The Saturdays, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
M83, Koko, London
Can anyone tell The Saturdays apart? Can they sing? Does it matter? The basques are good, though
Sunday 12 July 2009
In pop, a little personality goes a long way. When it's forced – as it was with the Spice Girls and the five reductive, misogynist "characters" they were each allocated – it's an irritant. But when it shines through naturally, it's a joy. That, surely, isn't too much to ask.
Girls Aloud have got it right: just enough individual charisma bleeding through the group identity to make them distinguishable from one another. The same cannot be said of The Saturdays, the anodyne androids who supported them last year and who are slowly usurping them in 2009. Next to The Saturdays, Girls Aloud begin to resemble some fantasy supergroup comprising Cyndi Lauper, Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith, Kate Bush and Peaches, such is their utter anonymity.
Even their management must know this: the quintet, featuring two refugees from the disaster that was S Club Juniors, often have their outfits colour coded in videos because otherwise you'd forget who was who.
The footage of them larking about backstage, broadcast on the big screens, is as desperate a ploy as the "scream louder!" instructions on the same screen before the encores. When there's nothing about you that provokes genuine hysteria, I suppose you need to use artificial means: The Saturdays actually employ a street team to leave positive comments about them all over the internet, in return for signed singles and the like.
Now, I'm not one of those old hippy-crits who abhors manufactured pop on principle. Indeed, much of my favourite music dropped straight off the end of a well-oiled production line. It's just that this bunch doesn't give you anything to latch on to, personally or musically.
The Saturdays' strident adequacy is present in everything they do. They can just about hold a tune, in an eliminated-in-round-one X Factor sort of way. They can just about wiggle their hips and twirl their umbrellas and strut up and down a metal staircase in puffballs like the choreographer told them to, as long as the routine requires nothing too demanding. They're unarguably pleasant to look at, or at least, as pleasant as the girls you see draped over the latest Audi at any motor show. Every one of The Saturdays could be a part-time model, or an air hostess in the Sixties. Every one of The Saturdays would be the most beautiful girl in the room, depending on the room.
Sure, they conquer your attention in hold-ups and basques (having the advantage over the similarly attired Pussycat Dolls of not looking so much like retired Vegas hookers). I'm only human. I wonder whether the same can be said for these Stepford Teens (a generous description of 27-year-old Una Healy, I admit), who might have been created in a subterranean record company laboratory as the ultimate robo-girl group: five blandly attractive automatons who will never grow old, get too big for their boots, marry a footballer or go off the rails.
The lingerie-flashing video to which I refer, of course, is the Comic Relief single which gave them their biggest leg-up with their desecration of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough". And if you thought that was possibly the worst cover version of all time, it's only because you haven't heard them murder Frankie Valli's divine "Beggin'". Not to mention the karaoke futility of their covers medley: Rihanna's "Shut Up and Drive", Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" and Pink's "So What". Singing recent/current hits by their peers, who probably passed through the same venues last month or will do the month after? How bizarre.
Maybe it's because their own material is so lacklustre: chart pop ordinaire written to commission by Swedes. "Why Me, Why Now" is a passable Sixties pastiche, but their recent success hasn't bought songwriting quality: new tracks "One Shot" and "Wordshaker" are no improvement.
Maybe I'm missing the point. Pop-star worship is all about aspiration – "I could be that person" – and with The Saturdays, who could be any five random chav girls plucked from your local Primark, the fan doesn't even need to put in any effort. One moment tonight sums it all up. When Rochelle Wiseman, who'd been feeling ill, runs off backstage for a while, I realise that The Saturdays could replace her with almost anyone in the auditorium and no one would be the wiser.
The Nu-Gaze movement that's grown gradually this decade, centred on the Sonic Cathedral club night but reaching across the globe, would be a late Eighties/early Nineties revival were it not for the likes of M83.
Anthony Gonzalez's project, formed in the Côte d'Azur resort of Antibes back in 2001, has been building a growing body of fans by combining shoegaze guitar atmospherics with ambient electronica. A relatively obvious juxtaposition, but it's enough of a twist to hold the interest.
That said, Gonzalez breaks his act down by putting on a show of two halves. For the first, he's a solo knob-twiddler. For the second, he brings out a band (including the enchanting vocals of Morgan Kibby), straps on a guitar and performs material from M83's five albums which begins so gently that it's drowned out by chatter from the bar, and ends so powerfully that it overwhelms the senses.
So far, so generic. The difference between Nu-gaze 09 and Shoegaze 89 is this: when Anthony Gonzalez gazes down at his shoes, he'll mostly see the spaghetti tangle of computer cables.
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