British pop music is in limbo. Sugababes are now a laughing stock having finally disposed of their last remaining original member. Girls Aloud are on a break with all of the members exploring new projects, as the jargon goes for ‘having a crack at a solo career’. There is, as they no doubt plotted in the Fascination meeting room, a ‘gap in the market’.

The Saturdays are arguably the brightest pretenders to the Aloud’s pop crown. Formed from a couple of former S Club Juniors and some other girls that can sing a bit, it might not have been the most auspicious start to a music career, but getting to do last year’s Comic Relief track was a huge profile boost for the quintet.

Obviously they don’t play instruments, or write lyrics (Deeper is the only track on Wordshaker in which the girls have any writing credit, and the cynic in me doubts that was more than a couple of words or a key change), so all its really fair to judge the girls on is their voices, which, for the most part, are good.

But the fact remains that there is a lot of filler on Wordshaker. It contains maybe three really good songs, two decent ones, and a string of sub-average ones. And there’s nothing here that suggests the band are anywhere near ready to make the step up in British pop’s dog-eat-dog hierarchy. Pop songs have to be memorable, have that killer hook or final refrain with a key change that lives long in the memory. And though the Saturdays often seem to be on the brink of making that breakthrough, it doesn’t quite happen on Wordshaker.

Annoyingly, the album is hugely American-influenced. The enunciation is often frustratingly wrong-side-of-the-Atlantic and downright cringeworthy; “wan shat”, “wit chu”, “nat good enaf” and so on. Girls, you’re British. Don’t be ashamed of it. And the backing tracks are usually rent-a-beat electro-pop affairs designed with dancefloor remixes heavily in mind, and the ballads are mostly just wallpaper. They’re there, but you can’t honestly say anybody notices them.

Also weirdly, both the lead single Forever Is Over (which just makes no sense) and probable next single Wordshaker tail off weakly after bright starts. It’s too daytime radio. A big, bold finish to the song would make it stand out. As it is, it meekly wanders off with its tail between its legs so Scott Mills or whoever can ladle his banal chit-chat over the last few seconds.

There are moments of quality though. Denial has the odd bit of sumptuous harmony vocal work, Here Standing is their best ballad so far and 2am is as good as anything on the album despite just being tacked on thoughtlessly as a bonus track.

Like Girls Aloud, the most prominent member is of Irish extraction. But Una Healy’s voice lacks the range, power and punch of Nadine Coyle, and none of the other girls provide any more than an interesting distraction in the background. She’s also,unexplained, a few years older than the others, which for some reason bothers me. It’s as if she’s babysitting them through the album and indeed their careers, and when they reach their peak, she’ll sod off and have a crack on her own and leave them to it.

X Factor reject Mollie King (the rah blonde one), Frankie Sandford (the short-haired S Club one) and Rochelle Wiseman (the other one from S Club Juniors/8) don’t seem to there for any other reason other than window dressing, and although youngest and poutiest member Vanessa White does show off an impressive warbling range on a few occasion and takes the lead more than on their first album Chasing Light, her voice lacks that certain something to make it stand out. And a cursory glance at Youtube reveals suspicion over their actual talent is warranted; they all struggle in a live setting.

But Wordshaker is a decent record, although it suffers from being over-polished in the production studios like many pop albums. I’d love to see a British pop group be brave and release something raw and powerful, with no unnecessary sheen added. I want to see someone ignore the tiresome r ‘n’ b sound from America and try to create something new. But the Saturdays were always going to be too manufactured to be that band.

It might not pick them up many new fans, but it secures them their place on the shoulder of Girls Aloud, although they still look a long way off taking their crown as Britain’s premier girl group.


This review was written for TMM.