Andrew Eaton-Lewis: ‘Girls Aloud not just about the tunes’
AS I write this, Girls Aloud’s greatest hits tour is en route from Newcastle to Sheffield (it’s in Glasgow on 10 and 11 March). The first reviews are just in, and they’re good.
Well, of course they are. With that set list, they could get drunk, spend the evening tripping over their heels and getting the words wrong before forgetting to do an encore because they’re too busy pulling each other’s hair back stage, and it would still be a fantastic show. My dad could sing them and it’d be a great show. He’s 79.
“The finest run of girl group singles since Bananarama or the Supremes,” wrote the man from the Guardian. I disagree. Why diminish that track record by just comparing it to that of other girl groups? It rivals the best of the boys too: Madness, say, or The Cure.
Telling people I love Girls Aloud inevitably results in social awkwardness. First, there’s the (reasonable) assumption that, since I am a 39-year-old man who usually enthuses about Radiohead, St Vincent and Everything Everything, I must only be interested in Girls Aloud because I enjoy perving over young women in short skirts. So I hastily explain that no, I’m not interested in the girls at all. It’s the songs I like, all written by Brian Higgins and his brilliantly talented Xenomania production team. At which point I sound like a sexist snob. And a liar.
So I press on desperately, even as they stare at their shoes, or over my shoulder, hoping I haven’t noticed the frantic hand signals they’re making to their friend across the room. Biology, I say, might just be the cleverest pop single of the last ten years. Not only does it consist of two entirely different songs stitched together (like Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out), it keeps you waiting a whole minute and a half before the chorus. It should be a car crash, but it hooks you in immediately with its sheer chutzpah.
Girls Aloud songs, I continue, grabbing their sleeve and ignoring their plea that they really need to go now, were clearly written by people who – like me! – were weaned on the very best of 1980s synthpop (the Human League, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys) and understood, at a very deep, instinctive level, exactly why this music worked. It’s not just the tunes, I shout, wrestling them to the ground, it’s the way they take a production line pop idea and add quirks – the almost Dick Dale-style guitar on No Good Advice, the eyebrow-raising reference to “grundulating” on Racey Lacey, weird titles like Sexy! No No No (who came up with that? And is English their third or fourth language?), or just that deal-clinching “ooh” in the chorus of Call The Shots.
And then I help them to their feet and say no, that’s fine, if you’ve left the oven on, you should definitely go before your dinner burns.
• Last week Andrew... listened to Conquering Animal Sound’s new album. Then listened to it again. And again. They’re from Glasgow, make scratchy yet polished electronic pop, and are wonderful. It’s out on 18 March