Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain, is Catfights And Spotlights – the 6th studio album by British trio Sugababes. Is this album worth shining a light on, or will you be looking for get-out claws? Read on…
This 14 track CD opens with lead single, Girls, which bursts in with bass and funky brass, making it sound like it’s probably a cover of some long-forgotten Mowtown label hit, but that’s the use of an interpolation of Ernie K-Doe’s 1970 hit Here Come The Girls. The track bounces along perfectly, because of this sound, and Keisha, Heidi, and Amelle all sound great here, and it’s hard to find any flaws in this up-lifting, catchy, powerful track. It rightly reached #3 in the UK chart, and is the perfect album opener – ‘here come the girls‘ indeed!
The vintage ’60s Motown-esque sound follows in next song, You On A Good Day. Again we’re treated to some funky bass and brass over a wonderful sounding beat. The vocal harmonies work really well too, and the choice of instruments really do make this sound like the female-led superstar groups of 1960’s music.
Up next is second single No Can Do, which was also the album’s final single. The track sounds like it has a pseudo-I Want You Back sample (from The Jacksons) used in the intro, but it doesn’t. Instead, it uses a sample of Yes It’s You by Sweet Charles Sherrell. The genius of the song continuing to align with the funky vintage sound. It’s a nice little song, but lacks the energy of Girls, and it stumbled at #23 in the UK chart, making it one of their lowest-charting singles.
A thumping bass drum and samples lead us into Hanging On A Star with some Daphne & Celeste-like shouty vocals. This gives way though, to throw us straight into a fast paced nu-disco sound. The result is inevitably catchy as it races along.
We’re into R&B now for Side Chick, with booming beats, shuffling percussion, and some nice vocal harmonies. In the verse though, we’re borderline rap (‘let me tell you ‘bout a boy who is going La-la tryin’ an get my Ya-ya‘), and it doesn’t really doesn’t sit comfortably in the run of preceding tracks. Musically, this really could have been any artist, and it jars a bit.
We’re seemingly into ballad territory with Unbreakable Heart, but once the intro of piano and vocals moves along, we’re thrown into what feels like a William Orbit track that they’ve stolen from All Saints. Despite that similarity, it’s not a criticism as it works well, and that’s partly due to it being a great song – from the co-writer stable of 00s pop svengali Max Martin (Britney Spears).
Sunday Rain is next, and this gives us the first of two songwriter co-writer credits for pop royalty Karen Poole (the other being Sound Of Goodbye). Musically there’s a few echoes of Amy Winehouse‘s You Know I’m No Good here in the verses, but this plays to its strengths. The ladies give us some great harmonies as the electric guitars, brass, and strings swirl around them to lift the song up. Great stuff!
That’s followed by Every Heart Broken, which opens with some simple piano before bass, strings, and harmonies drop into a kind of wall-of-sound chorus. The verses are kept simple, allowing the vocals to show off their fragility and strength. The chorus includes the odd line of ‘every heart broken is a murder one’, which doesn’t really stand strong, noticeable due to its repetition.
Beware follows that, and has a mysterious sounding intro, and perhaps gives us a glimpse of what a Sugababes James Bond Theme might have sounded like (although, there’s still time!). This gives the ladies a playful tone to sing along with as the downbeat bass and strings continue to menace. It would be fun to see what they would have made of a music video for this song, but it would not have been a hit.
Next up is Nothing’s As Good As You, and i’m swiftly thinking of Natalie Imbruglia, as this guitar-led pop song swaggers along. It’s a nice enough song, but it lacks a little in catchiness and energy.
Sound Of Goodbye follows that, and we’re drifting around in this song thanks to vocal harmonies, synth pads, and strings. Again, this feels like a response to the William Orbit/All Saints success, and once again that plays to its strengths. Keisha, Amelle, and Heidi all sound superb here as the song builds and they take their turns to sing, and it just effortlessly wafts along.
That leads on to Can We Call A Truce, which sounds like it’s a piece of 18th century classical music onto which the Sugababes have decided to write some lyrics and throw some gentle plodding beats. It is a rich sounding song, and the vocals are almost equal to the strings here. Whilst it doesn’t particularly travel far, this song musically sounds really nice with all the stringed instruments.
Next up is About You Now (Acoustic Version), a version of the hit from the group’s previous album Change in 2007. Here, we hear them pitched against a piano, and this lets us hear the group’s vocal harmonies. It showcases them well, and helps reaffirm their ability perfectly. I’m not so sure why it was felt to add this here, but it’s always great to hear this Cathy Dennis co-written track with the record producer Dr. Luke.
Beats drop in with some fun sounding Sugababes vocal samples in She’s A Star, which features American singer/songwriter Taio Cruz. It’s a simple song, with a slight beat reminder for me of Nelly Furtado’s hit Say It Right. It’s an odd inclusion, but I guess the ladies were perhaps glad of the sampling that they put it here too.
Over all, this album has that wonderful rich warm vocal feel that has always been synonymous with the Sugababes, and that’s likely down to the brilliance in vocals and songwriting from long-standing founder member Keisha Buchanan.
This album’s nods to the 1960’s vintage era, and Motown Records sound, really plays to their strengths. Pitching that alongside the pseudo-Orbit/All Saints sounding songs, and it makes this a fierce competitor for fan attention. Tracks like Girls (with that infectious interpolation), You On A Good Day, and Sunday Rain, really lead the charge here, and it’s only Side Chick that lets things down as a genre mis-step.
The inclusion of About You Now, and She’s A Star are unexpected but harmless, resulting in a pretty consistently great pop album. Here come the girls!
- POP RESCUE 2022 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5
- 2008 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #8, certified Silver by The BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Sue Ryder store.