[3] Girls Aloud, ‘The Promise’

Girls Aloud

I can play this with the utmost confidence, because Junior’s now done what I would have expected far earlier – she’s fallen in love with Girls Aloud. Let’s face facts: we all have. The most surprising thing is they haven’t run out of steam; ‘The Promise’ is the curtain-up to their fifth (that’s fifth) album, and while the long-players are patchy as ever, the quality of single just isn’t dipping. ‘The Promise’ faced brickbats to begin with, sourpusses claiming it was the first step towards Westlife safe-playing or a pale Duffy/Winehouse identikit girl-group-throwback, but it soon revealed itself to be as complex as any ‘Biology’ you could mention. Only the brashness has been sacrificed, the brazen ambition is still there. Listen to it – no verse is the same (there are three, with entirely different melodies), no bridge is the same, and still they throw in a middle eight. If this is pop in the 21st century, I’m on board.

Junior knows all the words, and shimmies her shoulders just like her mum. She’s probably got an opinion about Kimberley’s hips too. I reckon Junior even knows what “walking Primrose” means and understands what the “promise” is and who it’s pledged to. It’s multi-layered, you see; once you’ve sussed out what the music’s doing, you still have to decipher the lyric. The ‘Aloud are two steps ahead of the pack.

But how much longer have we got them for? Rumours that Nadine’s on the way out won’t abate – and she continues to blow the others off stage with sheer lungpower – while Cheryl suddenly looks too big for a band. If they gotta go, go now. It’s been golden.

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[6] Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse, ‘Valerie’

Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse, ‘Valerie’

Mark Ronson’s lounge-pop interpretations on Version are a queasy hornfest, not bearing many repeat plays for fear of unstoppable waves of nausea. It’s not a bad collection, but it’s heavy with woozy playing and overfacing joie de vivre. Certain quarters considered his cover of The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me’ sacrilege – we’re not so precious here. A cover doesn’t denigrate the original and often it can improve on it. That’s what Ronson and Amy Winehouse achieve with The Zutons’ wheezing bludgeon.
 
Winehouse is of course the Woman of the Year. And an idiot. Back To Black has effortlessly outstripped the pack in album sales, but suffers from inevitable ubiquity, and you can say the same of the girl herself. Cutting to the music, ‘Valerie’ here comes on all ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ yet mainly recalls an earlier, earthier girl group sound. It’s unfussy and tight, inspired and believable, and topped off with a terrific vocal performance – “aaarrr-are you busy?”, “did you get a good lawyer-er-er-ER” are catches you can hang your pop hat on. It would be nice if she could sustain this sort of quality, but at the moment she’s a wretched tabloid darling whose music is just staying ahead of the tawdry game swallowing the rest of her life.
 
A pushed, skipping beat has Junior rocking in front of the speakers from apology to Charlie Murphy to final gurgled “Vaaa-aaaleriee-eee”. Stay focused, Ames.