Tags: Electro, Electronic, Girls Aloud, Music, Nicola Roberts, Pop, Review
- Beat Of My Drum
- Lucky Day
- Cinderella’s Eyes
- Porcelain Heart
- Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
- Say It Out Loud
- Fish Out Of Water
- Take A Bite
- sticks + stones
Nicola Roberts has always been in the shadows compared to her fellow Girls Aloud members. Labeled the ugly one of the group, she has endured a lot of scrutiny for her appearance and struggled with her pale skin. She admitted that the criticism about her looks caused her to break down in tears and led her to use sunless tanning products. It wasn’t until their fifth studio album, Out Of Control, where she started to feel comfortable about herself. In 2010, news of her working on a solo project surfaced and she released her first single earlier this year. Nicola has a distinct, quirky style and it makes Cinderella’s Eyes the most interesting release of the year.
The Diplo produced Beat Of My Drum opens the album and it took some time for me to warm up to it. The beat is pure gold. Like its title implies, it’s filled with infectious drum beats and wacky synths. Nicola wanted to release something that stood out amongst the other releases and she really came through. The beat is fresh, vibrant and I love how the lyrics relate to her background position in Girls Aloud, “once upon a time I pressed rewind/two left feet, I had no beat/baby in the corner learning quick/keep up, keep up, keep up/graduation take a bow/see how strong you’ve made me now.” The pre-chorus has Nicola sounding slightly weird but her intonation works and she exudes confidence. The main problem I had with the song was its chorus because it was so different from the spoken verses and I thought it was a bit annoying. It features cheerleader-like chanting and it’s repetitive, “L.O.V.E/dance to the beat of my drum/dance to the beat of my drum,” but the melody is sick and it sounds much better in the context of the album. The chorus has a vibrant feel that really grows on you after a while. Rapid drums close the chorus and a hot marching breakdown invades during the bridge. Coming from Nicola, this is such an unexpected song and it certainly packs a punch. Lucky Day is a 60s swing-like tune mixed with a savory London air. “Could it be my lucky day?” she happily echoes in the intro and with a piano and bass beat, Nicola wastes no time in showcasing her unique voice. Her “woah, woah, woah, woahs,” are a bit unsettling at first but the fact that her tone is so different makes it strangely interesting. Clapping beats are added in the pre-chorus and she flows with the beat infectiously. The chorus is delightful, turned bubbly by dance synths and Nicola’s optimistic vocal delivery, “you told me so what do you say?/are you gonna take this golden opportunity?/won’t you give it to me, because you’ve got what I want/maybe it’s my lucky day.” I love the bridge due to her strong singing and I can’t get over how awesome her voice is. She recapitulates the intro before the climatic final chorus and it feels more magical than it did before.
Yo-Yo is more commercial than the previous songs but that doesn’t detract from its brilliance. Made up of a piano and percussion beats, the verses are sweet as are Nicola’s vocals. The song’s beauty comes out during the chorus where it shifts into a club beat and she uses the analogy of a yo-yo to describe her feelings towards someone. What I adore about the chorus is that her voice mimics the ups and downs of a yo-yo, “don’t want to be the last to know oh oh oh/will it be a yes or no oh oh oh?/you swingin’ me up/you swingin’ me down/I feel like a yo-yo yo-yo yo-yo.” It’s addicting and Nicola sounds flawless. The bridge marks the first time she uses her falsetto and it’s stunning. I love a good high register and she has a captivating one. The pulsing synths compliment her tone and there’s so much frustration in her voice, “all of the things you sayin’/I’m hangin’ on you everyday/all of the things you promised/I’m tryin’ so hard to make it work.” All in all, it’s a huge favourite of mine. The title track, Cinderella’s Eyes, references a variety of fairy tales but only for Nicola to declare, “no more pretending/there’s happy endings/you gotta make one, make one.” With some disco elements, a heavy backbeat and angelic vocals, what more could you ask for? She employs a high tone for the chorus and it’s ridiculously catchy, “where did you go?/what did you see?/Cinderella’s eyes/what did you do?/where did you sleep?/underneath the sky.” The post-chorus slows down for Nicola to impress with her falsetto again, it’s even higher than the last song, and it’s more dazzling. In addition, Nicola’s humour adds a playfulness that easily puts a smile on your face, “ginger bread/man he tried to seduce me/off his head/I’m allergic to dairy.” It’s a fun way to dismantle the fairy tale allusions. Nicola speaks her way through the quirky synthesizers in the bridge and ends things with the climatic chorus.
Porcelain Heart is a standout tune and I fell for it instantly. Beginning with a pleasant pulse-like music box melody that has a haunting feel, the song leads to Nicola’s soft singing. Halfway into the verse a heartbeat bass appears and increases the tempo which flows right into the album’s most dramatic chorus, “as good as gold/a traded soul/but I wouldn’t change a single thing/my only friend/let’s dance again, but/please don’t break my porcelain heart.” It then breaks off into a synth section with Nicola repeating “heart” to the catchy dance beat. The second verse is better because the energy doesn’t die down and Nicola’s intonation is superb, especially when she begs “you shot her down don’t do that to me.” The final chorus starts off a bit slow but it builds up into a life-giving belt by Nicola that left me speechless. It’s a flawless ending for an epic song. i is one of the more unique songs and it’s beautifully honest. It’s very organic and its stripped-down guitar melody allows Nicola to lead with her vocals. Furthermore, there’s not really a structure to the song. There’s no defined verse or chorus. Nicola pretty much just expresses her fears with well-written lyrics, “I don’t like trophies, don’t like batman, don’t like bitchy girls/don’t think it’s healthy holding grudges that won’t save the world” and “I don’t like the people that leave comments on the Internet/they preach they’re perfect while they’re killing you with intellect/I don’t like that you won’t let me speak controversially/because you think that it won’t sit well universally.” It’s far from boring and Nicola throws in some falsetto to liven it up. There’s a dark tinge to the instrumental and it turns to a brighter atmosphere when the electronic aspects of the track take over and she repeats “I hope that one day we get the answers.” It’s a great track to get to know Nicola better and the deep lyrics are outstanding.
