Saturday, 16 November 2013

Girls Aloud: The Final Year

Well, what a depressing comeback that turned out to be. For so long, Girls Aloud had always seemed like the most punk rock of all the girl bands, the one reality TV show act who outstripped their rivals by a country mile. And so when they announced their hiatus was over in the fall of 2012, it was time to rejoice.

But the news that their return was in conjunction with a new greatest hits album, and not a new studio album...well, I should have seen it coming. As the resultant tour finished earlier this year, the band were straight onto Twitter announcing their split. Their return had been nothing more than a JLS-style final fling, a quick money making couple of months back together, and the usual gumph about “musical differences”, and “wanting to move forwards“. Why oh why, can’t we have a pop group who DO want to stay together for more than a decade, who DO want to make a career out of it? I guess they have all earned enough money never to need to work again, and a couple of them do seem to actually now hate one another which doesn't help, but it’s a shame. Cheryl excepted, it’s difficult to see how any of them will stay in the public eye at the same level as they did before, but I guess, if they have had enough, then they have had enough. Good on Nadine though for sticking her neck out and claiming she never wanted them to throw in the towel. It almost makes you wish she could do a “Robert Smith” and simply keep the name, get four new girls in, and make another studio record.

My last GA blog, back in 2010, made reference to a career spanning singles boxset that, at the time, covered the band’s entire career up until that point. The new live DVD, reunions excepted, is thus surely going to be the final word, and so I thought I would do a follow up article to tie up the loose ends.

“Ten”, so named as their return marked the tenth anniversary of debut single “Sound Of The Underground”, featured 14 old hits, and four new recordings. One of the new songs, “Something New”, was issued as the preview single for the album in late 2012, and appeared as both a blue vinyl 7” backed with the “Seamus Hajii Radio Mix” (Polydor 372 133-0) and a 4 track CD Single with mixes by Fred Falke, Alias and Jim Elliott (Polydor 372 132-8). For the album, this song started proceedings, and the 14 oldies then followed, in sort of reverse release date order - the singles from albums two to five appeared with material from the most recent album first, each chosen song appearing in order of the date of single release, then after the latest/last single from that album, it was onto material from the LP before. Songs from the debut appeared near the end, in actual reverse release date order so that "SOTU" thus appeared last. Where they existed, radio edit mixes were used - the tracks affected being “Can’t Speak French” and all three of the 45’s from “Out Of Control”. The choice of tracks was, arguably, controversial, as just one song from their best LP, “Chemistry”, was included (“Biology”) but the inclusion of the non-album single “Something Kinda Ooooh” (only previously available on the previous hits album) was a worthy inclusion. The remaining three new songs were then placed at the end of "Ten" after "Sound Of The Underground" (Polydor 371 730-3).

Given that it is now almost law to have to release your new album as some form of “special edition”, a limited run were issued as a double CD set, with the second disc consisting of fan favourites, voted for on the group’s website. Ten songs were included, a mix of B-sides (“Memory Of You”), album tracks (“Graffiti My Soul”), and hits that, perhaps, should really have been on the main album to start with (the sublime “Whole Lotta History”). The double disc edition was housed in a vinyl style cardboard gatefold sleeve (Polydor 372 201-3).

As well as the double disc edition, a wallet emptying box set was also released, housed in a simple looking square black box, with nothing more than the band name and album title printed, almost invisibly, on the front (Polydor 372 201-8). This edition included the double disc album, and an exclusive double DVD, “The Passions Of Girls Aloud”. This was an ITV show from the “Tangled Up” era, where everybody (except Nadine, she was holidaying in the USA) got to indulge in one of their passions in front of the camera, be it Sarah trying to play polo, or Kimberley doing a stint in the West End. Quite why an old TV show was being exhumed nearly five years after the event is possibly questionable, but given that another Girls Aloud TV show had been officially released on DVD some years earlier (2006’s “Off The Record”), you can maybe see why this was done. The DVD came in the same sleeve used for the “fan edition” version of the “Tangled Up” CD. The rest of the box featured some nice art prints - one of each of the girls, and one featuring all five - and although you could argue it retailed at a lot of money for what was basically a posh “best of”, it’s quite a nice thing to own.

Also released at the same time as these three editions was a DVD, called “Ten - The Videos” (Polydor 372 215-6). Simply, this includes the 14 videos for the 14 oldies from the CD edition, plus the clip for “Something New” at the start. The running order follows the same "sort of reverse" approach as the LP. Trouble was, no sooner had it hit the stores, than a video was released for the download only single “Beautiful Cause You Love Me” (one of the other new songs on “Ten”), thus making the DVD rather defunct. With all of the band’s clips available on earlier DVD releases, the inclusion of “Something New” on this DVD did mean, briefly, that all of the band’s clips were available officially on the format, but the release of the “Beautiful” video changed all that barely days later! For some bizarre reason though, no attempt has been made to include the “Beautiful” video on any other official release since, so this DVD does at least - sort of - bring the story up to date as regards "officially available" clips, if that makes sense.

With the band ceasing to exist after a show in Liverpool in March 2013, the next release was a 7-CD boxset called “The Collection”, issued in May (Polydor 372 920-7). This included all five albums, as well as an (edited) audio edition of the “Tangled Up Live” DVD performance. The final disc featured a selection of B-sides (and three “non album“ A-sides), but given that not a single note of music here was previously unissued, it was really only of interest to completists and anybody who might have “missed” something beforehand, and wanted to play catch up quickly. The audio rip of the “Tangled Up” show did seem to be of great interest to some, though. Copies retail still for about £30, quite good value for a box set with this much material, but a lot to pay for nothing exclusive. For those of you who need to know these things, the version of the debut LP that appears is the original version, the one that climaxes with “Everything You Ever Wanted”, and not the later reissue that added things like “Girls On Film”.

And so we come to the (probable) finale, “Ten: The Hits Tour 2013” (Polydor 375 279-2), a DVD released earlier this month that documents one of the band’s gigs from the final tour, albeit in edited form (their cover of “Call Me Maybe” missing due to licensing issues). The decision to release it, minus any extras, has seen the band and record company come in for some stick - instead of it being an all guns blazing celebration of the group, it’s been seen as a low key, thoughless, cash in job - trundle around the net and you will see people asking where the free CD is, why isn’t it on Blu-Ray, etc, etc. Nadine has again stepped forward to join in the argument, stating she had filmed some two hours of backstage footage at a Manchester gig on the basis some of it would be included as a bonus feature. As a document of the tour, it does it’s job, but given that earlier DVD releases were a bit more “fancy”, you can see why people are grumbling. Why could it not at least have had the two new music videos from the accompanying LP on it, like all the other live DVD's did? Maybe, by being released at a time when the band members had all gone off to start doing other things, you do wonder if there simply wasn’t any desire by anybody to put the effort in (it’s basically a DVD release of an earlier filmed-for-TV job), so respect to Nadine for voicing her concerns.

But as ho hum as their finale was, the fact remains that Girls Aloud have left behind them a big pop shaped hole in the music industry. Watch the "Ten" DVD, and try not to swoon at the near faultless pop genius of "The Loving Kind". You can't. With Radio 1 getting worse every day as it simply plays what is in the charts and not much else (and I tell you, there is some awful stuff in the top 40 right now), and indie rock continuing to struggle to get it’s head back over the parapet, the mainstream is now reverting to the horribleness it offered us in the 80s. When Girls Aloud were around, there was a voice of reason to stand against all the chart rubbish. And now they have gone. The Saturdays, it’s over to you.

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