Monday, December 05, 2011

IN REVIEW: La Satz are "On Your Radar"

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I often get overwhelmed with disdain that my home country doesn't really get pop music for pop's sake. Sure, we birthed Lady Gaga...sort of...but there is so much good stuff both here and abroad that gets lost in the shuffle of oversexualized hooks over a catchy export of a beat machine that dominates Billboard's charts.

The Saturdays are back at it again, with full length album number three, dubbed On Your Radar, a play off of a lyric in the project's second single "All Fired Up". It's their danciest foray yet, with literally every cut being custom-built for club play (either as is, or with a fitting remix). While I doubt this material will be winning them a large amount of new fans (except for maybe in the States, Australia or the Dance/Gay Community), the results are familiar in a good way and no doubt their most cohesive effort yet.

The Satz have only been active for just under four years now (if you can believe it) and already have amassed three records (and a forgettable EP), twelve Top 25 hits in the UK (six which went Top 5) and three major headlining tours. Despite these accomplishments, I feel "On Your Radar" is still an effective title for them. Their presence is felt, but their identity by album #3 is still somewhat unstable. If Radar is any indicator -- the identity that The Saturdays want to establish for themselves is decidedly straight-ahead pop that is dance floor friendly, and we all know how okay with that I am.

The last thing they need at this point in their career is the common comparisons to their Brit Girl Group Contemporaries, especially since they are currently the only major Girl Group in the UK pop game at the moment. But for the sake of point of reference:
  • Girls Aloud's third album, the Goliath that was Chemistry which spawned the modern day pop classic "Biology", was released just two and a half years after their debut, and was their lowest charting release.
  • Sugababes' third record, Three, was released three years after their debut and gave us my favorite Suga cut, the ballad "Too Lost In You" -- arguably their classiest effort.
In both cases of the Alouders and the Sugas, it was their fourth album that truly stood out as their finest releases in my humble opinion -- Tangled Up and Taller In More Ways, respectively. However, it was by Album Three that we had  a true snapshot of what these women represented. You could hear a song it and just sounded like an Aloud cut, or a Suga song. This is where The Sats falter and is my only real complaint with Radar overall. Their good songs are legitimately good -- but they don't necessarily sound definitively Saturday.

With each progressive release, we come a step closer toward unveiling The Saturdays true potential. If This Is Love was dance-floor friendly but still very much in the pop pocket, and it could be argued it was at times a little stiff. Wordshaker was a bolder, stronger, and more risky version of their debut, and On Your Radar is the third incarnation of the same. The dancefloor songs sizzle a little harder. The ballads jerk on your tears a little tighter. The material is overall geniunely stronger, even if their execution is via familiar territory. 

I am happy that they are returning to their original focus -- the general feeling of I'm a Beautiful, Powerful Woman in Control. My main complaint with Headlines! was it felt like a hiccup in that vision, with a lead single that suggested weak nostalgia for an ex who should stay an ex. On Your Radar reasserts the empowerment vibe. Lead single, "Notorious," has a hook that coos "I'm an outlaw/I'm the Big Boss/I'm the Gangster on the Dancefloor" and "Closer, baby/Look in my eyes/Do you recognize me?" Second single,  "All Fired Up," written and produced by the Xenomania crew is frenetic in its Go Girl! urgency ("We're all Animal/So get your Claws Out"). Third single, "My Heart Takes Over", undoubtedly the strongest ballad-esque cut on the record, is a new melding of "Here Standing" and "Ego," telling a man on the verge of losing his lady to straighten his life out and make a decision if he still wants her to stick around ("This is your choice to make/'Cuz if you go, baby then go/You change your mind/I won't be here no more").

Word on the street is the fourth single from the project will be "Faster", which I'm very much on board with as a Winter Jam. It screams Christmas light show and is literally begging for a mashup with Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" (and what a great hype single for the American Dance Community that would be!) and walks that fine line of midtempo soaring ballad and shimmery dance routine, very easily my favorite of the "new" material.

"Get Ready, Get Set" comes in a close second place. It's a familiar kind of song from these ladies (with the added bonus of being the other Xenomania cut) coming complete with snarky commentary and somewhat-subtle sex kitten vocab that makes Xenomania pros at the female pop game (think Girls Aloud's "Something Kinda Ooh" or Mini Viva's "One Touch"). The Dancefloor Stompers play off the traditional Trance sounds with a pop feel, experimenting in a kind of dubstep sound with really great effect. "Promise Me" isn't as risky in the genre of material by Nicola Roberts or Robyn (by a long shot), but sounds quite a bit along the lines of Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends" to my ears and that's not a bad thing. It also has a bad-ass dance breakdown bit. "For Myself" sounds like classic DanceFloor Epic (with a surprising inclusion of crunchy electric guitar). "Do What You Want With Me" has a super catchy go-stop stutter shudder backdrop that instantly transforms a relatively bland midtempo into something great. "White Lies" offers some of the most colorful and expressive lyrics I've ever heard from the group (and are a great balance to the truly soaring backdrop). 

The true ballads of the album in "Wish I Didn't Know" (which The Sats co-wrote) and especially "Last Call" (co-written by Una) stand out simply for how stark they are in comparison to the others. In that sense, it can be argued that they don't really mesh with the stylistic idea behind the dance-floor heavy feel of Radar. Same can be said for the guitar-lick heavy "The Way You Watch Me", which features the occasionally solo frontman for Gym Class Heroes in Travie McCoy

Bonus cuts in "Move On U" and "I Say OK" are both highly enjoyable, with me leaning toward the latter (epic lines of "I traded the ball gown for an LBD and bunch of cash" and "Everyone's dishing fouls like they're freaking Simon Cowell" and hello -- that chorus: "Hey, then I'd rather be ugly/Baby I say OK, just as long as I love me"). I would have been even happier if "LadyKiller", the "All Fired Up" b-side, was thrown in as another bonus cut but details, details.

Overall, Radar falls victim to The Saturdays curse in that the entire album is highly enjoyable, but fits together a little too nicely. I can appreciate their overwhelming interest in experimenting with club-friendly fare, but if they truly wanted to make a lasting mark with this record, it would have needed to come out a few years ago. Despite that, Radar is a strong dance record and works as the perfect playlist for getting together with the girls, getting ready to go out. In my humble opinion, there are no glaring clunkers (except for maybe that needless Travie McCoy collab). Just a feelgood statement that will hopefully help solidify The Sats are On Your Radar for a reason.

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