Friday, June 17th, 2011

Nicola Roberts – Beat of My Drum

Tremble in fear, Americans! It’s another Girls Aloud solo joint!


Pete Baran: The odd thing about Nicola’s solo debut is that whilst it seems like a surprising stab from a member of Girls Aloud, it actually sounds exactly like a Girls Aloud single could have sounded in 2006. Remember when Girls Aloud dazzled with interested stabs at the pop song? Well this is from the “Love Machine”/”The Show” stable, with the one caveat that it has just one voice, and a voice which, despite all the electronic frippery which staccatos it all over the shop, is clearly Nicola’s. Perhaps what is surprising is that it is actually so good, which again shouldn’t be surprising from a member of the 00’s most successful (critically and actually) British girl band.

Edward Okulicz: Nicola’s personal story of finding herself and gaining confidence is compelling enough if you like her, and I do, but this as a debut makes me worry that it’s a theme that’s going to be clumsily shoe-horned into everything she does. The verses which set up the story of a girl lacking confidence work well enough. The Daphne & Celeste-esque chorus of triumph is a winner. But the pre-chorus, where she boasts of having “turned this whole thing ’round” has an awkward melody whose seeming mismatch with the music shows, if anything, tentativeness. It’s maybe too twitchy for its own good, but when the production gets out of the way of the cheerleading, it’d have sounded fantastic coming out of anyone. And it’s a good pop song once its hooks have infested the pleasure centres of your brain in spite of the the iffy narrative-building threatening to bring it down.

Michaela Drapes: Bless! Not only is this the first visible evidence of Sleigh Bells trickling down into the mainstream, it’s also something to replace the Ting Ting’s “Great DJ” in the “earwormy hook about drums” footrace. Finally. An immediate frontrunner for Summer Jam 2011. Infinitely remixable and catchy; seems pretty undefeatable to me. Leave it to Nicola to save us all from our pop pretensions and deliver us from Gaga, amen.

Matthew Harris: It’s barely more than some video-game sirens, Major Lazer drum loops and high-pitched chanting, but it still hits every music-appreciation sensor I have. I also hate to admit it, but Roberts’ underdog gawky rap is probably a key part of the song’s adolescent charm. With “Beat,” the sulky one from Girls Aloud outshines the entire output of her former group-mates Cole and Coyle.

Katherine St Asaph: The gimmickry here is much and obvious, so it’s no wonder everyone (myself included) is selling this as “Run the World (Girls)” meets “Lose My Breath” by doing lines with the Vocoder Cheerleading Squad. But what makes “Beat of My Drum” a solid single, rather than just chintzy blogbait, is its conventionality. The verse drops away so that pianos can stab at the chorus in common time, the sonic fuckery arranges itself into a plausible dance break for the bridge, and Nicola’s 15 minutes get years tacked on.

Michelle Myers: It’s hardly Nicola Roberts’ fault that Diplo gave her more or less the same beat he gave Beyonce on “Run The World (Girls),” but I hold her fully accountable for the bored, lackluster sing-rapping here. Stick to singing, Nicola.

Jonathan Bradley: A squelchy racket too stilted to be danced to, no matter how much Roberts hectors us to do so. A pile-up of percussive elements does not, on its own, create rhythm, and while “Beat of My Drum” has an exuberance not entirely resistible, it doesn’t move.

B Michael Payne: “Beat of My Drum” sounds like Baltimore club music —like Beyoncé’s sure-to-be-a-hit “Countdown” and Kanye’s “All of the Lights.” But after its opening, it almost branches out in a few directions. Its chorus, for instance, is like a Spice Girls chorus, and the verses are, I suppose, pretty Uffie-ish. It doesn’t come together very well for me, though. It sounds like the aural equivalent of a copy, cut, and paste zine made by a particularly annoying friend’s annoying younger sister.

