‘Sound Of The Underground’: Girls Aloud’s Triumphant Pop Debut

A bold, experimental gem that announced the arrival of one of the biggest pop groups of the 2000s.

Published on

Girls Aloud Sound of the Underground album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Polydor

Girls Aloud shattered expectations when they first arrived on the scene. At the time, there was an assumed supremacy of boy bands around landing Christmas No 1’s in the UK. But Girls Aloud beat rivals One True Voice at the conclusion of a TV talent show battle, and this early triumph “against the odds” would go on to largely define the girl group across the next glorious decade.

The song that secured that first victory – “Sound of the Underground” – had been written, originally in a drum and bass style, by maverick production team Xenomania. Picked in early heats of the TV contest, as the show whittled down young hopefuls into two rival boy and girl bands, the track sat outside the perceived wisdom that a saccharine ballad would prove a safer public choice. “Sound of the Underground” is anything but that. It’s a lairy electropop stomper, certainly influenced by 1998 innovative club banger “Addicted To Bass” by Josh Abrahams (AKA Puretone) and Amiel Daemion, and as unusual a festive chart-topper as you can imagine in a market where the winner of that annual seasonal singles race really matters.

Order the 20th anniversary of Girls Aloud’s Sound of the Underground now.

The unexpected scale of the hit – it sold more than 600,000 copies in the UK and was a success in other European markets – meant there was an immediate problem: What next? The five young women – Cheryl (then known as Cheryl Tweedy, before she became so famous she was identified just by her first name), Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts, and Kimberley Walsh – had to fight to establish themselves as a credible ongoing concern. “Kimberly was the boss,” recalls record label boss Colin Barlow. “She used to have a clipboard…. Now, when I look at bands, I’m like: ‘Who is the Kimberley’?’” The band may have been manufactured in the sense they were assembled on a TV show, but everything from then on was much more authentic.

Girls Aloud - Sound Of The Underground (Alternative Vocal Mix)

Click to load video

Xenomania came up with an arguably even better song for the second single. “No Good Advice” is a dirty, electroclash mashup of any number of Blondie hits, Franz Ferdinand, and The Knack’s “My Sharona.” It is dripping in attitude, almost as if the five-piece were sticking their fingers up at the naysayers. Inevitably, commercial pressure would force some creative compromise – the relationship with Xenomania (who would go on to helm the band’s sonic strategy) was building but there simply wasn’t time for them to produce the whole of the first album. Sound Of The Underground, released in May 2003 alongside “No Good Advice,” featured just six of the team’s tracks (including majestic ballad “Life Got Cold,” issued as the third single, and the slick, indie-spirited “Some Kind Of Miracle”) before a later reissue that year added more (including the band’s hit cover of The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” from Love, Actually).

Girls Aloud - Jump (Official Music Video)

Click to load video

Despite the rush, a delightful vein of experimentation took hold across the 13 tracks on the original edition of the record, with a host of go-to 00s pop producers and writers, such as Betty Boo and Graham Stack, contributing. “Mars Attack” is a kooky, B52s-inspired nugget, while clubbier cuts such as “Girls Allowed” (laced with an of-the-moment Groovejet-influenced production shuffle) butt up against more familiar R&B-lite fare like “Don’t Want You Back and Stop.”

On the glacial “White Lies” and spirited UK bonus track “Love Bomb,” you can tell this group shines when the pop rule books are ripped up. Brian Higgins and Xenomania would steer everything that was to follow with Girls Aloud, creating a catalogue of pop classics such as “Love Machine” and “The Promise,” but there’s a reason why Girls Aloud emerged as one of the most critically and commercially acclaimed acts of this generation. The winning formula was being perfected on Sounds Of The Underground, a bold, experimental pop gem.

Order the 20th anniversary of Girls Aloud’s Sound of the Underground now.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

uDiscover Music - Back To Top
uDiscover Music - Back To Top