“Instantly be relatable to anyone who’s had a bad relationship or, say, watched a dodgy rom-com”
Digital Release: June 18, 2012
Physical Release: June 19, 2012
With the majority of anything resembling fire or freshness gradually fizzling out from the last of the new age girl groups of the late noughties, and still no sign of a Girls Aloud reformation now that Cheryl’s prancing around to a by-numbers Calvin Harris production in a sewer, the playing field is wide open for girl groups once more. To be fair though, not much in the way of playing has actually been happening in the pop field for quite some time, even with The Saturdays’ gradual degradation from the fun princesses of pop to characterless voices of anonymity, not unless someone’s dragged influences of other genres along as a shield to protect themselves from potential chart alienation. In a time where such little talent can be found in UK pop, it’s easy to thrust commendation at the first available act able to sing using their natural voices. Whilst arguably a very sad state of affairs, StooShe have suitably cleaned up their act (and language) for their second single ahead of the release of their début album, ‘Black Heart’.
StooShe are guaranteed a hit with ‘Black Heart’. In the same way Adele made everyone cry into their pillows at night with another album of certified Magic FM staples, the girl group’s new single is the type of song that can be instantly relatable to anyone who’s had a bad relationship or, say, watched a dodgy rom-com. ‘Black Heart’ might reek of conviction but it harbours almost no authenticity. Much of the foundation ingredients of their first single are present here, although floundered, through a different premise: the saccharine campness (though muted); the promise of bright, articulate melodies but instead delivering vacuous, pointlessly elongated musical phrases; a ballsy flash of attitude where the harsher vowels permit it; it recalls what a much less glittering version of any Supremes track might sound like, where the glamorous veneer has been replaced by a guttery undertone. It’s the musical equivalent of any high-street tablet device that’s not an iPad – purpose-built to ease difficult jobs but ultimately it’s allure tarnishes the moment you own one, and somewhere in the back of your mind you’re left piqued at the fact you couldn’t afford an iPad.
‘Black Heart’, when you take a step back and realise that what most consider so special about it should really be considered a universal standard in music, is a frank and open homage to 60s girl group melodrama, so it can‘t easily be commended for being something hugely new. Something else it shouldn’t be commended for is it’s realism. It’s no crime to vamp things up a bit, especially seeing as Adele’s entire catalogue is based on cripplingly realistic averageness, so StooShe haven’t gone wrong logically, though the execution could be questioned. ‘Black Heart’ might be based on real life events but where efforts to properly characterise the victim and culprit of a soured relationship are squandered on caricature, they simply power on through the chorus as if realising their own problem isn’t a sufficient starting point to break the thing off, instead running to “daddy” and “mamma”; a pretty cheap token of vulnerability which uncomfortably juxtaposes the power and confidence in their voices. Where they can be commended is the jarring transition from the overtly sexualised urban pop/dance hanging around like the breath of an alcoholic. It’s refreshing to here such clarity in a voice near the top of the charts. There’s a pleasant balance of power and diction (saving themselves – and us – from the slack-jawed Londonisms of the accent heard on ‘Love Me’) and the production sounds suitably redolent of dramatic girl group balladry.
If you’re going to argue about the wrong material charting high, then there are far easier targets than ‘Black Heart’ (starting with all the songs currently charting higher than it, save one or two). But it’s hardly the epoch-defining deliverance of modern pop some think it is, and it’s certainly not the most original nor convincing display of soul-tinged Motown pop, often sounding more like The Spice Girls of today tackling a peak era Supreme number after roping in a few hands to help rewrite the lyrics and melody to make it more manageable.