The Saturdays, ‘Notorious’

The Saturdays

In the leading pack of life’s crushing disappointments is the discovery that the default hottest girl group in the land’s new single is not a cover of Duran Duran’s brilliantly lumpenly funky quasi-career-killer. Mollie could’ve done a “No-“, then Rochelle could’ve done a “No-“, then Frankie, Una and the other one could’ve joined reedy forces on “NOTORIOUS”, and it could’ve all descended into Chic meets the Sex Pistols meets Red Hot Chili Peppers chaos. Just look at what you could’ve won.

Instead, “My résumé says I’m a bad girl”. It’s no “Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”, is it? Where it pulls it out of the fire though is with the fruity electro pulse and vocals put through the ringer – it’s mechanised. The Saturdays are only bad girls, notorious, because they’ve been programmed to be so. It’s svengali’d by computer, a Space Odyssey Malcolm McLaren. Not a terribly wholesome, erm, whole but a functional thrill.

It’s brought here by mistake, the lucky conjunction of the girls appearing on So You Think You Can Dance? and Junior and I happening to be watching it. While I continued my ongoing study of career trajectories of girl groups, Junior copied every single dance move they made. One beat behind, but accurately. Recent clips from Rihanna and Lady Gaga have got me in a panic about just how knowing young girls can get. They sponge it up. Normally – to the odd sulky “awww” – I’d switch over, but there’s little overtly sexualised about The Saturdays’ robotic choreography. Thin end of the wedge though.

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Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’

Born This Way

The litmus test of any new pop record is the opinion of a little girl who already loves the artist unreservedly and will brook no criticism.

So, into this treacherous arena went ‘Born This Way’, and first we gauged recognition: “Is it Lady Gaga?” One hurdle cleared. Further responses to Stefani’s hi-NRG dambuster included bouncing up and down from Junior (five-and-a-half), Junior 2 (two-and-eleven-twelfths) and Junior 3 (a week shy of one) – confirming Gaga’s all-ages appeal – and an unprompted round of applause at the finish.

Then the question we’ve all avoided. Yes, determined to mark ‘Born This Way’’s place in the Gaga pantheon, I asked which was better, this or ‘Bad Romance’.

“Both.”

All that without mentioning ‘Express Yourself’. Unjaded by the past, unworried that all the pop tunes might have been done and everything’s now just a swish rejig, Junior doesn’t hear Madonna in this. Nor does she catch a whisper of ‘Rio’, or Jesus Jones’s ‘International Bright Young Thing’ or even Maxine Nightingale’s ‘Right Back Where We Started From’.

Come to that, she didn’t spot a Joe Satriani noodle recast in ‘Viva La Vida’, nor a short refrain from an 18-minute Cat Stevens song in the same. Because no one really knew them and they weren’t really there.

And she doesn’t fret that Lady Gaga’s courting of the gay audience might be a hard-nosed ploy. Perhaps she knows Gaga’s got plenty of ground there anyway, or perhaps she knows Gaga’s still got some way to go and it’s all fair game. After all, my brother still belongs to Kylie.

Whatever could go through Junior’s head, she takes ‘Born This Way’ on its own immediate terms; a fiery, anthemic, infectious jolt. Let’s all do that.

[2] Kylie Minogue, ‘All The Lovers’

Kylie Minogue

Dance. A cosy embrace melding euphoric 80s New York garage and bright-eyed synth pop, Kylie’s best single – or near as dammit – lowers her gently back onto the dancefloor, where she can get you into the groove without being tricksy or slavishly following trend. There are shimmering parallels with ‘I Believe In You’, another overlooked Minogue masterpiece that brims with generosity and unclothed feeling, and both prove how Kylie soars when she relaxes.

It hurts. I think a part of ‘All The Lovers” broad appeal is our heartfelt wish for Kylie to be happy. Yes, this was written for her, yes, pop is a fiction, but take it at face value and this is a sweeping away of disappointment, betrayal and simple not-up-to-scratchness that leaves her with a tip-top man.

Feel. Well, Junior likes it. She knows the chorus already and has some fairly muddled ideas about Kylie’s place in her narrow pop hierarchy. To the selling point that Uncle Tom reckons Kylie the finest thing since sliced shrimp, she offers this: “I think she’s the best too. But the most is Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud. My Number 3 is Kylie, second is Girls Aloud, but the best is Lady Gaga.” I think we can all get behind that.

Breathe. A sigh of relief that Kylie still has the chops to compete with those youngish pretenders – she’s an old dear, after all. Will she be able to carry off a leotard in 10 years’ time? Do we want to know? Hell yeah.

[5] The Besnard Lakes, ‘Albatross’

The Besnard Lakes

An unexpected shot of gothic altruism from the Montreal band with – is it? It can’t be – Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter on co-lead, ‘Albatross’ is a gorgeous wall of sound, steadily battling with the fuzz and squall to make something beautiful. It builds and breaks until synthesised horns signal a sort of triumph at odds with what appears to be a tragedy. “There goes my man” sounds like affection, but it could be regret, loss, or all of it at once.

For Junior it’s just an interruption – “I want Lady Gaga!” – but she soon settles to say what she hears. “A girl singing, a beat, it feels like fun,” but first impressions can fool.

