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Album: Clea – “Identity Crisis” (2004)

We all know the story of Girls Aloud. If you don’t even know who they are, then for the love of God please educate yourself on Youtube or download their greatest hits. Let’s start again. Girls Aloud were formed at the end of 2002 in ropey talent-show sequel “Popstars: The Rivals”. In those days Pop Idol had just created several big stars in its first series, and the year before that, the original “Popstars” series created Hear’Say who had rather less longevity. In fact the bell was tolling for Hear’Say by the time Girls Aloud and One True voice were compiled from assorted boys and girls via a public vote.

Girls Aloud and One True Voice went head-to-head for the Christmas No.1, with a comprehensive victory for the girls. Girls Aloud went on to have multi-platinum albums and 20 consecutive top 10 hits. One True Voice spun off into obscurity. On the flipside of this, the five boys and five girls not selected for the bands were signed up in their own right. The boys formed Phixx, who had minor success in 2004’s bleak pop landscape. One of the girls, Javine, got a solo career off the back of the outrage many felt that she wasn’t picked for Girls Aloud, and also had modest success, finally snuffed out by her disasterous result at 2005’s Eurovision (though it could easily be argued that she was finished long before that).

Via this lengthy back-story, the remaining four girls formed Clea (made from their first initials, ABBA-style), and had the least success of all. Two singles came out in the UK, “Download it” and “Stuck in the middle”, and stalled just outside the top 20. The album was shelved in the UK but saw a release and apparently some success in Russia and Eastern Europe, but I always suspect that’s just one of the “big in Japan” rumours that nobody can back up. If you are reading this in Russia or Eastern Europe and you have ANY idea who these girls are, please leave a comment!!

The singles were pretty good, and I ended up with the album at some point in my life, so I thought I’d finally give it a go.

09 Stuck in the middle – A thunderstorm kicking off a pop song, is there a more dramatic cliche? I love it. This isn’t that bad for all the laboured lyrics about guilt and loving two guys. Their harmonies are undemanding but pleasant, and the production actually comes off with a bit of class. It’s quite chilled out and pleasant, with a nice chorus. I do honestly think it’s a shame that this didn’t find more success as a single, in 2004 certainly it was better than many big hits of the time.

09 The Lie – A cancelled single, but another highlight from this album I think. More morose-sounding production, and these girls can’t stay out of trouble can they? After two-timing in the last song, they’re now lying to their partners. Or maybe admitting it, I guess that’s a little better. Again the production hold this one up, I like the mix of old-fashioned samples, strings and light electronic flourishes. I feel like this whole album shouldn’t be very good, like a cast-off Atomic Kitten album, but this really works for me. Their voices aren’t that distinct from each other, but they cope well with the demands of this undemanding song.

07 Butterflies and Rainbows – Hmm, not sure about this title. I think the ropey expectation of the album is belatedly being met. The lyrics are pretty stupid, the girls just want butterflies and rainbows, but their love interests are bringing dragons and monsters… hmm. It’s a pleasant enough track, and certainly wouldn’t have been out of place when it was written. It’s a very low-budget female singer-songwriter track, I could imagine several vocalists that would have probably had something like this on their albums. It’s pleasant enough but just a bit blahhhhh.

06 First Love – Randomly this has a writing credit by German popstar Sarah Connor. Shame she couldn’t put her name to something a bit more interesting that this pleasant but generic Motown-esque bluesy ballad (if any of those adjectives fit). The chorus is quite nice but honestly this is pretty forgettable.

07 Identity Crisis – It’s an interesting title for an album, but sadly the title track doesn’t quite live up to that promise. The chorus is well put-together, and vaguely memorable, and that production just made me think of it as a VERY diluted version of All Saints’ “Pure Shores”. It’s barely worth considering those two songs in any kind of context though, maybe just forget I said it. The chorus just about saves this from being a Billie Piper album track, but only just.

07 One more try – Afraid things don’t get much more interesting here, but I would like to clarify that most of these tracks are perfectly listenable. These girls don’t have exceptional voices, but their voices blend nicely and are used well. This feels a bit more like an Atomic Kitten album track, which in a sad way is a step in the right direction if this was 2004. This is nice really, I’m struggling to have a strong feeling about it, but it’s certainly as likeable as it is forgettable.

06 Sprung – Oh we are switching it up now, an offbeat sample trying to make it a little cooler. An old trick but often a good one. A bit of a surprise after the string of blandish love songs, but they don’t quite pull off this uneven-sounding track. Did this really have five writers? A bit quirky for its own good, and doesn’t really help out the girls’ voices with its relative lack of melody. The chorus is alright but I’m not really feeling this one.

08 Crush – Oh well, back to the pleasant but disposable love songs. This has a pretty good chorus, to give it credit. The verses are less effective sadly, but that chorus does bring back a little of the magic of their harmonies. They even pull of a sweet little middle-eight, and even thought their voices seem a little powerless this is quite a lovely little pop song.

