Nadine Coyle: Insatiable (Album Review)

Nadine Coyle has an insatiable ego.

After rejecting a major label bid war in favor of an exclusive distribution deal at Tesco, reportedly declining an X Factor performance invite, and forgoing all contact with her (former) Girls Aloud band members for almost a year, Nadine Coyle has made it a point throughout the entire recording and promotional process of her new-found solo career that she’s going to produce and promote the music her own way—and she doesn’t need your help, thank you very much.

For more proof, one needs look no further than the very name she’s releasing the album under: “Nadine.” That she would even opt for single name status (Cher, Madonna) is a fairly strong representation of the Irish chanteuse’s lofty self-image.

It’s not that the ego isn’t entirely unmerited. In fact, she’s got the talent to back it up.

The singer, who had her first brush with fame after being famously booted from the 2001 Irish offshoot of Popstars after lying about her birth year, quickly climbed to notoriety as one of the five members of Girls Aloud, the incredibly successful product of 2002’s UK talent search, Popstars: The Rivals.

Armed with a powerful, soulful delivery style and a deliciously thick (and unintentionally hilarious) Derry accent, Coyle quickly assumed the role as unofficial lead of the group—or at very least, “The Voice”—after the smashing success of their first few singles, including “Sound of the Underground” and “Life Got Cold.”

The problem is that Coyle knows this fact well—and she wants everyone else to know it, too. As she will proudly explain in interviews, it was she in the recording studio longer than any of the other girls, providing the dependably solid main vocals on every one of their 20 Top 10 hits.

Accordingly, the majority of the promotion for Nadine’s solo campaign thus far has been spent fielding questions regarding her past—about Popstars, about Girls Aloud and of course, about Cheryl Cole.

As the first member of Girls Aloud to go solo back in 2009, Cheryl Cole has since managed to become arguably the most popular and influential celebrity in Britain today thanks to infectious charm, a judging spot on X Factor, and a full-on love affair with her personal life courtesy of the British tabloid press. In fact, the sheer mega-wattage of her celebrity manages to successfully eclipse the fact that her music is largely terrible.

Once again, Coyle knows this. And while she doesn’t dare criticize her former bandmate outright in the media, her carefully worded responses to questions about Cheryl reek of contempt. From The Guardian:

Would Coyle say that she is more of a natural musician, and Cole more of a natural celebrity? “Yeah, I would say that would be an accurate evaluation.” She shrugs her skinny shoulders. “But Cheryl’s great, you know, and we get on. And I wouldn’t be good at stuff like judging the X Factor. I would be the worst. Partly because I would want to be the one up there singing, with the lights and the stuff. Also, I’d be going, that’s not good, never mind, let me do it. Just watch me.”

Can you spot the snide? Not exactly hard to miss.

Promotion aside, there’s an album at hand.

With one listen of the lead single and title track “Insatiable,” it’s clear that Coyle’s crafted an actual artist’s record in Insatiable, complete with live instruments, powerful vocal delivery, and sharp, big-sounding production courtesy of industry powerhouses including Tony Gad, Guy Chambers and William Orbit. This is music beyond Auto-Tune—and some of quite listenable, indeed.

With soulful, melodious songs like “Runnin’” and “Chained,” Coyle instantly establishes herself as a class-act vocalist early into her debut, not unlike that of Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey or even Whitney Houston. Although the music is very ‘modern sounding’–weaving through licks of electronica and R&B rhythms–it’s Coyle’s diva pipes and the Motown-lite melodies that place Insatiable strictly in the realm of Adult Contemporary rather than Hot 100 Pop.

“Sexy Love Affair,” one breathy highlight from the record, showcases the singer’s vocal versatility. “So sweet, you got what I need / You make me dizzy,” Coyle croons on high above the piano-infused, jumpy up-tempo melody. As with the record as a whole, even when Nadine goes the ‘sexy’ route a la “Sexy Love Affair” or “Red Light,” the end result is uncompromisingly sophisticated, making earlier Aloud cuts like “Watch Me Go” seem utterly crass in retrospect.

Beyond the traditional belters, Coyle dabbles into somewhat experimental territory. The falsetto-laden “Unbroken” is a major moment for the ex-Alouder. “You’re free to make me believe you’re mine, but please be kind,” Coyle whispers above a warped landscape of atmospheric guitar strums and funky, glimmering electronica.

If this country-tinged foray can be compared to anything, it’s ex-Sugababes member Siobhan Donaghy‘s incredibly underrated sophomore 2007 effort, Ghosts–a major compliment coming from any fellow Brit Pop nerd.

As for a second single (if the Insatiable campaign survives long enough), it’s “Put Your Hands Up” that may be the one to beat for commercial success. A fun, horn-heavy up-tempo that plays nice with a healthy dose of electro beats, “Put Your Hands Up” isn’t exactly the stuff of Girls Aloud, but it’s probably the closest she’ll come to emulating the winning sound that propelled her to fame in the first place.

Coyle does have a tendency of waxing indulgent at times, diverting into cringe-worthy cliches and boring scale runs (noodling, as a friend of mine used to call it) on songs like “Make A Man Out Of You Yet” and “You Are The One.”

The latter, a sluggish, twangy ‘all natural’ kind of ballad, finds the singer spouting embarrassing lyrics about feeling safe in her own skin with her man: “I don’t even have to play it cool, I can be who I am in front of you,” she screeches at one point during the joyless ditty. It’s no “With You,” that’s for damn sure.

But where Coyle occasionally slips in lyricism, she recovers in delivery, as with one of the greatest cuts on the record, “Raw.” “You left me raw, I let you take it all,” Coyle painfully calls out during the song’s soaring chorus. If there’s a moment that truly spotlights Coyle’s showstopping vocals, it’s this one–a stunning high point on the album.

Sadly, the reason Nadine Coyle will (inevitably) flop in the Album Charts has nothing to do with the actual content of album. As a body of work, Insatiable is not only miles better than Cheryl’s from a technical standpoint, but a solid collection of soulful, sophisticated adult pop in its own right that would make for a strong debut from any new act.

But all that means nothing in the eyes (and ears) of the British public.

She’s sabotaged herself by rejecting her past, snubbing her former band-mates, and poo-pooing the dearly beloved pop project responsible for skyrocketing her into the limelight in the first place. Had she or her equally cocky manager been briefed with basic PR training prior to doing the rounds before her single’s release, “Insatiable” might have moved more than 117 physical copies in its first week.

As a result, Cheryl will continue to break records with her exercise in mediocrity (Messy Little Raindrops) and a pleasant persona, while Nadine will claw her way to the bottom of the charts with a stunning set of pipes and a grating diva ‘tude, proving that—for better or worse—talent doesn’t always dictate success.

Furthermore, despite Insatiable‘s quality, few songs from this record (and certainly none from Cheryl’s last two) even slightly hold a candle to the mighty flame that was The Aloud. God willing, the egos will subside and the girls will regroup once more to release something of actual substance.

Until then, there’s always a job waiting behind the counter at Nadine’s Irish Mist. I hear the burgers are incredible.

Insatiable was released today in the UK. (Tesco)

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