What Will The Neighbours Say?
hen Select magazine relaunched in 2000, it put Muse on the cover, proclaiming: “In a bullshit world, a band you can trust.” Giving a similar accolade to Girls Aloud feels a bit dodgy. This is only because Select came up with it and applied it to Muse. In all other aspects, it suits the Girls rather well. The reviews all seem to go on about the songs they’ve been given, and how this album is a work of genius because of the Xenomania production house, that these songs could have been given to anyone and they’d have been great, and that, in fact, this album is brilliant, in spite of it being a Girls Aloud album.
Girls Aloud are a package, a package that Xenomania are an integral part of, but the idea that these songs were designed to be sung by no-one in particular? Fuck that. Sure, some of them have appeared in other guises before, but Girls Aloud are not the type to just go putting on anyone’s hand-me-downs. There is no pop in the world like Girls Aloud today. There is an air of supreme confidence in more or less everything they do, that every action is executed with the intention of reaffirming their status as The Greatest Pop Group In The Entire F’ing World.
Sure, the tracklisting of this album has quite obviously been buggered about by corporate types. Witness the unfortunate decision to shunt all the previously released singles to the start of the album, regardless of the fact that their Shakespear’s Sister-minus-Siobhan Fahey-esque take on “I’ll Stand By You” practically screams to be closing out the album rather than wedged between “Love Machine” and “Jump”. Then there’s the way in which the UK gets two bonus tracks tacked onto the end, both of which are ballads that give the album an inappropriately downbeat ending for no real reason. But hell, Girls Aloud are perfectly willing to let that lie. Corporate types are the ones charged with the making of money and the shifting of units, and if you want to be big then they’re just a fact of life. See also how eerily omnipresent they become when they’ve got a single or something out, promo-ing themselves to pieces because, well, you gotta be a hustler if you want to get on.
So yeah, on the one hand, fuck the credibility police. Then with the other, fuck the disposability posse. Girls Aloud are classy. They don’t just do any old shit. Girls Aloud know Xenomania, and Xenomania know Girls Aloud, and the combination clicks like nobody’s business. The first album (Sound Of The Underground—buy the version with the black background, the other one hasn’t got “Love Bomb”) was great, and by most other bands standards would have been the highlight of their career. However, there was (every now and then) a certain sense that they were feeling each other out a bit—songs such as “Love/Hate” and “Mars Attack” were a bit lost and sprawling, and the big heaving ballad “Forever And A Night” required the listener to be in a very particular frame of mind to get much out of it.
What Will The Neighbours Say? has them practically tattooing ‘GA 4 XM xxx’ on their arms. Girls Aloud may well be iron-fisted knockout artists, but they’re remarkably sympathetic protagonists at the same time. They are not dead-eyed Beyoncetrons, droning the same answer to the same question to five hundred different interviewers without blinking. They’re always themselves, and Xenomania have given them songs to suit, a perfect mix of playfulness, attitude and vulnerability. They even had the confidence to let the Girls have a hand in the proceedings this time round, which was nice of them.
The results fit with quite incredible snugness. They say anyone could do this. Who the hell else is gonna come off with “Graffiti My Soul”, then? Who’s gonna be able to get away with the opening line “Spike heels and skintight jeans / I gotta fistful of love it’s coming your way baby”? Who’d be willing enough to let their credibility go while at the same time being self-effacing enough to acknowledge the stereotypical image of their fashion sense? Hell, could that line have possibly been written with anyone in mind other than Girls Aloud? It’ll take you about twenty listens before you even start to possibly maybe notice that the start exactly mirrors the end. You’ll be too busy marvelling as Cheryl Tweedy (note to broadsheet newspapers: they have names) whispers “You dream of touching me there”, Sarah Harding heartlessly spits “It’s procreation / And nothing more”, and all the way, just in case you didn’t get it the first time:
“Spike heels and skintight jeans I gotta fistful of love it’s coming your way baby.”
Those aren’t even the best bits. You might wanna be listening to the album for that.
Stylus writer Dom Passantino says “Wake Me Up” sounds like Nine Inch Nails. Dom has a point. “Deadlines & Diets” sees them stepping off the accelerator just long enough to remind the world that, when they weren’t busy being incredibly annoying, All Saints could actually be really good. “I’ll Stand By You”, as mentioned previously, sounds like Shakespear’s Sister and is far, far better than anyone gives it credit for. Nicola Roberts, arguably the greatest living popstar in the world today, does a ballad all on her tod, her voice gets a bit trembly and twangy and it’s all rather moving.
The one big weak point is the opening of “Real Life”, as Girls Aloud edge a bit too close to becoming complacent and the house style of runaway synths and amped-up vocals almost starts to sound a little routine. Then they do some handclaps that sound so blatantly tacked on that you can’t help but fall in love with them all over again.
Perhaps the best bit is that What Will The Neighbours Say? quite definitely isn’t the best Girls Aloud album. For all the earth-shattering quality of “The Show” and its hand-jiving head-banging hand-clapping rump-shaking hokey-cokeying mop-pushing mock-fainting venom-spitting arse-kicking gate-crashing barn-burning mates, they still aren’t quite as good on the ballads (though they’re a hell of a lot better than most—including, er, your reviewer—give them credit for), and you sense their big one is yet to come. But better than that, it still feels like they’re just getting started. For now, though, just take a look at the back cover: "Nadine Coyle – Sarah Harding – Kimberley Walsh – Nicola Roberts – Cheryl Tweedy as Girls Aloud."
The Greatest Pop Group In The Entire F’ing World.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DECEMBER 13 - DECEMBER 19, 2004