Clea were a fantastic girlband. End of. They weren't merely the girls that didn't make Girls Aloud. They were a great pop act..The albums they produced were absolutely testament to that fact. I still get chills when I listen to Stuck In The Middle, Identity Crisis, Download It and Mind Games. So, what follows is a celebration of perhaps an rather unsung collection of albums & the girls themselves. Their debut album Identity Crisis is pretty much nine or ten years since its release and it still feels as fresh and effervescent today than it did when it came out. Then we'll go into the Trinity era, which as the title suggests, saw a loss of a member who flew off to Canada & huge image change for the girls.
Stuck In The Middle
The serious underscoring of the strings in Stuck In The Middle punctuated the fact that Identity Crisis was going to be a very different girlband album to anything put out by their Popstar sister-group Girls Aloud. Stuck In The Middle includes waves of strings that makes the first song on the album feel more like its a theme for mini-movie thriller directed by Alejandro Amenábar. A rather interesting remix came from Cutfather & Joe which included a feature by ODB. Like much of Identity Crisis, Easther Bennet featured on additional backing vocals for Stuck In The Middle. The video saw the girls seeming to ghostly haunt a rather posh mansion in the middle of nowhere. The song would be re-recorded and re-released alongside I Surrender a few years later but I'm rather attached to this version.
The Lie is one of my all time favourite pop songs by a girlgroup. Huge statement I know but its epic. It continues the dark textures and themes wonderfully introduced by Stuck In The Middle except that The Lie amps up the emotional rawness by underlining the affair with strings recorded at Abbey Road. It evokes those brilliant moments on the Sugababes first album One Touch which made us love the original line-up & why they're back together. While The Lie was amazing it was sadly not release as a single. But it was not unnoticed. A German record label decided to re-work Clea's The Lie and get Monrose to record it only re-naming it Shame.
Butterflies and Rainbows
After the two dark power-house ballads, Butterflies and Rainbows is a beautiful yet eclectic fluffy number with pretty harmonies and a dreamy fairytail production which works a treat.
Sounding like a calmer Pure Shores and Ray Of Light, the title track is about the strength of friendship. It is a warm feel-good, uplifting, and ambient song that sees all of Clea's vocals truly shine together on a mature song telling a story of relationships, adulthood and change. With a cheeky edit or two, this could've also been a fourth single from the album.
One More Try
A pleasant summery type song that allows those infectious harmonies of Clea flourish. One More Try was perhaps, for me, the one song that seemed somewhat of a b-side and utterly overshadowed by the likes of the singles, title track and The Lie. In other words, try as I might I am always drawn to the songs that proceed and follow it.
Sprung was a perfect slice of bouncy pop that could've easily been an All Saints single. It is also the first song on the album that feels a little bit more upbeat as Identity Crisis on the whole is a chilled out pop album. There are no Ibiza bubblegumDonkalicious anthems on their debut. They kept the dancefloor anthems for their second. To my knowledge, perhaps the only pop song about the smell of eggs and a wild booty call, Sprung is a wonderful and quirky little ditty. Years later, yet another German popstar girlgroup covered Clea only this time it was Queensberry. Their version of Sprung is pretty awful. Somewhat proving how great Clea's harmonies were, the Queensberry version is a car crash by the time they reach the chorus. Avoid. Stick to Clea's.
Not so far removed from those great breezy Britney ballads of yesterday-year Crush was the type of song you could see run during the end-credits to the never-made Dawsons Creek feature film. Twee beyond belief, Crush effortlessly counter-balances the dark and dramatic tone of the singles. Driven by acoustic guitars the young Aimee Kearsley sounds absolutely blissful harmonising with Emma.
A Guy Like You
This perhaps is the first and only song on Identity Crisis that sees Clea sounding a little bit like Girls Aloud. The track itself is a beautiful lovechild of Sugababes Overload and the aforementioned Girls Aloud and their epic break-out The Sound of The Underground. Perhaps realizing how similar the song is to those other British girlband behemoths the track comes in at a very short 2:52 making it feel over before its really begun.
Their first single that still sounds as good today than it did on its release ten years ago. Chloe totally shines with her vocals but is truly supporting by her bandmates who lift her adlibs and flourishes by nailing their beautiful harmonies. The production is brave and flawless. Beginning with a thrilling string arrangement, rarely do pop songs these days sound so epic, lush and potent. Download It really should've done a lot better in the charts as the no.21 position does not reflect how good the song is.
Though a b-side to Download It, Mind Games was just as epic if not more. Soaring and penetrative, the band not only sound great together but illustrate that perhaps, just perhaps, their sound was a little ahead of its time for Mind Games could easily be defined as a older sister to Leona's Bleeding Love. Perfect.
Pretty Little Bad Girl
Absolutely totally out of place to anything on Identity Crisis and sounding nothing like the towering emotional compositions that come before it, Pretty Little Bad Girl is a strange way to finish the album. One of the most commercial tracks on Identity Crisis, PLBG sounds earily like a cross between Kelly Clarksons Since You've Been Gone and something by the Thunderbugs and their album which makes sense as their lead-singer co-wrote it.
Everything that was written and recorded for Identity Crisis ended up being released on the twelve-track album or appeared as a b-side. Reminisce was the only song that didn't make the final cut but you can find it on Stuck On The Middle. Written by Clea, the rnb love ballad takes its cues from TLC.