06 A guy like you – Bongos? Hmm well this doesn’t bode well. I guess they are going for a more edgy sound here, although that’s a pretty laughable approach for one of the most toothless girlbands I’ve heard in a long while. Too many drums, it’s a bit of a mess, and as it was in “Sprung” they seem to forget about the melody. A presumably sexy spoken-word section falls flat, and they aren’t in danger of being mistake for the Sugababes. Presumably that was the point?

10 Download it – Finally a proper single, and a strikingly unusual song to release as a single, let alone a debut single. Sparse production for the verses, with a dramatic swell for the bridges. No idea what this song is about, I think they just wanted to sing about downloading something, so just crammed the phrase into the chorus. The chorus is pretty memorable and pulled off well. Their vocals even get a bit of exercise on some of the bigger notes, and it finishes as a pretty sophisticated and layered pop song. They justified their brief existence with this one, in my opinion.

06 Mind Games – This picks up the baton from “Download it” in some sense, but goes nowhere near the heights of that track. Some dramatic layers of production, and a few nice melodic hooks but that chorus doesn’t really do a lot for me. I guess it’s a nice change from the ballads, but this just misses some key ingredient that made the singles such a pleasure.

06 Pretty little bad girl – Trying to be sexy now, yeaaahhhh, throw some guitars in it, they’re BAD GIRLS! Ho hum … sounds like they are just horny, which isn’t a crime, but I’m not sure how bad they really are. Maybe they had one-too-many Bacardi Breezers and don’t know right from wrong. Either way, ‘rocking out’ isn’t really fooling anyone, especially after they were showing their vulnerable sides for much of the album. Perhaps that’s what the identity crisis is!

In fairness, I wasn’t expecting a lot from this album. After all, it didn’t even get a release in the UK, but that’s no measure of its quality, just its commerical viability. It’s a shame, though at least it was sold somewhere in the world. I guess they were one girlband too many in the pop landscape prowled by Atomic Kitten, Sugababes and their successful counterparts Girls Aloud.

The title fits the album well, since it comes off as a patchwork of diluted versions of popular girlband sounds. I can hear Atomic Kitten, Sugababes, All Saints, even soloists like Delta Goodrem and Billie Piper in the mix somewhere. It’s a decent strategy, but ultimately a flawed one. The album only really shines when they do songs that don’t really sound like anyone else of the time, and these were shrewdly picked as singles. It’s a shame they didn’t quite capture the public’s attention, but they got more chances than many pop bands did, so at least they can be proud of what they achieved.

Keepers for the iPod: Stuck in the middle, The Lie, Crush, Download it

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Eurovision reloaded: Kiev 2005: My Top 10

10. Walters and Kazha – The War Is Not Over (Latvia )
#5 in the Grand Final

Speaking of the Baltic bloc, as we enter the top 10 here is Latvia. It should be the naffest load of dreck ever. The styling looks just as you would expect from a Latvian Eurovision entry, and they’re strumming away on their little guitars.

Oh wait, the one with the shit hair got up, HOLD THE PHONE. It’s just a really sweet song, and I’m a sucker for a good falsetto, which is exactly what we get on that last little glory note. Or it is if you saw the semi-final. They mysteriously bottled it on the final performance, but still made it to the top 5. OK it’s not the strongest note every, and I imagine if he tried to push it, it would have gone horribly wrong.

9. Gülseren – Rimi Rimi Ley (Turkey )
#13 in the Grand Final

Turkey time, another country that can rarely do wrong in Eurovision. This time they went for the full-on ethnic bonanza, there are sitars and drum, costumes with tassles and beads, even some weird bongo priest.

I’m not that familiar with the sound of Turkish, so for all intents it reminds me of some sort of Bollywood soundtrack. It’s gloriously sunny and energetic. For all the spectacle of the performance, the vocals aren’t really great, but I really do love that recorded version, very upbeat.

How many drum solos did the participants indulge in this year, feels like LOADS.

8. Javine – Touch My Fire (United Kingdom )
#22 in the Grand Final

Who’s that in the slot of death? Yes, poor Javine got the fabled 2nd slot in the running order, that has never produced a winner. But let’s make the most of it, and throw as much ethnicity at it as we can to try and make up for our Eurovision sins of recent years.

I really loved this at the time. Is she referring to her vagina in the title? Who can tell. She managed to at least avoid another nip-slip during this dazzling performance. She looked amazing, and there’s more than enough Eastern promise thrown in to please our distant European cousins.

At least that was the plan. I’m used to us doing badly in Eurovision, ever since we started sending shit like Gemini, but by and large I don’t think we’ve really been short-changed in the last decade, except in this case. It felt to me to be the most accomplished and appealing entry we had until Jade in 2009, and perhaps this is a more fitting victim to the running order than lumpy old Engelbert this year was.

7. Shiri Maimon – Hasheket Shenish’ar (Israel )
#4 in the Grand Final

Time for an Israeli Barbie singing another lovely Israeli song that I can’t understand a word of. I love the Hebrew sounds though. HAHGHHH.

At first glance it seems like a pretty standard Disney ballad that we’ve seen a handful of already, but she really brought this one alive. That chorus really builds nicely doesn’t it? And she’s so PRETTY. Lebanon tried to entry in 2005, with a rather lovely French ballad, but they couldn’t accept sharing the contest with Israel. If it comes down to the songs, I think the right song ended up on stage.

