Stooshe London With The Lights On(Warner) Buy it from Insound
Two years is a long time in pop music. For example, the first British reality show pop group, Hear’Say, had managed to form, break sales records, record and release two albums, replace a founder member, and split up, all in the space of nineteen months. Thus, the fact that Stooshe first came onto the scene back in the spring of 2011 and are only now releasing their debut album makes them appear comparatively lacklustre in their approach.
Back in those heady days of 2011, Stooshe seemed like a breath of fresh air. A trio of brash and hyper-confident women with the take-no-prisoners attitude of first album vintage Spice Girls and a sound steeped in 90s American girl bands like En Vogue and SWV, but with their own London-centric stamp. They had two calling cards: Betty Woz Gone was mainly known for its appropriation of Will Smith’s Fresh Prince Of Bel Air rap, and Fuck Me for its… well, it was called Fuck Me, which tends to make you sit up and take notice.
However, the campaign to make Stooshe a successful group and get London With The Lights On into the shops looks to have been badly mismanaged. This album has had more than one name change, more than one new release date and, most noticeably, the removal of a recent single. Before Christmas, Stooshe foisted an anaemic cover of TLC’s Waterfalls on the world which, despite T-Boz and Chilli’s apparent approval (they even made a cameo in the video), has been subsequently disowned and, as a result, doesn’t appear on this collection of fourteen tracks.
Stooshe’s other three hit singles do appear though, and make up the opening trio of London With The Lights On. Their most recent chart excursion, Slip, is a fantastic throwback to the 60s girl group sound, with slick backing vocals and a couple of great chord changes. However, given events surrounding the album, you might have thought they’d rewrite the “give me that TLC” line. Second track, Love Me – a more radio-friendly reworking of the aforementioned Fuck Me – still sounds great; all bawdy humour, infectious cackles and “oh my days”. Despite a guest appearance from serial song ruiner Travie McCoy, Love Me remains a riot of cheeky fun and features both an x-rated allusion to En Vogue’s Free Your Mind (or George Clinton/Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow, if you prefer) and a rap as full of confidence as you’re likely to hear (“Listen mate, I don’t mean to brag / I’m tellin’ you I’mma be the best you’ve had”).
However, despite Stooshe’s reputation and persona as hyperactive girls out for a good time, their biggest hit is actually a sensitive ballad on the subject of an abusive relationship – Black Heart. It’s the yin to Love Me’s yang with its Motown-y swing and soulful vocals. In fact, in parts you could make a decent case for Stooshe being the 21st Century Supremes.
This dichotomy between end-of-the-pier loudmouths and above average soul group both defines and ruins London With The Lights On. On the more upbeat, ephemeral tracks, Stooshe have a tendency to bludgeon the listener with their idiosyncrasies, namely superfluous shouting, Eastenders barmaid laughter and painful 'ad libs'. Jimmy features terrible American accents and following track, My Man Music, even worse Jamaican ones (“Come, come wid de riddim / Come wid de bass”) plus a procession of metaphors each only outdone for sheer paucity of invention by the next one.
This insistence on injecting a glut of personality into each song reaches its nadir on Hoochi Mumma, which is only rivalled in its sheer meanness and unnecessary spite by the Daily Mail’s Femail section. It’s surely intended as a knockabout giggle, but it’s a sneering look at a single mother on benefits who seeks to abuse the welfare system and seduce men as a means to extract money from them. It’s a bizarre subject for a pop song and Stooshe’s none-more-Cockney inflections (“Short skirt, dirty flirt / ‘Ands dahn ya traahsers”) only make the whole thing more grating.
But then these songs are balanced out by more generic early 90s soul-inflected pop. Counter-intuitively, the more Stooshe move away from their USP, the more palatable London With The Lights On becomes. Though at the same time, this also brings about the risk that you could be listening to one of numerous artists, and it’s basically a done deal that Little Mix are doing this sort of thing a darn sight better than Stooshe. What really sticks out about this record though, is that it’s completely unsullied by the trends that have dominated the charts so far in this decade. Stooshe don’t entertain the possibility of dropping a dubstep gloomwobble, they’ve successfully avoided the rave-pop airhorn, the VIP section of each and every club remains untouched and at no point do they invite you to put your hands in their air whilst affecting a pretence of generic insouciance.
All this and more combine to make London With The Lights On a complex equation with seemingly no solutions. It’s at its best when it could be anyone but is most individual when it’s at its worst. It takes in sounds from the 60s and the 90s, completely ignores modern-day shortcuts, yet doesn’t sound out of step. It takes broad influences from America but is dominated by its Londonisms. You look at the hastily thrown together album cover and ask whether these three women have ever actually met. It makes you wonder what’s happened to Oleta Adams and Toni Braxton.
London With The Lights On certainly has its moments. Melodies swoop and soar, vocals are sweet and clear and some of the choruses are truly fantastic. However, its lasting impression is as an omnishambles of poor choices and awful skits and is, simply put, an absolute mess of an album.28 May, 2013 - 04:07 — Joe Rivers