What Will the Neighbours Say?

What Will the Neighbours Say?

Before Girls Aloud released their second album, What Will the Neighbours Say?, the group was at risk of being dropped by their record label. Despite beating the odds and winning the British reality TV show they were put together on, Popstars: The Rivals, and storming ahead in a now infamous chart battle for Christmas No. 1 with their sweat-soaked, surf-rock-meets-drum ’n’ bass debut single “Sound of the Underground”, their first album had failed to match the commercial expectations that accompanied such overnight fame. Luckily, Girls Aloud had a secret weapon: British songwriting and production team Xenomania. Comprised primarily of Brian Higgins (the man behind Cher’s megahit “Believe”) and songwriter Miranda Cooper, Xenomania’s Frankensteinian approach to songwriting—where disparate hooks, verses, choruses and lyrics are stitched together to create a whole—was, at that time, an idiosyncratic curio. But when in the hands of Cheryl, Kimberley, Nicola, Sarah and Nadine, the members of the similarly chimerical Girls Aloud, it resulted in monstrous pop perfection. There’s evidence of this patchwork pop craft all over What Will the Neighbours Say?. On grungy pinwheel “Graffiti My Soul”, which was originally written for Britney Spears, melodies, spoken word and crunchy guitar riffs are recklessly layered on top of one another until they almost topple. “Real Life” takes its bossa nova-flecked verses and sews them together with arm-swinging ’80s New Wave. And pop-rock oddity “Wake Me Up” adopts the modish strut of Visage’s “Fade to Grey” for the verses, Sarah uttering seemingly nonsensical lyrics about “Moët in mud” and a “vice-like grip on my sherbet dip”, then wallops you over the head with lacerated garage-punk guitars and strobing techno beats for the remainder of the song, the girls chanting: “Wake me up before I drop out on you.” The crowning jewels, though, remain “Love Machine and “The Show”. The former, famously covered by the Arctic Monkeys, is built around an absurd rockabilly guitar riff and was allegedly inspired by The Smiths, although it’s hard to imagine Morrissey and co singing, “I need a squeeze a day, instead of this negligée.” The latter, meanwhile, with its statically charged synths and frothed-up melodies, is so stacked with hooks that it leaves you uncertain whether you’re at the verse, the bridge or one of the song’s multiple choruses. As such, What Will the Neighbours Say? laid a foundation of lawlessness that would typify Girls Aloud’s career. Luckily, the group were just as raucous and mutinous as their hit songs.

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