Girls Aloud

Sound of the Underground

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Girls Aloud is the leggy quintet that beat out rival boy band One True Voice for the grand prize during the November 2002 finale of Popstars: The Rivals. A scion of existing U.K. reality shows like Popstars and Pop Idol (which itself spawned American Idol), Rivals followed a similar formula, with one essential twist. After spending weeks building its bands with the normal round of tryouts, kick outs, voting, and drama, drama, drama, the program pitted its final products against one another in an ultimate pop-reality showdown. As usual, it didn't really matter which group won -- the finalists were to embark on the normal cash-in package tour as soon as possible. But something funny happened on the way to ringtone fame. Girls Aloud's debut single "Sound of the Underground" debuted at number one, One True Voice imploded, the collaborative tour was canceled, and the Girls suddenly emerged as something more than wide-eyed reality TV winners. The quintet embraced their newfound celebrity and set the lofty goal of being better than the Spice Girls. To that end, there's Sound of the Underground, a cleverly arranged tray of sweetmeats manufactured to firmly establish the Girls Aloud sound. Unlike Sporty, Baby, Scary, Ginger, and Posh, separate personas aren't part of the Girls Aloud marketing arc. Underground's cover features them in matching Fem-Bot silver -- there's no individuality beyond varying hair color. No, it's the sound that sells this combo. The hit title track is a mechanistic sashay of twangy surf guitar and sultry gang vocals -- Girls Aloud explodes like a five-headed Kylie Minogue. Follow-up single "No Good Advice" is just as good, if not better. That scraggly spy movie guitar returns, but it's fastened to a bopping "Material Girl"-style groove. Underground does a great job of carrying its sound and production through to the end, dropping sizzling guitar parts and kinetic dancefloor jams as deep in the dirt as "Boogie Down Love," its second-to-last track. "All I Need (All I Don't)" should be another club favorite, moving easily between new wave and lighthearted disco. Even "Life Got Cold" -- Underground's "2 Become 1" -- is a solid ballad, suggesting a less intellectual Dido (sample lyric: "We text as we eat/As we wait for the right of way"). But even in its quieter moments, Sound of the Underground is careful not to let any of the Girls take over. Their voices are average, and negligibly different. Unlike the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud has no self-styled MC or even a knickers-flashing loudmouth. Not yet, anyway. Despite their surprising debut, Girls Aloud and its brain trust will have to work twice as hard to retain the glamorous ground gained.

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