Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Girls Aloud – Untouchable

Remember how we felt about that Pet Shop Boys single? Well…


Rodney J. Greene: The problem with all the housed-up pop to bother the U.S. charts of late is that it’s been utterly resistant to any strain of house other than those subtlety-proof super-club varieties, with the Chicago classicism of Ne-Yo’s “Closer” as the exception to prove the rule. It is my understanding that the British pop consumer is, on average, exposed to a somewhat greater swath of dance music, thus allowing pop songs to get away with sounding like Aeroplane remixes of themselves.

Martin Skidmore: How odd: Girls Aloud go trancey. It bounces along nicely on the verses, and the choruses are a real rush. It’s perhaps not their most memorable song, but it’s irresistibly danceable. I could live without the use of autotune, but the vocoder sound is kept very slight and occasional.

Talia Kraines: Soaring synths, a Balearic bassline and a rubbish choice of Girls Aloud single. The fans might love it to bits, but why ignore the past fan love of surefire hits like “Models” and give in for this? We’re not saying “Untouchable” is a bad song. It’s gorgeously epic. We just don’t think it’s the one that should follow the underperforming “The Loving Kind”. We’re all about Girls Aloud grabbing the Radio 2 audience, but we’d like a bit of sass back in our ladies (we’d have gone for “Love Is Pain”).

Martin Kavka: The full album version of this is spectacular — it’s the track I currently have on a repeated loop while preparing lectures — and the lyric “Without any meaning, we’re just skin and bone, like beautiful robots dancing alone” is the closest that pop has come to Whitmanesque poetry in decades. The single is marred, well, by being shorter, but also by some AutoTune madness, and perhaps the most tone-deaf video ever, in which the girls are missiles from outer space who destroy civilization.

Alex Wisgard: In context of the last Girls Aloud album, the seven-minute version of “Untouchable” was a bold statement, albeit one which never sounded quite as impressive as it thought it was; besides, they’d already pulled off the perfect pop mini-epic with “Biology”. That said, hearing “Untouchable” as a single, mercilessly cut to half its running time, the song doesn’t sound quite right either. Shorn of its more unwieldly intentions (and given an all-too-abrupt ending, in lieu of the album version’s revelatory fade-out), it now seems like Just Another Girls Aloud Single. If nothing else, maybe it’ll help shift more copies of Out of Control; unfortunately, in this butchered state, it’s the Girls Aloud single that least lives up to its name since “Sound of the Underground”.

Edward Okulicz: Despite them taking one of Nicola’s lines and giving it to Sarah (ugh, why?), the jarring autotune and cutting out the line about the sharks, “Untouchable” works pretty well as a four-minute pop song. The dance touches are cheap, but they give the song a sense of kinetics missing from the moody album mix. The verses seem a touch abrupt at first, but a few listens make the cuts seem natural. If anything, though it seems a little short it makes the album version seem just a shade too long in retrospect. But those flaws are minor, and the climax of Nadine’s “beautiful robots” outro remains astonishingly bizarre and the tune is their best in ages.

Alex Macpherson: The latest grim chapter in The Decline of Girls Aloud features: cheap, nasty-sounding, trebly synths (obviously someone just pushed the “poppers o’clock” button in the studio, the one marked “FOR THE GAYZ”); some of the most strained singing since the heyday of Geri Halliwell’s solo career as the Girls collectively strive, in vain, for a semblance of emotion; and one of the lamest similes you’ll hear in this or any year in “like beautiful robots dancing alone”, a collection of words which push the buttons of the easily-pleased but which mean precisely nothing together. That this turgid, increasingly pointless group are still considered to be musical standard bearers in 2009 is a sad indictment either of the state of pop or, more likely, the awful taste and lowered standards of their boosters.

Ian Mathers: Well they are now, aren’t they? Girls Aloud songs have always been a bit meta (and c’mon, “we’re beautiful robots, dancing alone” is a bit too on the nose maybe), but the group are kind of respected or at least perennially successful elder stateswomen, and as long as (or maybe when) the fans are around, it does feel like they’re never going to fall. “Untouchable” is their tranciest single to date, but it’s mostly just another slight variation on not so much a formula as a type: well-written, memorable pop. It’s far from their best, but it’ll do.

Keane Tzong: Though I do like the song, its choice as a single feels like something done to purposely end all the wittering over consecutive Top Tens that happens every time a Girls Aloud single is released. This is the most #18 song I have heard in a long time.

16 Responses to “Girls Aloud – Untouchable”

  1. Indeed they are ‘Untouchable’, and indeed at first the release of a seven minute long track seemed like a Statement more than a single release; “We’ve had our 20-strong string of top 10 hits, non-believers, now fuck off”. Of course, cut down to four minutes it’s actually become a quite conventional Girls Aloud dance epic, but on repeated listens I really like this edit. The vocoder bits are a bit pointless, but not distracting, and the whole package has become slightly catchier and more tempting (to listen to repeatedly) by jamming it into a shorter space.

