This album has, admittedly been out for a while, and if I’d been more on the ball I’d have reviewed it sooner - but I forgot. That’s the thing; Nicola Roberts is often seen as the forgettable one of Girls Aloud, now personally, I don’t really care about any members of Girls Aloud. Or I didn’t, until I saw Nicola Roberts doing a documentary on the dangers of tanning for young people, she talked about how determined she became not to allow her record label and management to force her into fake tanning, and she now has her own make-up range for pale skin. Which is all pretty admirable, really and I promised myself I’d keep an eye on what she got up to, but somehow it never happened.
Then I heard ‘Beat Of My Drum’, it’s fun, instant and empowering, Roberts is standing up, telling people she’s in charge now. The video is sadly, not very good, but she’s doing her own thing, so we’ll let her off for that bizarre bending over dance move, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have caught on, which is something of a relief.
‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ is at the very least a good listen because it’s daring. It’s depressingly rare to come across an album that’s likely to chart, which does anything different, but if you listened to this abstractly, it certainly wouldn’t sound like Girls Aloud karaoke with only one member (unlike some people, naming no names…Cheryl Cole). In fact, the opening of ‘Fish Out Of Water’ is reminiscent of Xiu Xiu, it’s treading that beautiful line between great pop and plain weird, which if straddled successfully is often the most rewarding, listens. Although, I’m politely ignoring the cover of ‘Everybody Hurts Sometime’ because, well, it’s a bit rubbish.
There’s a pervading sense of dark regret throughout, dark nights filled with drink, music and emptiness inside, she lists her fears on ‘i’, telling us she’s “scared of dying…scared of getting old” and “scared of bodies…scared I’ll lose control” and there’s something truly heartbreaking about the way she says “I don’t like nasty words, they hurt me like you’d never know”. She whispers “you’re my childhood sweetheart the one I’ve chased for years”, which sounds lovely until the chilling next line, “feels like you’ve got your hands locked over my lips and ears”. The painfully honest confession, ‘sticks + stones’, with its references to underage drinking, “too young to buy my own bottle of vodka so I beg the driver” and mental health issues “say no to the shrink I can fix me I think, I’ve got friends in my head” never once feels smug. Even though she’s talking about the downsides of famous so young, which such subject matter often leads to, instead it feels truly honest.
The artwork shows Roberts sitting on top of a pile of junk, a surreal Alice in Wonderland, but for all her porcelain skin, and doll like hair, she isn’t taking any nonsense. The idea of her being in a fairytale that turned bad, is clear, she used to “write all her dreams in her storybook”, according to a daring and successful rap on ‘Take A Bite’, but she’s taken this idea and turned it around to her benefit. Which is pretty much what she’s done with all that’s happened to her. How do I know that? How do I know ‘what’s happened to her’? Well I don’t, I haven’t read it in any magazines or anything like that, but that’s the picture ‘Cinderella Builds” and frankly, the potential of an honest, heartbreaking, and frankly, shockingly dark pop album, that really tells a story, is not something I want to explain away. For all the open confessions, I’m not left pitying her, because she comes across strong. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but then very few things are, and the fact she’s done something different, begins to restore my faith in pop music.