Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Song of the Week: Call the Shots - Girls Aloud

Next to the recent glut of antiseptic nineties revival euro-dance, this 2007 offering from Girls Aloud is a refreshing slice of quality. But next to earlier GA tracks, such as the rambunctious multi-chorused The Show or former SOTW Biology, Call the Shots is, at first glance, an incredibly conventional number.

Opening with a rather generic mid-tempo dance beat of synthetic, echoey ‘ah-ooh’s that swirl into that ubiquitous washing-machine-fuzz, it’s so far, so heard-it-all-before. Nasal Nadine delivers an unemotional, polished pop opening verse...and then as the low-key lead-in to the chorus speeds up into a defiant floorfiller, this becomes a little bit special.

The stupidly simple backing track, with its electronic booms and jabbing keyboard chords, calls for overenthusiastic grooving on the kind of light-up dancefloor you find at Infernos in Clapham. However, the song’s melody and break-up lyrics make this a decidedly plaintive, grown-up affair.

The song’s very basic structure means that the classic GA formula is stripped of all its usual playfulness and irreverence, and what’s left is an equally melancholy and catchy pop song. Trimmed off their 2006 Best Of album for being too downbeat, Call the Shots, while perhaps less innovative than some of their earlier output, arguably offers the most conclusive proof of GA’s status as the best new pop act to come out of...well, anywhere since Kylie.

Deliberately tinny and artificial, but with a sincerely sad anti-girl-power sentiment at its core [I’m over you, except I’m obviously not, as I’m singing this song and it’s coming off more Carly Simon than Gloria Gaynor], Call the Shots shows up the differences in the five girls’ voices. There’s diva Nadine, belter Sarah, husky Cheryl, poppy Kimberley and angelic Nicola. As a result, instead of delivering the kind of deliberately characterless dance pop that’s fashionable at the moment, their distinctive voices give a solid, but perhaps unexceptional, song depth and immediacy.

No where demonstrates GA’s strength better than in Call The Shots' middle eight. In lesser break-up songs this would soar into the heights of defiance or the depths of heartbreak, but in Call the Shots it stays in almost exactly the same sparkly place it began, and shifts moods by shifting singers. Cheryl’s rich Geordie boom is replaced by GA’s unassuming and overlooked star, Nicola. Her girlish, icing-sugar voice is clean and vulnerable following Cheryl and Nadine’s beefier, sassier vocals. Without a whiff of Mariah-melodrama, she deftly takes the song to a lonesome place.

As the track closes up into an ambient fade out, the middle-eight’s faux-naive rhyme of shimmer and glimmer stands in stark contrast to the dumb beat of the dance track, which punches its way back into the limelight with an irresistible hammering knock. And - ta-dah - we’re back to the circular euro-beats of the song’s opening.

All-too-soon it fades out unassumingly, but although no one’s made a big fuss or done any clever pop pastiches, Call the Shots cries out for a repeat listen.


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