Alex Ostroff: “Beat of My Drum” feels amateurish and a bit patchwork, especially coming from a veteran of the sleekest British pop outfit of last decade, and yet somehow this works in its favour. The verses stay in lockstep over Major Lazer’s whirring and whirling production. Their electronic breakdown two minutes in is a thing of wonder, chopping up and reconfiguring Nicola’s vocals into a sea of rhythm and noise. The chorus, on the other hand, is beamed in from an alternate universe where Gwen Stefani’s solo career is going strong, all cheerleader chants and schoolyard rhymes. This hodgepodge of fun is forced together by a bridge that is awkward at best, and utterly fails to render the song coherent. There are worse things to be, though, than a more frivolous M.I.A.

Iain Mew: An M.I.A. meets Robyn concoction (there’s a whole lot of “We Dance to the Beat” in there) which manages to sound in every way exactly like you would expect it to based on the pre-release coverage, but to be direct and fun enough to get away with it. I guess being shamelessly pandered to can be enjoyable when done well.

Jonathan Bogart: For all the centrality which cheerleading supposedly has in the social organization of American high schools (I wouldn’t know, I was out of the country at the time), there have been remarkably few great pop songs that organize themselves aroud cheer conventions. Toni Basil, Gwen Stefani, and …? And yes, I know this is British and that I’m probably listening to it wrong, but I never got into Girls Aloud, so all I can do is hear with my American ears. And I hear pom-poms and high kicks, only bigger, flashier, and mutant-powered.

Frank Kogan: Half-frazzled frat girl gets uncertainly to her feet, sways intermittently to the rhythm, and, when the chorus hits, starts waving her arms for balance, shrieking something about the beat and inexplicably reaching transcendence. Sits down with a giggle. Remembers none of this the next day.

Zach Lyon: Near-identical to “Super Bass,” with verses that may as well not exist leading to half a glorious chorus. And bridge, in this case. I’m not a fan of “L-O-V-E” or any other case where a word so significant is used as a placeholder, but hell if “DANCE TO THE BEAT OF MY DRUM!” (in all caps, with at least one exclamation point) isn’t worthy of your adherence and worship.

Kat Stevens: I wish Nicola all the best (I still feel guilty about menacing her with a stuffed fox that time) but this doesn’t quite add up to a bona-fide banger for me. Diplo’s choppy backing on the verses doesn’t quite go with her schoolgirl vocal — which is skippy instead of snotty, like e.g. M.I.A.’s. The chorus has a gloriously meaningless hook but the synths sound washed out and five years old. Still, it’s a damn sight better than Nadine’s Tesco Value Nightclub.

