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.

Looking back on looking back

When I wrote about the upsetting news of The Word’s closure, I didn’t anticipate it being the last post on this site for five months. But then I hadn’t fully figured out how I wanted to approach my idea for a website promoting local record shops in the UK. Once it was up and running, thanks in part to wonderful people like Paul ‘Lone Wolf’ Marshall, Tom ‘& The Boat’ Williams, Tom ‘Reveal Records’ Rose, Simon ‘Bella Union’ Raymonde and Ian Rankin, it seemed the place to concentrate my limited writing energies. I do this around a ‘proper’ job, as well as scribbling reviews for a magazine each month, and it doesn’t get anywhere close to the attention I’d like it to. And yet, each November I find myself looking forward to the chance to ramble at length about my favourite records of the year gone by. In 2011 I had a little more time to do all of this thanks to enforced sofa time as a result of a serious injury but 2012 will just have to fit in around the real world. Spotify playlists, individual album blurbs and a tense countdown all lie ahead, folks. Well, I’m excited.

While preparing this year’s list, I looked back at the thirty 2011 releases I saluted only twelve months ago. I remain utterly certain that Low’s ‘C’mon’ was the correct call and much of the top twenty has continued to delight and entertain. However, it is always interesting to think about what missed out. How, for example, did King Creosote and Jon Hopkins‘Diamond Mine’ not end up in that top ten, or even top five? Had a slightly noisy vinyl pressing really caused me not to succumb to its now very evident charms? Then there was Nicola Roberts’ tremendously fine solo outing ‘Cinderalla’s Eyes’ which offered some of the finest pop of the year and yet, come December, had slipped out of view. In the eleven months since, I’ve played it more than Tom Waits’ ‘Bad As Me’, I can tell you. In addition, The Antlers ‘Burst Apart’ deserved a higher placing than it received and so to Sarabeth Tucek’s ‘Get Well Soon’. But what can you do? It’s all subjective. The list could change from day to day, hour to hour. That, my friends, is the joy of music. This year’s shortlist is the longest I’ve ever had when compiling such a list and has already mutated since I sent one off to the magazine some weeks ago. As always, there will be a dedicated page to keep track of the countdown – although you could just visit the site every day and avoid missing anything in the easiest possible way – and I will offer up a Spotify playlist of the year’s finer tunes. Your opinions are welcomed and the usual chuntering will continue on the Twitter account.

As record shops do battle in tricky times – whether having reached the end of the line like Avalanche in Edinburgh or being pitted against an unhelpful HMV pop-up shop as with Solo Music in Barnstaple – please do seek out some of these albums from independent retailers. They pay their taxes, they pay their VAT and they pay back the loyalty you show them ten times over.