Sugababes

Taller in More Ways

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Sugababes were one of the most consistently successful British pop acts of the 2000s, with an unparalleled string of innovative Top Ten singles and solid if not faultless full-lengths. Their fourth, the awkwardly named Taller in More Ways, was no exception -- indeed it was their first album to hit number one, and among their strongest. As usual, the singles tend to shine the brightest, but there are only a handful of truly lesser tracks scattered among the state-of-the-art dancefloor stompers and towering ballads. The simple yet effective electro-pop club ditty "Push the Button" was the first single (and it topped the charts as handily as its predecessors had), but even better in that category is the monstrously funky "Red Dress," a Xenomania track reminiscent of their frisky Girls Aloud productions, that makes excellent use of a rejiggered horn section sampled from a '60s Northern soul cut ("Landslide" by Tony Clarke). In the latter column, both "Follow Me Home" and "Ugly" are aptly pitched inspirational mini-epics dealing, respectively, with romantic and body-image issues (even if "we only get judged by what we do" sounds like rather wishful thinking, the 'Babes make you believe it). And it gets deeper than that, in several ways: the breezy, ska-punk-tinged "Joy Division" (which has nothing to do with that band, musically or lyrically); the sugary synth pop of "Obsession" (a cover of '80s new wavers Animotion); the intoxicating, hard-hitting "It Ain't Easy," which pits a menacingly swung, twangy guitar riff -- lifted so blatantly from Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," it's a wonder Martin Gore doesn't get a writing credit -- against a martial strut and agitated double-time group vocals. "Gotta Be You" pillages less successfully: despite a passable foundation of synth-fuzz R&B with trendy tabla-esque skittering, it treads so melodically close to Aaliyah's majestic "Try Again" that it can't help but pale by comparison. Meanwhile, the final three cuts fail to leave much of an impression -- there's nothing like "Maya," the haunting closer on Three. Even so, the overall quality of the material, the production, and of course Sugababes' trademark vocal work -- subtly satisfying without being showy -- are enough to make this another winner from one of the winningest (and most winsome) pop groups going. [In 2006, following the departure of Mutya Buena from the group, Taller in More Ways was reissued with one new track and re-recorded versions of "Gotta Be You," "Follow Me Home," and "Red Dress" featuring new member Amelle Berrabah.]

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