Proves, once and for all, that it's the quiet ones you need to keep an eye on.
Michael Cragg 2011
Being one-fifth of the UK's most successful girl band must have been a blast: performing in front of adoring crowds, getting to sing some amazing pop songs, and travelling the world with your best mates. What's not to love? But what if you were the member singled out as 'the ugly one', called a "rude ginger b****" by a member of Busted and a "sour-faced old cow" by one of the biggest DJs in the country, Chris Moyles. In an interview with The Observer in 2009, Nicola Roberts claimed not to remember that much of what happened between 2003 and 2007, a five-year period that represented over half of her time in the group.
Much of Cinderella's Eyes seems to deal with the fall-out of what went on in those years. Rather than mope, however, Roberts displays her new found confidence both in the lyrics and also in her singing voice. While her lines in Girls Aloud's songs would often become fan favourites – her "Hello, did you call me?" line in Whole Lotta History is particularly devastating – they were often performed in a voice that suggested she was afraid of scaring anyone. Here, however, that voice flits between defiance on the Diplo-assisted Beat of My Drum to broken on the funereal Sticks + Stones (sample lyric: "How funny that I was too young for so many things / Yet you thought I'd cope with being told I'm ugly"). There are moments, such as the "wah, wah, wah" lines on second single Lucky Day, when that voice can be a little grating, but these are minor quibbles.
This new-found confidence is also evident in the lyrics, which are chock full of personality. Whether dealing with relationship dramas on the sprightly Yo-Yo, or delivering defiant bon mots on Beat of My Drum and the title-track, Roberts has a way with a memorable one-liner, even squeezing a slightly unsavoury line about KY Jelly into the delirious Gladiator. Musically, the album manages to keep pace, from Lucky Day's riot of day-glo synths to the Metronomy-co-helmed and oddly structured I. The only time she falls flat is on Say It Out Loud, which is a little too generic by comparison.
After the disappointments of both Cheryl Cole albums and the MOR disaster that was Nadine Coyle's Tesco-released Insatiable, it's refreshing to find at least one Girls Aloud member willing to push the pop envelope. Cinderella's Eyes perhaps doesn't contain anything as unashamedly brilliant as some of the best Girls Aloud singles – it's too knotty and encumbered with score settling for that – but it does prove, once and for all, that it's the quiet ones you need to keep an eye on.