Music To Make Boys Cry is one of those rare instances when a pop star gets it just right.
Diana Vickers, if you’re not already familiar, is a Season 5 X Factor UK alum — but don’t hold that against her. Like so many British reality TV pop exports (hi, One Direction!), Diana quickly went on to become a bonafide pop star in her own right, effectively scrubbing “former reality TV talent show contestant” from the records.
Her debut, 2010’s gorgeous Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree, saw the singer wrapping her signature raspy vocals around ’80’s-tinged electro-pop tunes and quivering indie-folk ballads with the finesse of a seasoned pro, channeling shades of Ellie Goulding and Kate Bush while doing so.
A little over a year later, the singer dropped the dreamy synth-pop title track from her upcoming record — err, and her record label. But all was not lost: Soon after, Vickers began to tour with her new material and carve out the remainder of the record alongside Donkeyboy producer Simen Eriksrud and his wife, singer-songstress Simone Larsen, as well as former Scritti Politti member and current pop producer for the likes of Ke$ha and Kelly Clarkson, David Gamson.
Oh yes, and the entire album was co-written by Miranda Cooper.
Familiar? If you’re a pop nerd, you should be: As a founding member of UK power pop production house Xenomania, Miranda is responsible for penning every single one of Girls Aloud‘s singles, including “Sound Of The Underground,” “Biology,” “Call The Shots” and “The Promise.” She also wrote the Sugababes‘ “Round Round,” “Red Dress” and “Ace Reject,” The Saturdays‘ “All Fired Up,” Rachel Stevens‘ “Funny How,” Amelia Lily‘s “You Bring Me Joy” and Kylie‘s “Giving You Up” — the list goes on and on. She’s truly one of the greatest pop songwriters of all time — and she co-write this entire record.
As a result, Music To Make Boys Cry is essentially a Xenomania-produced record in 2013, full of gorgeous melodies and sticky hooks. It isn’t a major departure from her debut, but it is a more cohesive and self-assured experience, taking the flirty, coquettish electro-coos of her first album and elevating them into lush new territory.
The album’s lead single “Cinderella,” which was released back in July this year (stalling at the bottom of the UK Singles Chart, sadly), is fairly representative of the album as a whole: Glittering, Robyn-esque Swedish electronica, fanciful, breathless lyricism and a cutesy, girlish charm. “For you I would lose both of my shoes!”
“Dead Heat” is probably the album’s most immediate win (and a personal favorite): Co-penned alongside Rachel Moulden (who also wrote Leona Lewis‘ “Stop The Clocks”), the stunning devotional sparkles with a solid electronic strut and one of the smartest pop hooks of the year: “It’s not a matter of life and death, but if I had to choose between love and breath / I’d sacrifice the sun, I wouldn’t have to think / Forever’s a hell of a long time without you.” Quite an intense declaration — and also incredibly infectious.
Diana was clearly in a French state of mind while recording (“Party in France?” as Britney might say), given that she wandered into international territory not once, but twice with “Boy In Paris” and the sensationally chic, silly “Better In French,” a cheeky ode to l’amour in Paris. “Later on, we were kissing in the night / Wearing nothing but Coco No. 5,” she seductively swoons. Between the breathy flutters (“Doo-do-do-do!“) and the cheeky foreign tongue talk (“Parlez-vous français?“), “Better In French” may very well be the best song Kylie never recorded — and a sultry follow-up to the Almighty Aloud’s “Can’t Speak French.” (The phrase “disco dancing at the center Pompidou” deserves at least several Grammy nominations.) Oui oui!
The latter song, which leaked well over a year ago in full, is no less spectacular today. Gliding atop a solid, Eurythmics-lite stomp and a modern gloss, Diana dives into butterfly-inducing deliriousness after a perfect night out on the town, dancing in the dark with a nameless boy in Paris. “Didn’t catch his name, but it didn’t even matter,” she excited croons. Appropriately, the stars also aligned for this track — an almost objectively perfect pop track.
But the album isn’t all hearts, rainbows and Cinderella’s fairytales: The album’s stunning ballad “Smoke” is a haunting centerpiece that provides a surprisingly heavy dose of depression — and a strong sense of denial: “If I cry, it’s not because my heart is broke / It’s only ’cause the smoke got in my eyes,” she belts out above a hypnotic, slow-chugging haze of electronica. It’s not only an album highlight, but a great example of how classic balladry can still manage to coexist in this post-EDM landscape.
The anguish, however, is short-lived: The album is largely lovey-dovey. “Mr. Postman” is like an alluring 21st century update to The Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr. Postman,” successfully toeing the line between hilarious, technologically savvy one-liners and breezy ’60’s pop perfection: “Technology is kinda boring me,” she confesses across the slow-strutting beat. “One click away every day don’t leave no paper trail.” See, she doesn’t want your digital lovin’— she wants something more physical. “Just one lick and we’re gone — sign, seal me with a kiss.” Someone get this girl a stationary set, stat! Also: “Don’t mean we’re lovers just because you follow me on Twitter.” Pop lyric of the year? Methinks yes.
“Mad At Me” offers the most ‘tude on the record, an ’80’s-tastic burst of funky energy that sees Diana cheekily pleading for forgiveness from her sweetheart after some bad behavior. “I promise it was just one kiss, baby!” she begs above blasts of horns and kicky drums. “So are you mad at me?” C’mon. How could you be mad at that face?
“Blame Game” may very well be the “Call The Shots” (Girls Aloud reference!) of the record. It’s also among some of the best pop offerings of the year. “I’ve got an addiction to the friction when you rub me the wrong way,” she purrs on the deceptively dreamy production. Despite how sweet those melodies are, Diana’s struggling to keep it together: “I’m crazy for your kiss, but it comes at such a risk,” Vickers sings on the heaven-sent chorus, built up with gorgeous electronica and echoing vocals, armed with the kind of hook that could only come straight from the hallowed halls of the Xenomania cottage.
Ignore the fact that she’s nowhere to be found on the charts: Music To Make Boys Cry is the Kylie/Rachel Stevens/Girls Aloud album you didn’t get this year. And, judging by its barely-there Top 40 chart debut on the UK album charts this week, it’s also going to be the year’s most cruelly under-appreciated gems.
Seriously, it’s up there with other sparkling mid-naughties electro-pop productions, including the Almighty Aloud’s What Will the Neighbours Say? and Holly Valance‘s State of Mind — even Rachel Stevens’ immaculate Come & Get It (one of the best pop albums, period) comes to mind.
Don’t miss out.
‘Music To Make Boys Cry’ was released on September 17. (iTunes)