[3] Al Green, ‘Let’s Stay Together’

Al Green

I thought we were tearing through 1972 too fast, and soon it would be 1973 and we’d be faced with ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree’ before you can say, ‘Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?’ Yes, I thought that. In any case, you can’t just steam in to talking about Reverend Green. You need to take it easy, kick back into the smooth groove, feel the warm embrace of the horn section, take your top off then put it back on when you realise you don’t share Al’s physique.

Things took a jarring turn when I played this, because Junior slapped her hands over her ears and refused to listen. She wanted Lady Gaga. “But,” I protested, “Al Green’s one of the greatest soul singers.” “No, he’s not,” came the smackdown.

Perhaps he’s not. I rather think he is, though; he sounds like he means it and can make you believe it, believe anything. Whether that’s the sign of a trickster, I don’t know, but his performance on ‘Let’s Stay Together’ is imbued with a conviction its lyric doesn’t quite share – if everything’s so tickety-boo in this relationship, why make a promise to keep it going? It should mosey on regardless.

[16] Derek And The Dominos, ‘Layla’

Layla. Need those shoes.

Its critical standing has stumbled a bit in recent years, but when I was a kid ‘Layla’ was painted as pretty much the greatest record ever. Haughtily disregarding stiff competition from ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Hotel California’ (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was still held in some suspicion), ‘Layla’ had a little bit of manliness about it, and rock critics love that musky whiff. Or whiffy musk. It’s a frightful indulgence, of course, but come on – that’s one deathless riff and a bucket of tasty drum fills. Its swashbuckling energy must’ve taken it out of Eric too, because he never really poked himself out of his slumber again.

I was excited to hear Junior’s thoughts on such a tiresome (yet great) macho rock standard, and she didn’t disappoint. “It sounds like a party,” which is fair on the clatter. I told her that Clapton was once regarded as the best guitarist around and wondered if she agreed. “I don’t know. I know who the best singer is.” Go on… “Lady Gaga.” She and her sister then sang ‘Bad Romance’ over ‘Layla”s endless coda.

[19] Lady GaGa featuring Colby O’Donis, ‘Just Dance’

I suppose it’s Lady GaGa’s year. Not that I’ve been completely suckered, but there’s something refreshing about how her slavishly marketed, focus-grouped quirks buck the system and… Oh, I see. Still, in the current climate she looks like a one-off and she’s not conventionally attractive, nor does she seems to give much of a hoot what she says – so if this is the new breed of major label diva, make mine a small one with a flaming bra.

Sorry, the music. For songs that have been battered to death every day for the full 365, GaGa’s singles hold up admirably (must be the flaming bra), but original breakthrough “Just Dance” is the one. It has flow and – what shall we call them? – STENTORIAN synths. Junior prefers ‘Paparazzi’, but is delighted we’re playing GaGa at all. “I LOVE Lady GaGa,” she gasps, and gazes adoringly at her blank, sunglassed visage.

Just day-ance:

Lady GaGa, ‘Paparazzi’

Lady GaGa

In some cold sense, Lady GaGa is a fantastic pop star – all glitz and Vegas glamour, ever-changing, seemingly personality-free – yet it’s those very things that make her one big nothing. In my shady day job as editor of a horrifyingly mainstream music site, GaGa is a godsend. She’s full of juicy quotes, decked out in a new flesh-flashing doily every day, selling phenomenal amounts of records and it’s all so… so… boring.

On the other hand, she put on a sterling if robotic show at Glastonbury and ‘Just Dance’, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’ are the sort of ear-worms that The Saturdays, say, would kill for. I’ve gone with the third single here because – hey! – it’s recent and we’re nothing if not bleeding-edge. ‘Paparazzi’ is a huge great clunking metaphor for slavish empty adoration; just the kind GaGa needs for these 15 minutes.

Is Junior her biggest fan? She shuffles in her seat as she takes the standard eon to eat her cornflakes, but in the end the song merits a shrug. I try to fire some debate: “Do you know what ‘Paparazzi’ means?” “Morris has got one.” Her friend Morris calls his dad “Papa”, you see. Maybe he’s seen him sneak off into the night with his Canon, in hot pursuit of a mini-Madonna in a bubble dress. It’s a living.

Snap snap to that shit on the radio:

[8] A Certain Ratio, ‘Shack Up’

A Certain Ratio

A Certain Ratio’s tighter-than-Lady-GaGa’s-knickers rework of Banbarra’s ecstatic 1975 beach-party settlement of the world’s ills through getting together (man) is magnificently dour. It’s faithful to the original’s funk, but the horns, whistles and low-mixed clipped guitars are purest new wave blue-eyed dance. Maybe White Lies could do something similar with ‘Put Your Hands Up For Detroit’. If they were any good.

Old skool keepers of the Mancunian floorfiller flame for more than three decades, ACR went from Latino jazz cats to indie dance grandpops to relics of a revived post-punk scene. They’re as prolific as The Blue Nile these days; no need to keep coming up with the goods if your dustier output still sounds so fresh.

Junior set her face to po on the resolutely ordinary bus trip through Kentish suburbs, nodding to the whipcrack beats. She described Simon Topping’s vocals as “long”. Perhaps she means the vowels. Or the languid funky drabness.

Listen to the beat of the world unite: