The Sugababes Discography Rate


Staff member
Ooh, I hope it's Maya. (Only because I can't bear to lose anything else I can think of that @beyoncésweave loves and isn't on One Touch, Angels or Catfights - and I can't quite bring myself to believe that "About A Girl" is in his top 3).

The only problem is that if it is Maya than I am going to get savaged in the rate write-up.
You're all wrong.

I really, really wish you weren't.




Score: 7.289
: 10/10 x 12 (@NecessaryVoodoo, @Black Topanga, @xondus, @CasuallyCrazed, @marie_05, @Mina, @kal, @Blayke, @PLUTO, @Robinho#1, @Mr.Arroz)
Lowest: 2/10 x 2 (@supersoon, @High Heel Feminist)
My score: 10/10

Look, I was under no illusions that a downtempo track would do well on a rate on Popjustice, let alone one dedicated to a very pop outfit. But this still hurts. Because I love this so, because it’s such an important record to me and because this is a goddamn masterpiece.

Let’s start with the latter. “Spiral” was one of my very last Sugadiscoveries, as it seems to have been for many of you, too. Tucked away on William Orbit’s 2006 album Hello Waveforms, it is not at all well known, which is an unusual state of affairs for an Orbit collaboration with such a profilic (especially at the time) pop artist. While reportedly planned as a single (according to Orbit himself) Mutya’s departure in late 2005 sealed its fate as a lost album track; a shame since this would very likely have been a crossover hit. The net result of all of that is that “Spiral” is, even to Sugababes fans, a relatively obscure find.

This is all the more so because it is a marked departure for the band (and indeed for all girlbands) genre-wise. So much about it seems so unlikely on paper. An Orbit + Sugababes proposition seems straightforward enough, but the collaboration on such a squarely downtempo track is certainly not. (By comparison, all of his work with the All Saints lands much more easily on pop grounds, owing to faster pacing and more explicit pop stylings). Add to this a male vocalist in the form of Kenna, with a subtle strain of R&B derived from the vocals, and Orbit + Sugababes + downtempo + male vocals is a downright strange idea.

But by gods does it work. This is just gorgeous. Paced to perfection, it glides through languid yet purposeful phases with ease. There’s the all-enveloping synthline that starts things off, before it gets washed over with that somehow-warm bass kicking in a touch before some lowkey strings are layered. And then comes Mutya. Despite ceding the chorus, she towers over the song. Her lower register, it turns out, syncs perfectly with the song’s tone, and she knocks her verse, middle eight and concluding adlibs out the park. The middle eight in particular is a marvel; when Mutya’s slightly processed musings are punctuated – after “took all cool to fight it up” – with an imperious snarl, the song just clicks into place. Keisha is an able assistant, with a wonderfully flowing verse and insistent bridge. Kenna, taking on the chorus vocals, is a minor revelation, somehow being both earnestly soulful and an understated shadow, fitting beautifully with Mutya and Keisha; the pairing also yields a persistent underdone of R&B vocal styling. (Poor Heidi, of course, is reduced to that vocodered refrain concluding the choruses and is not even allowed on the middle eight, but then again, you can’t really argue with Mutya’s effort, can you?)

The song’s languorous pace belies just how meticulously constructed this is. Notice how each iteration of the chorus adds a new vocal element. The first time, it’s Kenna’s vocals in isolation. The next time around, another vocal harmony of his is layered in. The final chorus repeats this, and also has the Sugababes’ harmonies fluttering underneath, creating a subtle one-two-three progression. Similarly, Keisha’s bridge, bare the first time, gains an additional harmony each time thereafter. To close things off, there’s a wonderful outro, where the “caught up in a spiral” refrain led by Heidi up to that point is shared between all the girls. The backing “da-da-da”s that close the song also evoke, ever so slightly, the similarly superlative outro in “Stronger”.

Lyrically, it’s a dream. There’s a thing with songwriting where if your words can match the mood of the music, then their content sometimes doesn’t really matter. It’s sorta why club bangers which talk about nothing but getting drank in the club really work, because the lyrics get subsumed by the force of the sonic experience. To a large extent, that’s what lyrics in downtempo music with vocals do. “Spiral” is certainly that, because the sense of being dazedly in love pairs perfectly with the production. But it goes further in having turns of phrase that are, in and of themselves, beautiful. “Every reason to be mine”, “Oh, the ground beneath us crumbles and we fall” and that incredible bridge are deft turns of phrase that are just quietly alluring, in and out of settings like these.

For an Orbit production, and especially compared to his more prolific work with Madonna and the All Saints, this is relatively restrained, being less reliant on his usual tics (the acoustic/synth aesthetic in particular, but particular synth patterns as well). And it’s all the better for it, being its own thing. He gets a bit of a rap nowadays for being a bit stuck in his ways, and for generally receding from the popular music scene (when once, at the turn-of-the-millenium, he so dominated it), but between this, Ray of Light (and in particular, “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” and “Has To Be”) and “Pure Shores”, he has more than earned his dues from me.

