The Singles Bar: Sugababes, "Freedom"

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The most-covered crossover artists in the U.K. now are mostly solo female songwriters (the usual names we really don't have to remind you of), but it just takes a glance back to the previous U.K. invasion of the mid-'90s, spearheaded by the Spice Girls, girl groups. The one you've probably heard more about lately is Girls Aloud, after Nicola Roberts dazzled with Diplo, Cheryl Cole ping-ponging her way on and off The X Factor and (to a much lesser extent) Nadine Coyle trying to coast on being "the one who can sing." Just as prominent, though, are the Sugababes, who hit big with the excellent "Freak Like Me," even chipped the U.S. charts and radio a bit with "Hole in the Head" and have dozens of hits besides.

That said, a new Sugababes song this year isn't quite the event it might've been, for reasons that have nothing to do with nationality. All three original members--Siobhan Donaghy, Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan--left the group in that order, sort of like a hypothetical Destiny's Child situation where Beyonce left instead of Farrah Franklin and Kelly Rowland wandered out after a muddled last album. Speaking of which, the Sugababes' last album was terrible, and its single was outdone by "I'm Too Sexy" (For My Shirt). It's perfectly OK to be skeptical, but new single "Freedom" dispels at least some of that doubt. Listen below:

"Freedom" is competent, in every complimentary and backhanded sense of the word. The whisper-gimmick of "Get Sexy" is gone, thankfully, and the Sugababes have reapplied the girl-group gloss to their vocals, touching things up with just enough post-bridge melisma to reassure people that these new members are singers too, y'know. The beat snaps its way through the verses, drizzling on a few chimes for good measure, but it's a shame that producers The Invisible Men had to go all RedOne and overcrowd the chorus to the point where it can't burst in so much as tiptoe through.

The operative words in that sentence are "had to"; while "Freedom" sounds pretty good, it's equally rote. Things dart a few inches away from center with "so raise your hand, one fist in the air, for freedom," but it turns out that's just the freedom to say "tonight" a lot as an instant shortcut to the club, where you're not the same girl because you're dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign--except this is the U.K., so maybe not--and saying hey to the soul sisters, and some guy's lovin'/fuckin' you in what's gonna be a good, good night. Enough songs are written about the spectacular things that'll happen tonight to last us well past all our lifetimes.

Sure, the club's always going to need songs to hype itself and its patrons up, but to make those songs good, you've either got to go big or go weird. "Freedom" is more like the fifth arbitrary track off an album, solid enough but biding time until the next big hit. It's not quite enough for a comeback, let alone a crossover or invasion; for that, the Sugababes need to sound a lot more free.

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