We are, so common wisdom has it, in the midst of a golden era of British pop music. It's hard to see how such a time can exist, given that most of the joy in classic pop is in its unpredictability. The form has existed for half a century, and a buck-chasing lack of imagination has always coexisted with occasional stabs of unexpected ear-grabbing sonic invention. Yet this happens far less often than we are led to believe. Perhaps a golden era of British pop music marketing is more appropriate.
Girls Aloud, quite unexpectedly given their TV talent show origins, both confirm this fact and break the mould in often spectacular style. Of course, their success is the product of a Herculean behind-the-scenes effort from an army of stylists, pluggers and gurus – and Brian Higgins' song-writing team at Xenomania – but the fact that someone decided to maintain a degree of quality control accounts for much of their well-won credibility.
The opening few minutes of Girls Aloud's latest UK arena tour serves to define their place. Amid an ominous, thunder-cracking musical intro, the quintet are lowered from the ceiling to the stage on wires. Wind sweeps their hair and scarves, and the superheroine motif is hard to miss.
Perhaps overlooked by many of their teen fans is the crucifixion pose they strike on the way down, although loud support for Cheryl Cole suggest her tabloid martyrdom has only increased her iconic status for young women.
The show is subject to much the same conventions as any other big-budget pop spectacular, with floor-level fireworks, costume changes, a few long but crowd-pleasing ballads, and the odd large-scale set-piece to keep things fresh.
Yet, these all feel like window-dressing alongside the girls' force of personality. Even their between-song chatter is amusing. At one point Cole commiserates with Kimberley Walsh's playing through illness with an impressively unreconstructed "Kimberley's been vomiting all morning".
Elsewhere, Sarah Harding checks her tales of sunbathing sessions when she remembers the fair-skinned Nicola Roberts. "But doesn't she look beautiful, everyone?" she covers. Roberts shoots her a dagger look.
There is sass to match. Not, admittedly, in the slushy balladry of "Whole Lotta History" and their cover of "I'll Stand By You", although these form part of an impressive set where a catwalk drawbridge to an underlit dancefloor at the hall's rear is lowered. This part also cleverly co-opts Robyn's "With Every Heartbeat", one of the best pop songs of recent times not performed by Girls Aloud.
Far better are the bolshy disco floor-fillers, as "Wake Me Up", "Call The Shots" and a cover of Salt 'n' Pepas' "Push It", see the girls show off sequin dresses, corsetry, and NuRave fluoro leotards while cavorting with a procession of pneumatic male dancers.
The only black marks come with "Love Machine" which is spoiled by muted sound and "Biology" that's only just saved from a dreadful swing jazz interlude. Yet, Girls Aloud remain confidently the only pop show in town.