Girls Aloud, O2 Arena, London

Pop queens fulfil their promise
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The Independent Culture

Well, it isn't the most auspicious of starts. As the opening bars to the recent number-one single, "The Promise", play out, Kimberley, Sarah, Nadine and Nicola gracefully rise out of the floor on individual hydraulic podiums and into the air wearing some magnificent white gowns. Cheryl Cole, however, is left peering out over the stage, her platform evidently experiencing some sort of mechanical failure. Ever the professionals, the girls carry on, with the Vogue cover star and FHM's recently crowned "sexiest woman in the world" doing her solo with just the top of her face showing. Of course, this only makes the crowd love Cheryl even more.

Cheryl favouritism aside (she gets the loudest screams for her solos all night), Girls Aloud are an impressive package. That rare breed of commercial and critical success, they're the manufactured pop band that it's OK to like. Twenty consecutive Top Ten singles, two Number One albums and a recent Brit Award for Best British Single all point to them being one of the most successful girl bands this country has ever seen.

It is, perhaps, an older crowd than expected at London's O2. While there are hundreds of little girls in pink cowboy hats, accompanied by Dad, of course ("no, darling, I insist: I'll take the girls to the concert"), the majority of the audience is made up of twenty- and thirtysomething women, and the arena in danger of descending into one giant, hellish hen party.

The set itself is merciless as outfit changes and routines come at you so fast, it's hard to keep up. The show is roughly divided into four sections, each with its own look: glam, retro, dominatrix and street. Some of the dance routines are impressive but they can get a bit repetitive. There are only so many times the girls can do their signature move of striking different poses in unison before it looks a bit boring. And it doesn't help that five giant screens behind them continually show the girls, well, striking different poses in unison. Their other favourite move appears to be bending over with a cheeky face that says, "oops, can you see my knickers?" Hardly anything too inspired. Some of the set pieces are so tacky as to be laughable. Their dominatrix look and dance routines accompanied by blindfolded topless hunks has the air of that really appalling fantasy art featuring busty babes on unicorns once found in Athena.

Nonetheless, they have more than enough impressive tricks to delight. Flying over the audience on a platform throwing gold glitter seems enough of a gimmick to satiate even the hardest to please in the audience. And the two- hour show reminds you of the staggering number of great pop songs in their back catalogue.

However, even with the slick production and frenzied costume changes, the crowd appear to be a little reserved for a pop concert. Sure, they all scream when they're asked to but it never turns into the one big party one might have expected. Their two best hits, "Biology" and "Something Kinda Ooh", get everyone dancing, but it's the endless playing out of lesser-known tracks off the latest album, Out of Control, that seems to be suppressing the crowd.

Some of their biggest hits are relegated to one-minute snippets in the megamix encore, including "No Good Advice", "Can't Speak French" and "Jump (For My Love)" that the crowd goes crazy for. Perhaps they would have been wise to play these out in full, rather than unfamiliar and lacklustre album tracks such as "Rolling Back the Rivers in Time" and "Love Is Pain". Covers of James Morrison's "Broken Strings" and Britney's "Womanizer" get the crowd going too, suggesting that everyone just wants songs that they can sing along to. Still, it's a most entertaining night out and the five girls make it look like they might have the most fun job in the world. Let's hope there's no truth in those pesky rumours of splitting for solo careers. For together, they are quite a sight.