The cover of Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime by The Korgis seems to be the song that’s least enjoyed by listeners but I love it. I’ve only heard the original once and Nicola’s version is much more electronic. She makes it her own and it fits perfectly on the album. The song is made up of the same verse and chorus which are repeated three times. However, it doesn’t feel repetitive because the instrumentation changes each time. Starting with a piano, it then goes on to include a variety of synths that become more complex as they progress. Nicola opts for a deeper tone and she sounds stunning, especially during the verses, “change your heart/look around you/change your heart/it will astound you/I need your loving/uh, like the sunshine.” It’s quite simple but Nicola’s additions to it make for a very interesting listen. Say It Out Loud has a typical message about not holding things in but it’s so much fun. Her melodic vocals are joined by a fabulous synth and bass beat in the verses while the pre-chorus turns into a Hush Little Baby-like melody. The chorus is a blast of cool, magical synths and high-energy vocals, “all across the nation/put you hand up if you’re faking/say it out loud.” It has a mainstream appeal that makes it easily accessible compared to some of the other tracks. This is a contagious feel-good song that will have many people hooked.
I was anticipating Gladiator from the moment I previewed it. It’s an experimental, unique and daring piece of art. Opening with heavy beats, Nicola graces the listener with her eccentric falsetto, “ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong/falling down to London town.” The verses are led by hard synths and my favourite section is the pre-chorus because of how upbeat it is and how girly Nicola sounds. Moreover, the lyrical content is hilarious, fierce and witty. It’s the best written song on the album and with lines like “I had to call a fire man my hair was burning bridges/I’m shooting bullets from my chest I’m super woman bitches/and if my balls of steel have got stuck half way down your pipe/I got some KY, time to open open open wide” how can I not love it? The chorus could have been better because it’s a tad too repetitive but overall it’s a stomper and the highlight of the album. The middle eight’s roman air is haunting and perfectly fitting, “I’ve had enough/I’ve dusted off/and wiped my blood/on you.” Fish Out Of Water is an unusual mid-tempo and while it may not be Nicola’s strongest offering, it’s still a worthwhile listen. Filled with a dark and heavy synth line, Nicola’s soft voice contrasts nicely with it. Her voice is slightly drowned out by the production and it works with the concept of the song. It’s an oddball; however, it’s romantic and soothing, “I’m a day without the night (a day without the night)/a fish out of water/now you’ve left me and it’s like/a la-la-la lullaby.” The outro features speaking rather than singing and it’s really beautiful. “even, if I have to go alone/I’d rather that then let you go/so I’ll face the road unknown.”
Take A Bite begins with crazy synth beats, moans, and catchy monotone “lalalas” that lead into a funky, surfer-like guitar riff. Her vocals are playful, the beat is intoxicating and the lyrics are really enjoyable, “sit back and grab a cup of tea/I’m gonna kick your ass now in 3D.” It’s a song for the haters and it has a great uplifting feel to it, “get your teeth round this open wide/eyes bigger than your belly tonight/if you think you’re hard take a bite.” I love the shouting pre-chorus, “I’m gonna blow up,” because it leads up to the chorus really well. In the bridge, the crazy synths join Nicola for her rap and it’s one of the greatest things about this track, “called me a rude ginger bitch and say I bought bigger tits/they’re gonna eat all their words, they’re talking absolute shit.” In contrast to the opening track which was bright and upbeat, stick + stones is a depressing ballad about Nicola’s younger years and being labeled the ugly one from Girls Aloud, “couldn’t you tell lies to me?/couldn’t you say I’m pretty?” A haunting piano fills the track with a gloomy air that becomes tragic when her raw, hurt vocals enter. It’s so emotional, heartbreaking, touching and it’s so personal which makes the effect even stronger. “Bet that you think that you’re on your own/and you’ve no one’s hand to hold/sticks and stones/hurt just a little,” Nicola angelically sings, turning the song into an anthem for all people feeling down. The bridge is incredible. It’s so honest and she pours her heart out. I’ve read that some people find the flow jarring but I love how it resembles a diary-like stream of thoughts, “too young to buy my own bottle of vodka/so I’d beg the driver please I need another/how funny that I was too young for so many things/yet you thought I’d cope with being told I’m ugly/over and over I’d read it believe it/said no to the shrink I can fix me I think.” The final chorus is given a ray of hope and it’s so beautiful. This is a remarkable ballad and it’s a fantastic way to conclude the album.
Conclusion: Cinderella’s Eyes is truly an outstanding and risky release for a pop star like Nicola. Despite being from a mainstream girl group, she brings the quirkiest music I’ve heard all year. It’s cohesive, emotional, fun, insightful and personal. In Girls Aloud, she was relegated to the sidelines but on her own, she shines brighter than any of the other girls. Her album is beyond the material she worked with in Girls Aloud and the fact that she co-wrote everything on the album gains her major points. I’m surprised by how unique her voice is and it makes me wonder why she never got the chance to show her range in the group. Nicola wanted to make an album that was risky and wouldn’t necessarily equate to commercial success. She definitely achieved that and I hope she gets the success because she deserves it. Every song is special and has something that draws you in. Her personality shines throughout and the lyrics are so witty. Who would have thought that the underdog would have the best solo material and one of the best albums of the year?
Recommended Tracks: Gladiator, sticks + stones, Porcelain Heart, Yo-Yo, Cinderella’s Eyes, Lucky Day, i and Take A Bite