6. Vanilla Ninja – Cool Vibes (Switzerland )
#8 in the Grand Final

What the hell are Switzerland doing in contention for a win? Or at least ANYWHERE near a top 10. I’m so used the the recent Swiss disasters that it’s a bit of a surprise to see them doing well. But just as they did to secure their last win with Celine Dion, they had to import Vanilla Ninja in from Estonia.

I’m not really sure what to make of it, the title doesn’t quite convey the serious tone of the song, nor does the flippancy of the lead singer when she sings “why don’t you kill me?”. It’s a real slice of drama isn’t it? The lead singer is pretty kickass too, I think she beat up Lithuania’s Laura for that jacket too. Why weren’t they representing Estonia though?

Either way, it really stood out in a field of poppy turbo-sluts and pretty Disney princesses, and really held its own.

5. Luminiţa Anghel and Sistem – Let Me Try (Romania )
#3 in the Grand Final

Time to turn the FEROCITY up to 11 as Romania bring another solid hit to the stage with the big-voiced and big-chested Luminiţa. Is that another drum solo? Honestly guys, what was going on?

She needed a strong voice to get over that noisy percussion, she she certainly had that. With such full-on vocals she even had space for a hair-raising key change too. The props were a bit overkill, I mean angle grinders really shouldn’t be used as percussion should they? What a racket!

It certainly went down well with the public though, giving Romania their best result to date.

4. Nuno Resende – Le grand soir (Belgium )
Did not qualify, #22 in the Semi-Final

OK so I can expect to meet some resistance on this one, but I don’t CARE ANYMORE. The slightly vampiric Nuno really nailed those vocals though, and did his best to take my attention off that vile jacket, and his unfortunate facial hair decisions.

French just sounds so nice, and he certainly stretched his rhyming dictionary as far as it would go. It’s naff, especially when that hidden electric guitar screeches away quietly.

But it’s really that vocal that won me over, especially that gorgeous final note. You can tell the audience don’t really give the tiniest shit though, can’t you. Ultimately it was doomed, and Nuno was forced back into his coffin for driving Belgium into a losing streak only matched by their neighbour Netherlands.

3. Chiara – Angel (Malta )
#2 in the Grand Final

THAR SHE BLOWS. The royal yacht Chiara is cruising into view, with her mightiest Disney ballad to date. I really want her to finally win this contest for Malta one day, it would be such a lovely story. Just get some Swedes in to write the song please.

It could easily have stalled as a pretty boring ballad, but her voices really elevates this into something really glorious. She even gets to give it a bit of SASS halfway through, before resuming her task of blowing away all the other vocalists in the contest.

Christ knows why Malta are mothballing her with a 5-year ban for all previous Maltese entrants, and leaving her to sing the shit out of some plus-sized hits on Maltese TV. Put her in a nice dress and do her hair please, she looks like Dr Robotnik’s sister at the moment.

2. Selma – If I had your love (Iceland )
Did not qualify, #16 in the Semi-Final

I did think long and hard about who I’d eventually pick as my 2005 favourite. It was a close-run thing, but Selma has to settle for 2nd place, as she did in 1999 when she first entered. I’ve just notice that my top 3 were all former participants – former top 3 finishers, no less! while Chiara and Helena managed to reflect this in the leaderboard, Selma got a raw deal crashing quite heavily in the semi-final.

It’s a shame really, Iceland have produced some of the best entries of the 7 contests I’ve counted down, perhaps better even than Sweden (we’ll forget 2007 happened). Selma’s song ultimately didn’t quite have the OOMPH that Helena mustered, but it was still a great performance.

A vaguely Toxic-sounding string riff, and a full on euro-slut sound was present here, but Selma herself was utterly gorgeous, like Amanda Holden might look like with her original head. The routine was simple but effective, with the golden motif throughout the performance really setting off the whole thing.

I can see why it might have got lost in the pack, but it really did deserve much better than it got.

1. Helena Paparizou – My Number One (Greece )
#1 in the Grand Final

So yes, there we have it. It’s one of those rare occasions where my favourite track of the contest actually WON. In fact judging by Greece’s record in recent years, it’s almost unthinkable that they’ve only won it once.

But what a win, it just has the gravity of a winner, and while they realised that Helena’s vice was strong, it couldn’t compete with some of the ballads, so they threw plenty of gimmicks at it. A hot dance routine, the human string-section (!), the stick dance, that naff but inch-perfect ‘1’ design laid out in Greek dancers.

I think the planets just aligned to secure the Greek victory, it was closer than I imagine it would have been, but Chiara at least didn’t have to suffer such a nail-bitingly close defeat as she did in 1998.

Some great lyrics in there though, that I’m sure you would only ever find in Eurovision “You’re my passion, my relief, my crucifixion”. In a short space of time, Greece certainly learnt the secret combination (…) to Eurovision success to become one of the untouchable for the best part of a decade, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before they win again (unless they destroy Europe).

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