Harsh words may have been said on this blog about Nicola Roberts in the past, but in the eyes of THIS EQ writer, it has to be admitted that the project is going fairly well, thank you very much. I mean, with Cheryl Cole and Nadine Coyle currently our only other Girls Aloud solo effort benchmarks, it seems to me that Nicola is rating nice and highly in the grand scheme of things. And if you're still waiting for proof, "Cinderella's Eyes" can provide it.
It's never going to be easy breaking away from Britain's biggest girl group to go it alone, but if you must, at least have the balls to do something different. Out-and-out commercial pop may have worked for Cheryl, but as Coyle proved, doing it can be pretty damn tragic if you don't do it well.
Nicola has appeared to have found her niche. Her quirky, percussion-led alt-pop singles have been just on the right side of mainstream, and whilst they haven't set the world alight, there's certainly something to be said for the critical reaction the whole thing has garnered so far. With "Cinderella's Eyes", Roberts is starting something new, and we're very much interested.
We love albums that get their singles out of the way at the beginning, and opener "Beat of My Drum", whilst brilliant, doesn't really stand out as a record highlight. With its crowd-shouting chorus, remixed edginess and electro touches, "BoMD" is mercifully more than a sub-standard Girls Aloud track and has an attitude of its own.
Click below for the rest of our track-by-track review, or click here to download "Cinderella's Eyes" for yourself.
Second single, "Lucky Day" (video below), was more of a radio hit, and its lofty chorus and bombastic lyrics just about excuses its bizarre video. It shows Nicola's voice at its best; sweet when it needs to be, and powerful when it gets the chance. "Yo-yo" sounds like Roberts at her quirkiest – it's a piano-led, slower track, but that pesky percussion is still present and there's a satisfying chorus in there too. Good stuff.
Title track "Cinderella's Eyes" is quite a contrast: it sounds much more commercial but feels very much at home amongst its albummates ('Albummates'? Really? – Ed.). It'd be a great third single. "Porcelain Heart" isn't great, but continues in the more mature vein of "Cinderella's Eyes": 'as good as gold, a traded soul / but I wouldn't change a single thing.' Whilst it lacks any particularly stand-out melody, it's as brash as "Lucky Day" and certainly deserves its place.
"i" seems to be the album's mission statement – its relentless riff and repetitive verse lend the heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics a bit more weight: 'I don't like people who leave comments on the internet / they preach they're perfect while they're killing you with intellect.' Crikey. I feel bad now.
"Everybody's Got To Learn Sometimes" is another piano track with tough messages. It continues with the earnest lyrics of the previous – it's in danger of getting preachy here – but the vulnerability of Roberts' voice permits a little faux sobriety.
With "Say It Out Loud", the whole project sounds a little like Nicola is trying – and trying too hard – to justify her own existence, but the music backing it all up is still undeniably brilliant, and so there's no choice but to allow her all the righteousness. "Gladiator" lifts things with a burst of new-found rhythm and airy synth, with that relentlessly marching drumline making a return with bolshier-than-ever-before vocals. It's pretty much the album's masterpiece – it's made for fans of credible electro, and for once doesn't need poppers to be appreciated.
"Fish Out of Water", as you can tell by the title, is another heart-open soliloquy: 'I'm a day without the night, a fish out of water'. It's the album's most surreal moment, but is a welcome new dimension. "Take a Bite" reprises the drums and wailing of "Beat of My Drum"; even though this isn't the final track, it does feel like an encore for the album. Lyrics like 'Get your teeth round this, open wide' are exactly what we need from Nicola; this is Roberts enjoying herself, and we're right alongside her.
"sticks + stones", despite being objectionable on the punctuation front, is pretty grandiose and generally brilliant: 'Wouldn't it be wrong if we're all the same / don't surrender, don't you change'. With its music-box ending winding everything down, we're aware that we've just had a pretty enjoyable forty-three minutes.
It's a forty-three minutes which is assured, interesting, entertaining, surprising, and most of all, encouraging. Any Girls Aloud fan wants the five to keep doing well, but there's no room for apologising for sub-standard music. With "Cinderella's Eyes", we can confidently say that Roberts deserves continued success, and has done her bit to earn it. 8/10.
Preorder or download "Cinderella's Eyes" by Nicola Roberts from iTunes here.