REST OF… 2011: Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes

As part of this end of year list jamboree, it seemed a good time to address some of the glaring omissions from previous countdowns. In the introductory blurb to last year’s thirty, I mentioned several 2011 albums that had subsequently turned out to have far more longevity than a number in my actual list. Chief amongst them is ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’, so it seems the ideal choice to kick off this little diversion.

These were the wilderness years. Girls Aloud had been at the top of their game, even reaching the heady heights of ‘Biology’ and ‘The Promise’, but after the ‘Out Of Control’ tour had dropped off the radar and, to all intents and purposes, split up. As we scholars of pop now know, it wasn’t quite to be as the splendid final flourish of recent times proved, but all the focus was on who would make it our from the group as a solo success. Cheryl Cole‘s identikit r’n’b pop waned rapidly, whilst Nadine Coyle took the curious approach of recording a bizarre late-eighties pastiche and then releasing it via Tesco only. Seems obvious when you look back on it, but at the time it was very confusing. So confusing, in fact, that almost nobody bought it. Which was, I think it’s fair to say, just reward for the contents therein.

Opening with the wonkily aggressive intrusion of ‘Beat Of My Drum’, perched on the precipice between brilliance and annoyance, it’s fair to say that ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ didn’t quite begin as you might have expected. And it carried on it that fashion. The gloriously attitude-packed ‘Lucky Day’ is truly made by Roberts’ distinctive vocal, not least on the “boom boom, baby’ line on the way into the chorus. Both vocally and lyrically, this is the only solo Girls Aloud record to truly stand tall. For all the lazy cliches thrown around about artists from pop groups and reality TV shows, the hugely expressive vocal performances really are what makes this album brilliant.

As ‘Porcelain Heart’ builds towards its explosive chorus, French producer Dimitiri Tikovoi manages to capture a wonderful electropop tension that still sounds crisp and fresh several years on. A couple of tracks are also handled by Metronomy, their trademark rhythm section underpinning some of Roberts’ most ambitious pieces. ‘I’ is a curiously liquid track, roaming all over the place and taking well-realised shots at several deserving targets. Nowhere are scores more intelligently settled than on album closer ‘Sticks + Stones’, which is the apogee of those cutting lyrics. “How funny that I was too young for so many things,” sings Roberts, “yet you thought I’d cope with being told I’m ugly.”

There’s little to dislike amongst these twelve tracks, but plenty to love. Chief amongst those is the third single, ‘Yo-Yo’, which skitters about merrily and possesses a fabulously memorable melody. It’s a fine representation of the craft and verve found across this excellent album. Quite how it missed my original list, I’ve no idea, but if it’s eluded you so far, be sure to seek it out.

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