Blame it on their infuriating, ever-cycling line-up of fresh faced members, I’ll admit that I never cared much for the Sugababes in the past. Granted, I’ve always listened to the work, but in truth, I’ve merely been a passing fan. Alas, my feelings have completely changed, thanks to the release of the Babes’ sixth album, Spotlights & Catfights, their last-minute album originally scheduled for release in 2009.
An album I can safely consider as one of the year’s best, Spotlights shuffles and struts itself into the forefront of this year’s greatest with an energetic combination platter of sweetly sung piano-backed odes, swinging ’60’s kiss-off tracks, and moody Motown mid-tempos. The tracklisting is tailored to a finite perfection, allowing the album to flow in and out of moods and energies with excellent timing; its contents encrusted with sweet, rhythmic treats.
Jumping into the journey on the entirely wrong foot, “Girls” is one of the weakest efforts on the album, a mediocre choice of lead-off single and album opener. The track leads off with an overly promising, pleasing introduction of brassy horns and brazen chants. From there on, it falls flat. Nonetheless, it’s sound is faithful to the Spotlights structure, making the song feel much more tolerable in context.
Highlights of the album from hereonin are numerous and widespread, including “Side Chick,” the Robyn-lite concoction that harkens back to the glorious sounds of mid-’90’s mid-tempo groovers. It’s one of the essentials off the album, full of unforgettable sass and ‘tude. Considering the inclusion of the line “trying to get my ya-ya,” it’s fairly difficult to trump that argument.
“Every Heart Broken” is another triumph, transforming the Babes into vicious vixens, stabbing their way through a rather murderous endeavor. It’s the album’s most clever moment, as the girls innocently recount their victim’s misfortunate missteps: “Last boy was a director on a silver screen / He went and wrote a slasher flick just for me / When he said ‘Cut,’ I took it literally.” Devilish.
Even the bass-heavy “Hanging On A Star” seems to shine within the album, a purely kitschy, campy show of celebration as the girls go tra-la-la’ing across a bouncy, glittering bass. Hardcore Aloud v. Sugababes enthusiasts take heed: This one’s borderline Aloud in the verse bits, though distinctly Suga in others. It’s your call.
Then there’s the sweetly swinging heartbreaker “Sunday Rain,” a melancholy lament straight from the back archives of the Haus of Winehouse : “You break my heart, and I’ll break yours, that’s how it goes, it goes over and over.” “Unbreakable Heart,” “Sound of Goodbye,” and “Can We Call A Truce?” only add to the album’s content, providing chillingly fragile delivery, the girls seemingly moments away from turning on the waterworks at any time.
Spotlights, in retrospect, is perhaps the most polished attempt of the entire year. While Girls Aloud currently holds the overall title for Best Album (a feat achieved prior to the B. Spears release), the Babes have concocted the strongest fluid creation of 2008.
Hearing the album a month later, I remain slightly dumbfounded by the sheer amount of fresh sound quality and rhythmic senstation packed into this release. Each song contains dozens of riffs, rhymes, and rhythms destined for cluttering up the back of our minds during the midnight hour. The fact that it is absolutely plummeting down the UK Charts right now is sadly forcing the Suga’s release to become the Great Pop Injustice of ’08.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to highlight the album’s sorely overlooked crafting.There’s no skipper here–All killer, I promise. But please, don’t come into this album expected an aggressively up-tempo affair. Instead, allow it to marinate for a while. Listen casually, and I think you’ll find yourself in for a delightful surprise.