    ‘Out of Control’ was less coherent as an album than the last two (Tangled Up = album of the decade), but what it does have is obvious single choices, and now ‘Untouchable’ has been made into one as well.

  2. Oh wow, people really do need to get over the whole “sad robots” thing. I thought that would be strawmanning on my part, but no! It turns out that you really do only need to say the word “robot” to get people wetting themselves over it. BORING.

  3. Leaving aside the song for a second… why is one of them a very pale blue in the picture Will used? It’s kind of a fetching shade of very pale blue, but still.

  4. Poor Nicola :(

  5. Nicola? She’s always that colour

  6. The ‘robots’ line might be a bit cheesy, but there are good lines here (‘It’s only real when you’re not around’) and really, it works best when reading it in a meta–“we’re still around and going strong”-biographical way.

    Some of the lines, like ‘But you light up everywhere I go-o’ sounded pure and raw in the original but lost some of its emotion in autotuning it.

  7. The problem with the robots line isn’t that it’s cheesy, it’s that it’s overworked to the point of meaninglessness. I have no idea what it’s supposed to make me feel, so it just leaves me cold. Plus, it’s such a lazy trope now, emo + robots = people go OMGZZZ!!!!1111 because it’s such a radical concept or something.

    (The actual worst thing about The Decline of Girls Aloud is that it’s infected all their past material in retrospect – when I go back to tracks I used to love, I keep hearing the seeds of what now annoys me about them. Definitely a strong candidate for “WTF was I thinking” five years hence. Cf Sugababes, whose new material has also declined in quality but whose old stuff is getting even better, if anything.)

  8. I sympathise Lex! But the first three GA albums are so strong, even monstrosities like “Fix Me Up” and “Live In The Country” can’t taint them. Out Of Control is so bad that I don’t see myself listening to any of the non-singles again. But unlike Lex, that doesn’t diminish the sweetness of “The Loving Kind” or “Untouchable” one bit and certainly not “Biology” or “The Show”. It’s sad, they used to be a bona fide albums act and sold not that many albums, now they’re shifting units for fun, it seems like they’re out of (quality) control…

  9. As the person who seems to like the robots line the most, I’d just like to pop up to say that while most robot references in pop have been positive or even fetishistic (Daft Punk, or the romance of Björk’s “All You Need Is Love” video, or Lady GaGa about to break into “I’m a robo-teapot/short and stout” with PSB at the Brits), this is one of the few I can think of off the top of my head that yearns to verify a belief that being human is better than being an automaton.

  10. Out of Control isn’t bad, just a thoroughly mixed bag, from shitty to great. The singles run has been better than ever. And it’s just LAST album they were still an ‘albums act’, so to call it a decline when they released a defining, honest-to-goodness 10.0 pop album one and a half year ago is pretty rubbish. If anyone here prefers their first album to ‘Tangled Up’, well, you’re just wrong aren’t you?

  11. I loathed Out of Ideas at the beginning, but it’s really not that bad, is it? There were stinkers on Tangled Up just as bad as the misfires on Out of Control; the only difference was the comparative novelty of Tangled Up’s terrible tracks.

    I really think the fact that “The Promise” was a load of old tripe has turned everyone against this album unfairly; its strong points may not be as fresh ‘n’ new as the strong points of previous Girls Aloud albums, but the melodies are still there.

    (NB: My 7 applies to the radio edit. The album version is an 8.)

  12. ‘The Promise’ is one of their top 5 singles. Brilliant track. Better than Untouchable.

  13. I prefer the first album to Tangled Up, which has three stinkers on it and two songs I’m pretty much indifferent to, and of the seven remaining songs, three are far too long and ned editing. The first album is a grab-bag, sure, but it’s 15 tracks long and more than two-thirds of them are keepers, and its highs (“No Good Advice”, “Some Kind Of Miracle”) are still very high indeed.

    (and I love “The Promise”. I dislike Out of Control because it has three good songs on it, two passable ones and six that simply don’t do anything for me at all. And then of course, “Fix Me Up”.).

  14. Martin K — you must get Margaret Berger’s “Robot Song” in your life pronto!!

  15. ‘The Promise’ is the best track on the album by a (live in the) country mile.

  16. [i]…I dislike Out of Control because it has three good songs on it, two passable ones and six that simply don’t do anything for me at all.[/i]

    That’s how I feel about all of their albums. I think the difference is that in the past the good ones were really excellent, eg “The Show”, “Biology”.