Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pop Corner: Nicola Roberts - Cinderella's Eyes

So, I don't know what they do up in England, but I guess their answer to the U.S.'s Pussycat Dolls is Girls Aloud (or maybe vice versa. Anyway,) One of the group's former members Nicola Roberts premiered her debut solo album Cinderella's Eyes around autumn of 2011. By mainstream pop standards, the album and its singles flopped, which is a real shame. Because it's probably one of the best of the genre this year.

The opener "Beat of My Drum" starts with "Once upon a time..." (Just like a fairy tale! How appropriate!) as she goes into some autobiographical account of her career like  she "had no beat" but was "learning quick." And then became awesome ("See how strong you made me now"), chanting "L O V E," (not as hard to spell as "bananas," but just as catchy) and telling us to dance, which is perfectly fine with me, because this song is pretty fun. The beat, made by the Diplo, pounds like crazy with a drumline and glitchy vocal samples. Roberts' voice sounds crazy processed in the verses, but as the chorus rolls in it's nearly negligible and it's hard to not dance to the beat of her drum. The next song is "Lucky Day" and it's produced by Dragonette and has that same polish and quality of their usual work, so it's just as delightfully infectious as the opener. Things kind of slow down with "Yo-Yo," but not in a bad way. Turns out Roberts co-wrote all the original songs and I'm pretty impressed; she knows how to make some good hooks. This momentum carries on through the pulsing title track and thumping "Porcelain Heart," which features the album's strongest vocal display toward the end.

So then there's "i," with its Middle Eastern-influenced introduction and laundry list of things Nicola fears, hates, and hopes for, both personally and socially. It's fairly reminiscent of Lily Allen's vague commentary on It's Not Me, It's You--and about as uncertain as how to solve the problems she brings up. The cover of The Korgis' "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime," feels a bit too safe yet overproduced. However, in context of the album, it fits well enough. "Say It Out Loud" follows, and is a call to attention to whoever is insecure and faking and junk to let it all out. Nice role model, this Nicola Roberts. "Fish Out of Water" lives up to its name as being one of the strangest songs on Cinderella's Eyes. Its introduction is enough to catch you off guard, but it's interesting for sure and is quite a grower. Roberts expressed she wanted to work with Kate Bush on the album, and it's clear this song is her (slightly flawed) attempt at capturing her idol's style.

"sticks + stones" is the lullaby-esque closer to the album. Where she talks about being bullied and crying alone, taken from her experience from being in the public eye at the age of 17 and faced with harsh criticism she hadn't anticipated ("Too young to buy my own bottle of vodka...yet you thought I'd cope with being told I was ugly"). But talks herself (and the listener) up by saying "Don't surrender, don't you change" and assures she's strong enough to take whatever negative criticism she gets ("Your bullets, I don't feel them, come and fire at me"). Of all the pop songs we've heard in the past few years about being a fuckin' perfect firework who was born this way, "sticks + stones" feels like the most sincere out of all of them.

And despite all the setbacks chronicled on Cinderella's Eyes, it never feels like a whinefest: every time she's knocked down, Roberts comes back up and dares you to take another shot at her persistent self-esteem. In tracks like "Take a Bite" and "Gladiator" she snaps back; the latter having some of the fiercest verses of the album. The attitude alone is the perhaps the most refreshing thing about Cinderella's Eyes: she shows her vulnerability without exploiting it as seeming victimized while rocking a pugnacious playfulness against her detractors and not coming off as a self-righteous bitch. And most of all, I'm gonna have to give her props because she didn't make a song called "Swagger Jagger."


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