Doug Robertson: I remember well the moment I first realised that Nicola was the best member of Girls Aloud and destined to be one of the greatest popstars who ever lived. It was an early publicity shot of them with “Doctor” Fox, the “wacky,” “zany,” local radio “DJ” and, while the other girls were smiling heartily, looking like they could imagine nothing more fun than spending time with the talent vaccuum, Nicola sat there, her face clearly expressing boredom, disdain and a desperate desire to be anywhere else at that point in time, just like everyone would be feeling if forced to be in the same room as him. It was moments like that, like the “Rude ginger bitch botherd” skirt, like the fact she didn’t fit into the obvious stereotype of what a girl band member should be and, on the few occasions they actually deigned to give her a solo line, the fact she possessed a unique vocal style that was crying out to be given more space, that caused everyone to realise that she was the true star of the band and about to be showered with all the praise and rewards she deserved. Well, I say everyone, what I actually mean is bloggers, forum posters and people who genuinely care about pop music, but whose opinions tend not to echo the real world in any way. Instead the media at large happily mocked her for being “ugly,” for being a bit moody and for daring to have a personality that didn’t exactly fit into either of the only two stereotypes allowed for female pop stars, namely supine shyness or bolshy bitchiness. And of course, as any psychologist will tell you, continually having your appearance, style, attitude and every single aspect of your entire being mocked unfairly on a daily basis by those more powerful and influential than yourself is exactly what a teenage girl needs to deal with and definitely isn’t the sort of nasty vicious bullying that the self same newspapers occasionally run strongly worded editorials against just after a schoolkid commits suicide. In short, it’s lucky that Nicola is still here, let alone releasing her debut single but, while she may have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageously unfair and unpleasant criticism, she has, as the surprisingly personal lyrics make clear, come out of this whole affair stronger, confident, and prepared to do what she wants to do, and thank whatever deity you may choose to believe in for that, as I can say, without hyperbole or over exaggeration (NOTE: Writer prone to both hyperbole and over exaggeration) that this is the single greatest track you will hear all year and that you might as well destroy the rest of your music collection now. All other music has instantly become irrelevant. Fresh, exciting, sassy and now, this is a clear statement of intent. A big two fingers up to anyone who ever had anything negative to say about her, this is personal in terms of both lyrical content and also being the sort of music she clearly wants to make, without falling into the realms of self indulgence or, worse, misery-fuelled ballad hell. This is music to play while dancing around the kitchen, or any room you may choose, in your underwear, a full on anthem that doesn’t feel the need to dumb down or play to the lowest common denominator. Intelligent, amazing and with the sort of hook that fish would voluntarily impale themselves on, it’s hard to imagine how she can top this with her next single, but with this level of ambition on display it’s clear that that’s not going to be a problem. I wanted this to be good, but even in my wildest dreams I never expected it to be this good. Humanity has peaked, we will never create anything greater, nor more culturally important than this. As a species we can now head towards our inevitable extinction safe in the knowledge that once, just once, in our grey and hopeless existence we achieved a brief moment of genuine perfection. Also, Nicola dances around in her pants in the video.

Alfred Soto: Robyn meets The Pipettes, to be played over the next Bring It On movie.

9 Responses to “Nicola Roberts – Beat of My Drum”

  1. Doug’s blurb, followed by Alfred’s is a masterful stroke of hilarious editorship. Bravo, whoever is in charge today. (I quite like both blurbs, but the contrast makes me giggle.)

  2. Btw here is the stuffed fox in question. Sorry again Nic!

  3. WTF, Doug. WTF. But, yes, if this is the picture in question:

    Well, then, I will never think of Ms. Roberts the same again.

  4. I like the juxtaposition of me and Jonathan, too. As someone who actually reviewed the Bring It On soundtrack, I’d say that this song is way more party chant than sports chant; it’s not flaunting its athleticism. (But then, Daphne and Celeste, who were on the Bring It On soundtrack, sounded way more jumprope than cheerleader to me.)

    Think my little vignette might have worked even better if, instead of using the generic frat girl, I’d featured the office manager having more than a few too many while “unwinding” with some of her office mates. Point is that Nicola and her two producers have achieved an everygirl vibe that may prove to be dance-floor or after-hours functional for girls and women who know nothing more about the Girls Aloud story than I do. (Not that the Nicola Roberts story that Doug recounts/invents can’t be just as relevant.)

    I’m not as up on these things as many of you are, and Wikip isn’t helping: did Diplo produce a chart hit prior to “Paper Planes”? Now all of a sudden he’s charting in the U.S., Britain, and Korea.

  5. That is the picture. Ah, happy days. The worrying thing about my blurb – well, one of the worrying things – is that I could easily have gone on for longer. Ah well. I regret nothing!

  6. Doug, I hardly know you, but I already utterly adore you. F’reals.

    I forgot to mention that I’m still stunned this is a Diplo joint, he’s turned some kind of corner for me. I used to wish he’d just GO AWAY, now I can’t get enough.

  7. This is just so instinctively amazing. A 10, easily. Brilliance. I’m glad it’s in the top ten but it should be higher up.

  8. Gah, I wish I’d found the time to listen to/blurb this. 9 or 10, easy.

  9. Alfred Soto = Best description ever.