Just over nine years ago, a new girl group called Sugababes released one of the most impressive pop debut singles of all time, Overload. Siobhan Donaghy, Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan were just fresh-faced teenagers, with the latter two having been friends since they were eight, and having been introduced to Siobhan by their manager Ron Tom (seriously). They looked like a United Colours Of Benetton ad, but in their sour-faced look and sophisticated sound they were a world away from the Spice Girls, who would release their final album Forever a few weeks later.
Nine years on, Sugababes are set to release their new album in November, called Sweet 7, with a line-up of Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen. How did that happen? Can these three even call themselves Sugababes when none were in the original group? Well, if The Drifters can get away with it when they’ve changed line-ups more times than Manchester City, then a manufactured pop group should have no problems. Well, not with the name anyway; the music is quite another matter.
The group were torn apart by internal friction very quickly in the early days, with the friendship between Buena and Buchanan leaving Donaghy on the fringes and isolated at a pretty vulnerable age. After just one excellent album – One Touch – she departed to be replaced by former Atomic Kitten member Range in 2001. Bringing in a reject from one of the lamest girl groups around seemed an odd move for the moody Sugababes, and happy, smiley Heidi’s presence helped smooth off the edges with each new release.
Having been the pop group it was ok for ‘serious music fans’ to like in their first incarnation, Sugababes MkII started off promisingly with the cracking Gary Numan sample in Freak Like Me, while Round Round was another excellent pop tune from second album Angels With Dirty Faces. Album three (erm, Three) brought more good singles in the shape of Hole In The Head, In The Middle and Caught In The Moment, and while both had much more filler than their debut, they were still making better pop music than most.
The breaking point came with fourth album Taller In More Ways, the clunky title heralding their worst single to date, the mawkish Ugly, while snappy lead single Push The Button came with the most overtly sexual video yet. The Sugababes had grown up and sexed up, but had lost something along with their clothing. They soon lost another founder member too, with Buena deciding that motherhood and Sugababehood didn’t go together, and she was replaced with Berrabeh a couple of months after the album came out.
With just one original member left, things went rapidly downhill. There were still a couple of decent pop songs left in them, with singles Easy and About You Now standing up to some of their best MkII work, but this was a group who bore so little resemblance to the days of Overload and New Year that it was already questionable if they could call themselves the same act. That the lead single from hideously-titled sixth album Catfight And Spotlights was a cash-in on a Boots ad campaign pretty much said it all.
Girls got to number one, but sales were generally on the decline along with the quality levels, so only one other single was released from that album and I’d bet you couldn’t name it or hum it. Finally, the nadir was reached last month with the release of Get Sexy, a single so half-cocked that it even features an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. As the last Sugababes song to involve any of the original girls, it’s a sad way to end an era.
While the band’s songs and fortunes have nosedived over the last few years, there have been a few tasters of what could have been. Buena’s solo album wasn’t up to much, but Siobhan Donaghy has released a couple of almost-entirely ignored records since her departure from the group, and both sound more like One Touch than anything Sugababes have brought out since. Second album Ghosts is particularly worth tracking down, as the sophisticated pop contained within sounds like Kate Bush compared to Girls and Get Sexy.
Sadly, with next to no-one even noticing that she exists, let alone is still making music as good as when she, Keisha and Mutya first arrived on the scene, there’s no guarantee that she’ll be able to bring out a third album, but maybe there is hope. Now that none of them are in Sugababes anymore, maybe the three of them could resolve any lingering differences and pick up where they left off. What could they call themselves? How about The Artists Formerly Known As Sugababes?