Nicola Roberts – Gladiator
When the lads down at CERN have finished with that Hadron Collider business they might want to turn their attention to more pressing matters, namely the inexplicable commercial failure of Nicola Roberts’ first solo album.
Even now it doesn’t make sense. Everything Girls Aloud released instantly nestled in the upper reaches of the charts, and bandmate Cheryl Fernandez-Versini had managed some big hits with material that was clearly inferior to that of The Aloud. So when Nicola Roberts released lead single Beat of My Drum, a brilliantly bonkers call to arms with a chorus you couldn’t help but shout along to, the stage looked set. However, Beat of My Drum limped to no.27 and the follow up, Lucky Day, managed a solitary week at no.40.
It’s the world’s loss. Roberts’ album, Cinderella’s Eyes, was full of catchy tunes, wit and intelligence and was packed with songs that in a parallel universe (with some actual JUSTICE) could have been massive hits. It was also disarmingly frank, with ruminations on the nature of fame, the difficulties it brings and the abuse Roberts has suffered due to the colour of her hair.
Any of Cinderella’s Eyes’ non-charting tracks could have been chosen for an Into the Popvoid feature, but Gladiator is the most brash and thrilling. It starts like Gwen Stefani’s What You Waiting For?, but powered by steroids and with sledgehammers for drums, before breaking into a deliciously half-whispered verse that promotes Roberts’ rebel credentials.
Really though, what makes it such a shame that this song in particular was never a hit is the lyrics. Gladiator is so brilliantly in your face you can’t help but smile. It shows a woman owning her own sexuality (“I’m in the middle of a man, I’ll have to call you later”) but in a way that’s so rare in pop these days, where any display of sexuality seems clinically choreographed. It shows strength and defiance in the face of adversity (“I had to call a fireman, my hair was burning bridges / I’m shooting bullets from my chest, I’m Superwoman, bitches”) and, best of all, an aggressiveness which is, let’s be honest, complete filth (“If my balls of steel have got stuck halfway down your pipe / I’ve got some KY, time to open, open, open wide”`).
Had it been released as a single and received the backing it deserved, Gladiator could have been an anthem. It promotes being who you are while taking no prisoners, but in a way that’s a million times more fun than countless self-indulgent, mawkish ballads. A second Nicola Roberts album is long awaited – hopefully it’ll get the attention it merits this time.
Entered chart: Did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Charli XCX is the confrontational pop star du jour, so her. In fact, Charli re-recording the whole of Cinderella’s Eyes and releasing it as her next record is a pretty exciting idea.
The public’s bewildering indifference to La Roberts’ solo work is, indeed, deeply disheartening, all the more so since it feels like a logical, if singular, extension of Xenomania’s formal playfulness (as opposed to Tweedy’s personality-free retreat into blandness).
The Scott Walker of Girls Aloud.