Nicola Roberts

Cinderella's Eyes

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The poster girl for the odd-one-outs of the world, Girls Aloud's Nicola Roberts' debut album, Cinderella's Eyes, reveals that the shy and retiring wallflower who barely got a look in on the video to "Sound of the Underground," has blossomed into a self-assured and confident hipster pop diva who is undoubtedly the member with the most control over her solo career. Indeed, while both Cheryl Cole and Nadine Coyle's albums could have been recorded by anybody, Roberts' first effort couldn't have been recorded by anybody else. Not that you'd guess from lead single "Beat of My Drum," a quirky fusion of staccato beats, jerky synths, and chants of "L-O-V-E" which comes off as a close relation to another recent, Diplo-produced "girl power" anthem from Beyoncé. But it's something of a red herring, as other than the lo-fi beats and acidic bleeps of the "rude ginger bitch"-referencing "Take a Bite," Roberts' avant-garde, electro-clash tendencies are toned down in favor of a less synth poppy sound (which feels like a natural progression of the Girls' Xenomania output), rather than a calculated reinvention. "Yo-Yo" and the title track are gorgeous slices of shimmering electro-pop which combine swooping Kate Bush-inspired melodies with warm sci-fi synths; the stunning "Porcelain Heart" is a Hurts-esque blend of dramatic, echo-laden synths and new wave beats which comes complete with a twisted, techno middle-eight, while Metronomy's Joseph Mount provides his usual intriguing sense of melancholy on the slightly gothic "Fish Out of Water," and the woozy downbeat electronica of "I." But it's Roberts' soul-bearing lyrics which ensure the album is a much more personal and captivating affair than her bandmates' efforts. Indeed, it's hard to think of a recent pop album which deals with being an outsider in a manner as raw as this one does, particularly on the enchanting, ethereal ballad "Sticks & Stones" ("how funny that I was too young for so many things/yet you thought I'd cope with being told I was ugly over and over"), and yet it never feels like the self-pitying effort that it might have been in someone else's hands. She doesn't always get it so right, though. "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometimes" is an unnecessary, warped, nu-synth cover version of the Korgis' classic, while her usually tender vocals worryingly descend into Cilla Black-style foghorn territory over the formulaic Guetta-style synths of "Lucky Day." However, Cinderella's Eyes is still arguably the best and most interesting debut from a girl-band member since forgotten Sugababes Siobhan Donaghy's Revolution in Me, proving that when it comes to girl group solo careers, it seems to be the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

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