Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 51)
Now known as one of the UK’s preeminent pop innovators, the Sugababes had a rough start. Their debut album, One Touch
, is the only album released by the original line-up who, amongst reports of infighting, replaced member Siobhán Donaghy in 2001 with Heidi Range. Formed in 1998, all three original Sugababes members - Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena, and Siobhán Donaghy - were all barely teenagers. Along with assistance from producer Cameron McVey, the Sugababes wrote and recorded the entirety of One Touch
before they were even old enough to drive. Despite this, One Touch
’s deft blend of R&B, pop, and 2-step comes off mature and focused, it’s certainly aged but in a way that now seems charming instead of cheesy.
Debut singles and album openers don’t come much better than “Overload”. It’s a marvel of construction, patiently introducing it’s pieces so that each one generates more momentum until it sends the song careening into the bridge for a quick reset. Beginning with a bassline that could have been lifted from “White Rabbit”, some enigmatically weird sounds that could be marbles rolling around the bottom of a tin can before dropping some trip-hopped percussion and tambourine into the mix. By the song’s final chorus, “Overload” is filled with ghostly harmonies and arpeggiated synths while still maintaining an airy feel. It never quite feels as, well, overloaded as it could be and this restraint is what makes the song so prime for repeat listens. Lyrically, “Overload” is no slouch either. It tells the tale of an unfulfilled crush getting stressful but the trio don’t get angsty about it, it’s more of an exasperated little sigh than a full on pout. “Train comes, I don’t know it’s destination” goes the chorus, “It’s a one way ticket to a madman situation.” What train? Is it a literal train? If the Sugababes know, they’re not telling.
“Overload” towers over the rest of One Touch
, making the albums other highlights difficult to suss out. As a whole, One Touch
feels delightfully sultry but never inappropriately promiscuous. The juttery rhythms of “One Foot In” and “Same Old Story” contrast nicely with the Sugababes’ polished melodies while “One Touch” and “Lush Life” exude a warm, organic vibe that feels at odds with much of the hyper processed girl group music being produced at the time. The maudlin lyrics of “Look at Me” and “Soul Sound” are a bit much but neither ruins the general vibe of the record.
It would be reasonable to assume the rapid dissolution of the original Sugababes line up and the disappointing sales of One Touch
(Despite three top 20 singles including one top ten it debuted at a lowly 77) would be enough to end the group for good. Instead, the Sugababes quickly drafted a new member and got to work on their comeback effort. But even with the Sugababes now sealed reputation One Touch
remains a consistently engaging snapshot of turn of the decade pop music in the UK.