In sum, “Spiral” is exhibit A in terms of why a deep dive into the Sugababes’ discography is so rewarding. Not many pop artists can claim a perfectly executed downtempo number, especially one buried so deep in their catalogue. It paints the band’s breadth of skill and range in ever more colour.

Okay, let’s get the tasteless out the door first. VivaForever (5) coughs “Borebit.” ZING! “So bloody dull,” bleats P'NutButter (4). And “a William Orbit/Sugababes collaboration should have been an instant classic for me but I never really rated this,” says tylerc904 who rated this a hateful 5, though not as venomous as the seven lessers whose sub-5 scores sunk this outside the top 50 from the rate’s mid-game onwards.

My fellow ambient enthusiast DJHazey (6) is sadly not onboard, “Nothing terribly exciting nor displeasing about this. Just ends being "meh, whatever" for me.” Solenciennes (6) at least tries to be nice, “very ambient, unusual affair for them to have experimented with but they’ve never been afraid of trying out new things in the studio and this is a nice peculiarity in their discography. Definitely not my sort of thing but it’s always a treat to hear them try out new things and I hold that in some esteem, even if the song itself does nothing for me.” Filler (6) makes me regret bestowing the gift that is thing song on ha, “I think this is the only song in the rate I'd never heard before, so that's nice isn't it. Actually this just makes me want to listen to All Saints. Sorry.” YOU’RE NOT SORRY!

Constantino (7.5) is also and once again on the All Saints buzz, but accurately this time, “This is cute, I love a bit of William Orbit. Again, I am getting Black Coffee-era All Saints from this and I like it.” “I love that we have this little extra. It’s good enough to be on one of their albums…” ponders stopthestatic (7.8). It really is. As for what album, I think this could just about work on Taller, committed as it was to exploring several dimensions of pop, and the downtempo of “Spiral” is most commensurate with that. Other than that, I can’t think that it’d fit any of the other albums very well. londonrain (7.5) is moderately complementary, “Quite an interesting little song. It builds well and I like the use of Keisha's and Mutya's voices.” “I’ve always been a big fan of Orbit ever since Ray of Light and this actually has everything trademark-y about him. Floaty and bleepy production, lovely vocals by both the ‘Babes and Kenna and I’m in.” says a nonetheless stingy Remorque (7).
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A number of hunties were pleasantly surprised to discover the song. For lil’ Runawaywithme (7) “This is a nice new discovery, its nice to hear them sing on something completely different to normal, it’s a really nice instrumental and they sound good.” PCDPG (8.5) also thrills, “This way my first time hearing this song and it’s beautifully haunting. The combination of the babes with the male voice sounds amazing. It brings you to a different place.” Last on the Discovery Channel is roux (9.5) who finds it “My favourite discovery from this rate,” making me well up in the process. I mean, my job is done!

Some commenters really warmed to Kenna. Epic Chocolat (8.8), for instance, says curtly “I like this guest male vocalist”. uno (7.5) observes that “The male vocals work really well with theirs. I wish they would've done some more collaborations with others - this is refreshing.” It just happens to be the case that Kenna’s vocals work supernaturally well with Mutya and Keisha’s. Given the mediocre to terrible results of the other male collaborations (Sean Kingston, ~Taio Cruz) I’m not too bothered, to be honest.

Ironheade (8) dissects this nicely, “Ahh, good old William Orbit. It's a shame that the Sugababes never got a song with him on one of their actual albums – you'd think he'd be a good fit, but oh well, this is still good. It comes with a fair measure of his usual chilled downtempo beats and spacey synth, with some nice ascending guitar chords to boot. The girls perhaps don't sound at their vocal best, but Mutya's depth is always great for downtempo tracks like this, and Keisha manages to emote rather nicely too. (Pity Heidi, reduced to one line and stuck under the vocoder…) And while I'm usually disdainful whenever girl groups have a guest along for the ride, Kenna's smoothly soulful vocals make an excellent fit for the ascending chorus melody. I may need to check out his stuff soon.”

You should! The best starting place is honestly Hello Waveforms as it’s poppier and more easily relatable to his well-known productions. It has some charming cuts, both vocalled and not (check out “Sea Green” and “They Live In The Sky” especially). The Strange Cargo series (I, II, III and Hinterland; though you can skip ahead to The Best of Strange Cargo) is really interesting stuff; more beat-led, darker and with an array of rather left-field influences. Pieces In A Modern Style (Volumes 1 and 2) which fuse classical music with electronica/ambient are pleasant but a bit gimmicky, though you’ll get more out of it if you’re familiar with the classical pieces he uses. My Oracle Lives Uptown is even mellower downtempo than Waveforms.

