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Catfights and Spotlights Isobel George , November 10th, 2008 17:03

Sugababes - Catfights and Spotlights

Natural selection in process is a horrible thing. When Sugababes first arrived on the scene they already seemed like a pop mutation to strange to survive long. A trio of young girls, commercial but not asinine, pretty but not artificially so, smart, sassy, and apparently in control of their own sound? Couldn’t last.

They seemed less like your usual rapacious, ruthless stage-school multitalents, and more like, you know, normal, girls who wanted to sing some good pop music. It’s always been hard not to see them as the flip side of the coin from Girls Aloud, every music critic’s Apollonian idea of what shiny super-superficial pop music should be; robotically choreographed, twig-limbed, spray-tanned and gloss-lipped.

So it’s hard for supporters of the altogether more hard-faced and human ‘Babes to see GA undeniably ever in the ascendant with new album Out Of Control and Heidi, Keisha and Amelle er… covering that song from the Boots advert. ‘Girls’ really is shockingly abysmal, an all-too transparent, late and foundering leap on the Winehouse/Duffy/Sharleen-fucking-Spiteri soul-pop bandwagon. Lyrically, it’s the musical equivalent of a Shopaholic novel, cosy in its post-feminist ‘empowered’ girlieness, wittering on about “making grown men cry” without a trace of real attitude, full of howling clunkers like “I’m filled with sexuality/With or without a man I feel complete”.

Once your over that towering obstacle of an opener, though, there are redeeming features. ‘Can Do’ is a better effort, its Jackson Five backing being lent a bit of authentic sass by Amelle Berrabah’s gritty, throaty opening vocal and a sweet, Stevie Wonder-ish chorus.

It’s Amelle too, a fitting replacement for the equally terrifying Mutya, who adds most interest to ‘’Hanging On A Star’, adopting a Lisa Lopez/Alesha Dixon-type trickstterish half-rap. She can’t however, escape the production: while they may have been right to break out of the Xenomania compound, their new partners are not a move forward, providing dull, saccharine shlock totally unworthy of them.

The falsetto treated vocals of their duet with Taio Cruz, ‘She’s Like A Star’ is classier stuff, but the best moment by far is the dark, Aaliyah-ish R&B slink of ‘Side Chick’, far more like the gritty edge of old. Keisha rap-sings beguilingly about part-time love, the others backing her up subtly without overkill over mournfully sparkling piano and a great fat beat.

It’s small reward, though, for sitting through the likes of ‘You On A Good Day’ with its awful, awful, American-accented spoken (“Are you ready, Heidi? Keisha?...") a total recantation of their strong-woman shtick over a Ronson-lite backing, a tale of a flaky boyfriend who gets their car impounded, sells their possessions and hires strippers. “But baby I’m sticking with you anyway,” they coo. Right…

And really, with a new breed of unaffected, DIY pop girls who are after a bit more than just to be an image or sound like Mariah Carey, like Thecocknbullkid, La Roux and The Real Heat, who’s going to work that hard? Sugababes, we loved you, but you're bringing us down.