As much of a nuisance as a neighbour’s car alarm blaring away at 3am.
Mike Diver 2011-11-24
The Saturdays exist because nobody has bettered them yet. While the UK drowns in a tumultuous ocean of boybands like it was the early 90s all over again, we’ve not had a decent girl group to call our own since the second incarnation of the Sugababes crumbled in 2005 (Girls Aloud having peaked a year earlier with What Will the Neighbours Say?). This British-Irish five-piece have now made it to album three without registering a number one single – something Girls Aloud achieved at the first time of asking. Surely success at this level of pop can only be measured in chart triumphs, which leaves one asking: what are these girls doing wrong?
Nine top 10 singles is an impressive haul from three studio albums, On Your Radar included (All Fired Up peaked at three; Notorious at eight), yet that elusive number one must remain the target. But it’s hard to hear where it’s coming from. The tracks of On Your Radar lean towards chart-friendly clubber fare, blustery beats leaving the five voices without room to impose any character whatsoever. And that’s what’s really missing from this group: personality. That they look like Stepford Wives robots on the cover doesn’t do anything to alleviate this problem – but in the music itself, not one of these perfectly accomplished vocalists makes a tune their own. These are wholly interchangeable voices, pitch-shifted with painful regularity; get any half-decent singer involved and the results would be the same. By the halfway mark, a sorry Travie McCoy collaboration by the name of The Way You Watch Me, the listener is desperate for someone to grab a track and make something more of it than a lip gloss advert sync in waiting.
The ballad Wish I Didn’t Know stands out for its restraint; here, for a few minutes, a little passion can be detected in the vocals. They’re showy in a minor league Mariah Carey style, where a little less might’ve conveyed rather more – but at least the senses aren’t being pulverised by demo-function dance beats. The simple piano-and-strings closer (bar a pair of bonus tracks) Last Call is another highlight – without the clutter of digital percussion around them, these girls prove they can hold a note as well as peers past and present. But the incessant noise of so much of On Your Radar makes it as much of a nuisance as a neighbour’s car alarm blaring away at 3am. It’s an unforgiving listen which aims to attract the nightclubbing crowd at the expense of its central performers’ more appealing comfort zones. Out there on the dancefloor, every one of this album’s foibles is illuminated by the brightest lights.