Chanex (8.5) gets in my good books again, “I am a huge Orbit fan and although this might not have been the end-all of what I dream of when he teamed up with the 'Babes it's still pretty damn great.” I mean, it is the end-all but I won’t quibble. For acl (9), it is “beautiful and experimental.” “I’d adore a Billy O and Sugababes album” enthuses mrdonut (9).

Agreeing with him, and leading off the truly enlightened, is xondus (10): “So stunning. I wish they did more work with William Orbit back in the day!” CasuallyCrazed (10) has a rather choice comparator, “The best thing William Orbit’s done since “Ray of Light” (although I realize that’s not saying that much.) It feels like “Drowned World” younger sister after a benzo prescription...” After being on the wrong side of too many bouts, my villainous queen Mina (10) finally comes thru! “I actually really enjoy the chill vibes of this song. I wish this was a sound the Sugababes explored more in their albums.” My precious kal (10) thinks it’s “The best thing William Orbit’s put his name to. I remember the traumatizing long wait for its release and how I rushed home from school one day when I found out it was finally out there.”

Robinho#1 (10) also laments this not being singled, “This would have been a phenomenal single. William Orbit + Keisha + Mutya = a match made in heaven.” Indeed. Finally, my darling Blayke (10) comes straight for my heart, and our mutual Mutya stanning is perfectly aligned here, right down to the exact line, “This was going to be a single for William Orbit wasn’t it? What an amazing song. This is one of their most experimental songs and it worked wonders. Mutya shatters the stratosphere with her vocals in this one. I prefer the full length version than the radio edit (not that I’m sure its official). When Mutya sings “It feels like I’m shaking up” is BEAUTIFUL.”

To close things off, as some of you may know, a large part of my music sphere outside of Pop/R&B (and Popjustice) is ambient/downtempo-oriented. “Spiral” came at a time when I was really starting to get into the genre. It was such a brilliant discovery because it felt like an encouraging little push to dive depper into that rabbit hole. That one of my favourite pop artists could create something so divine using such a soundscape was revelatory proof for me that the genre was worth delving into. It really was this serendipitous little thing, and I credit it with galvanising a love affair that has provided so much meaning to me over the years.

And finally, <deep breath> story time. My discovery of “Spiral” came towards the end of a pretty dark period in my life. I had removed myself from a long relationship physically, but in no way emotionally. That person would still be in my life, in a way I didn’t want but was too late to change. I remember a lot of lonely walks, downcast days and, vividly, my room for that period: cavernous, cold, dim and the same, every damn day. Music during that time was a clutch and distraction, something more often than not to numb the despair. “Spiral” was merely that too, even if I clung to it a little harder than most out of the pure surprise of finding it. And then, as it so happens, I decided to throw my lot back in again, to reconfigure the relationship, to find new, and maybe more sustainable, dimensions of love. It was the sort of foolhardy, blindly senseless thing you do because you are only sure of your love for someone, and not its contours or effects on you.

I remember a day, almost immediately after moving into a new flat together – this one smaller, cosier – and realising that somehow all the feelings of anguish and misery I had harboured had dissipated. Perhaps because of the interlude, or some new resolve I had found therein, but I couldn’t make myself sad even if I tried to, despite them being on the other side of a thin wall. I recall sitting on my bed, and this feeling of relief and gratitude and something like displaced joy washing over me. And in the heady afterglow of that, I’m watching the early summer sun setting and lighting the sky in orangepinkpeach hues through a narrow sliver of a window and cars are spilling from the motorway into Auckland like tiny fireflies and this comes on and that bridge repeats over and over in my head, “nothing’s really sane but everything’s amazing. Baby have you noticed the sky is rearranging?” With that, the whole song, and in a sense myself, was recast. And that was that, you know?

It’s just quietly immense. And effortlessly sublime.

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Staff member
Story time in this rate is what makes this thread so interesting - I didn't know the song before the rate so I have no particular associations with it, and it's lovely to hear your take on it from the time, @beyoncésweave. The only Kenna song I'd heard before this was "Yeneh Ababa (Rose)", which is also lovely but isn't really ambient.

I kind of accepted that the B-sides and extras were going to be done wrong when we started losing One Touch-era B-sides, so this is a bit of a relief as I thought it was going to be something I wasn't prepared for, like "Ace Reject".

But this has definitely been done wrong. I feel like listening to a medium-quality version on YouTube hasn't helped, though - I want to hear it properly on a CD with good speakers.

Thanks for introducing so many of us to the song, at least.
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Pretty sure Heidi is not on this at all, sounds like a vocodered Mutya on the early "caught up in a spiral" bits to me. This and One Touch going out so early is a tragedy of poor taste, but I did not submit ratings so I can only blame myself!
I've tried over the years with it but for me it goes past being beautiful to just sounding monotonous. Maybe in another decade I'll like it?
I've tried over the years with it but for me it goes past being beautiful to just sounding monotonous. Maybe in another decade I'll like it?

This is my feeling about it too. Of course, I feel a little bad about that after the lovely write-up it received, but it still hasn't really clicked for me.