in the pop world) I started to really investigate what I’d missed over the last two years, and one of those were the mighty Aloud. The music of Girls Aloud got me through the troubles I faced out of hospital; there was this level of strength within their music I hadn’t really heard via a girl group before, and it was exactly what I needed. Plus to top it off, the songs were mind-blowingly good. There was an immediate connection not only to what was being said, but to the way it was produced. There was something this girl band had that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but knew I would no longer be able to live without.
The return of Girls Aloud onto the pop market is a comeback I’ve been in harder celebration for than that of Madonna. And the return of my favourite pop group of current times could not have come any sooner. Just when I needed a little reminder of my worth, there were Girls Aloud, thinking of me – every now and then.
“And you’re out of my heart, I swear I can’t pretend. But the heart tears apart, as I still think about you every now and then.”
So here it is. The first member of Girls Aloud to venture off into the world of the Solo Album. Whilst the five-piece are still that (for now), they’ve taken a year off to focus on solo projects; Nadine’s apparently recording a camp disco-stomper with a song written by Paula Abdul, Sarah Harding’s making movies with Doctor WHO’s David Tennant, Nicola Roberts is being head-hunted by Vivienne Westwood for a new clothing campaign, and Kimberley… well, I’m sure Kimberley’s enjoying her cups of tea on the balcony almost as much as she enjoys watching Chezz on the telle for Sunday nights X-Factor (Hopefully she’s stoned the whole way through because… actually, let’s face it, she probably is, so I might just move on.)
It’s no surprise though that Cheryl Cole would be the first to release a solo album. Although all bets were on Coyle, I’m sure Cole wanted to beat the other four to the punch in order to be remembered as the first to do it, perhaps. X Factor Judge, Tabloid-adored WAG, Girl Aloud, and now; Solo Artist. But can the music on her first long player match her sometimes inflated ego? There seems to be a little bit of proof in this pudding…
3 WORDS (featuring will.i.am)
Cheryl’s previously worked with will.i.am, so it’s no surprise she’s roped him in for her debut. Wise move too; however annoying you might find the Black Eyed Pea, this is proof he’s capable of penning some seriously good pop music. Think BEP’s “I Gotta Feeling”, but if it were actually good. VERY epic breakdowns, this is a heavenly way to open things. Also the next single.
Heavy, dramatic marching band happenings with a brilliant middle-8. There’s some hidden brass in there as well, and the final 30 seconds are somewhat magical. The biggest, brightest moment on 3 Words but, quite tellingly, the saddest Cheryl sounds on here.
HEAVEN (featuring will.i.am)
Another will.i.am moment on the record, it’s interesting to note that this is the first song whose verses are structured together more like it was written for a group of, oh, say, five girls? It’s a bit all over the place to be honest and the chorus is fairly aggravating, but underneath there is actually something decent here.
FIGHT FOR THIS LOVE
The first single, and the second best moment on the record. This is a straight-up, urban-pop song that even has a Shannon ‘Let The Music Play’/Debbie Deb ‘When I Hear Music’ 1980’s dancefloor feel to it. Hey X Factor performance of this was off the hook. View.
RAIN ON ME
SOMEONE CALL RONSON! COLE’S FOUND THE HORN SECTION!! But in all seriousness, this is World Class pop right here; there are elements of 1970’s soul and 1990’s urban-pop. The latter actually seems to be a distant motif through 3 Words, actually; there are a LOT of 1990’s elements through the record, just in time for this inevitable nineties comeback we’re due for any day now. “What’s the price of Thunder? Rain on me.” Amazing. It sounds nothing like her though.
MAKE ME CRY
Cheryl turns to disco-funk, and rips into a bit of swearing too along the way! Great track, though some might complain about the repetitiveness of the chorus. It is an initial weakness, but one you do grow to love after a few listens. This felt like album filler for the first few days but is now vying for the title of being my favourite on 3 Words.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this – but – song content and pitch of Cole’s voice; is she trying to be Amy Winehouse or something? BUT SINGING ABOUT LOVE AS IF IT WERE THE DRIP. Bit of a bore, this one – not offensive but not really all that good either.
Written for Cole by Taio Cruz, there’s every chance this could be the third single. BONZA chorus that sounds like it could have Cruz on backing vocals. All kinds of brilliant, a highlight, even if it doesn’t sound anything like Cheryl for most of it. I like to sing “Coz I came here to dance, I’m gonna pull up my pants and stand up! Stand up!” during the chorus. Try it; works better.
DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS LOVE
I gave this a bit of a hard time in my print review, but I’ve since changed my mind and actually think it’s quite lovely. Sorry Cheryl; please don’t strike me and call me a Jigaboo.
BOY LIKE YOU (featuring will.i.am)
Sampling Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”, it all just sounds like a bunch of noise by the end of it, and the rent-a-rapper-feel of will.i.am’s delivery just makes this all the harder to sit through. Phoned in much?
HEARTBREAKER (will.i.am featuring Cheryl Cole)
This has aged surprisingly well, hasn’t it?
3 Words seems to have slightly suffered from a time restriction. There are a lot of really interesting ideas on this record, and a few songs which are perfect from start to finish, but there are a handful of songs that could have been absolute stompers, but appear to sound somewhat half-finished. And it’s those songs that, unfortunately, are the ones which feel like they were the most rushed. The singles are identifiable, absolutely, and there are golden album-only moments on it, but overall, 3 Words could have really been a bit better, and maybe released before Christmas, rather than October. It would have been interesting to see where Cole could have taken the album had she been given an extra two months to work on it, particularly with the obvious 1990’s urban-pop and 1980’s electronica inspired moments sprinkled across the disc. Everything is here for this to be a truly momentus record, but it just comes down to it only being a half-finished album in a few of its tracklisting placements.
That said, I still haven’t stopped listening to selected highlights from it all week, so go figure.
EDIT. The album INSTANTLY went from a B- to a solid B with the following amended tracklisting:
02. Fight For This Love
03. Rain On Me
04. Stand Up
05. 3 Words
06. Make Me Cry
08. Happy Hour
09. Boy Like You
10. Crazy Fool (GA solo-Cheryl b-side)
11. Heartbreaker (will.i.am ft. Cheryl)
12. Don’t Talk About This Love
13. Didn’t I (FFTL b-side)
See? Much better!