Is there a lead single in recent pop history more preposterous than Sexy! No No No…?
The title, the song structure, the kitchen-sink production – it’s hard to imagine it working today, and it’s hard to imagine it working back in the landfill indie darkness of the mid-00s. But work it did, and it set up what many would convincingly argue was Girls Aloud‘s greatest era.
Brilliantly baffling as this song may be, it was – by this point – somewhat on-brand. One year earlier, the quintet had gambled a Greatest Hits collection on a hastily-written superbanger called Something Kinda Oooh; and the year before that, they’d thrown us Biology, a song so lacking in conventional song structure that it could have passed for a megamix of eighty different tracks.
Sexy! No No No… is similarly chaotic, and functions in a way only Xenomania’s Brian Higgins could handle. A heavily edited robo-intro, an electrifying electropunk chorus, a hint of a samba rhythm… it’s a relentlessly exhilarating pop song, but one that many other A-list acts would probably run a mile from.
The secret to its success? The assumption that radio would swerve it. It’s amazing in the current era of desperate trend-hopping (how many more Syco acts will have jumped aboard the reggaeton bandwagon before the year is out?) to think what magic can be created when artists stop trying to tick boxes and start adapting a “fuck it, let’s just do this” mindset.
Higgins said in an interview: “Sexy! No No No sounded ridiculously challenging because we thought that radio wasn’t going to play [the band] anyway. It was like two fingers up to everybody. You’re not going to play them on the radio, anyway, so we’ll give you something that you couldn’t play.”
Fortunately, the song did gather plenty of support – bowing at No5 on the singles chart (no mean feat for a girlband five years into their career) and forming the backbone of one of the best concert openings of all time:
This might perhaps have been the start of Girls Aloud’s Imperial Phase; the window in which they could do absolutely no wrong. Sexy!’s follow-up was the utterly perfect Call The Shots, and when Cheryl’s marriage troubles and X Factor hiring made her a tabloid mainstay in early 2008, the group seemed to be on a roll like never before. The following year, The Promise gave them their first non-charity-single No1 since Sound Of The Underground, and when that blasted hiatus came about in 2009, it genuinely was like they were ending on a high, and not just as momentum started to dip.
Sexy! No, No, No… may not be their absolute finest song – we could sit here for days debating that – but it’s certainly one of their most memorable. As subtle as a brick to the face, it’s a thunderous racket that sounds as gloriously absurd today as it did a decade ago.