Universal - 2003 - 53 minutes

An interesting trend has emerged in popular music: former indie dirge-merchant artists such as the Stereophonics and lounge-music-for-over-30s fare like Norah Jones has passed into the mainstream, resulting in a displacement of what used to be identified as radio fodder for the masses. This dull turn of events has resulted in a warmer reception for manufactured pop. While the big demographic who buy nothing but David Gray CDs continue to frown upon commercial pop, cooler-than-thou music hacks, instead of rubbishing every Pete Waterman product or Blue single that arrives on their desk, now actually have a listen and - shock horror - actually like it sometimes! To sum up: the former mainstream has turned (sort of) alternative. And only the most cynical of music snobs could resist the charms of some of the catchiest chart pop songs this year - The Sugababes' 'Round Round', TaTu's 'All The Things She Said' and, not least, Girls Aloud's debut single, 'Sound of the Underground'.

Ok, so it's not really the sound of the underground - neither literally (no choo-choo train samples here) nor figuratively (it's music in a test tube, not weirdo techno). When you want thought provoking, post-modern, multi-faceted pop, you stick on your beloved Saint Etienne or Blackbox Recorder. But if you fancy a fun three-minute bop down the local disco to fairly daft lyrics, Girls Aloud rise to the challenge very nicely.

The release of the title-track debut single from the female winners of Pop Stars: The Rivals surprised and delighted many. In contrast to the lame, drip-fest that was the ill-fated One True Voice's offering, Girls' Aloud sounded fresh and spunky - naggingly catchy pop with unexpected electric guitar samples thrown in. Second single, 'No Good Advice', was equally well received, showing that Louie Walsh was taking the very-now military/rock chick concept and running all the way to the bank with it. Other tracks that give your ears and hips a big tug are 'Some Kind of Miracle' and 'Stop', both very likely as the next singles, and 'Life got Cold', which is surprisingly poignant. After a while it does start sounding a bit samey but for a manufactured pop album, this is a fairly standard fault. The worst songs are 'Girls Allowed', which is Basement Jaxx meets Spice Girls with uninteresting results, while bonus track 'Love Bomb' is just dire and 'Forever and a Night' sounds like every girl-group slushy song ever written.

The problem with buying albums like this is that they don't have durability. 90s and 00s pop doesn't inspire the same fondness in people as that of the 80s and before. This isn't because Wham or Nik Kershaw were any better than Girls Aloud; it's simply because, in the sophisticated mega-bucks milieu of current manufactured pop, most of the charm has been lost in favour of slick production. It's unlikely we'll dance to Girls Aloud at weddings in 20 years time and laugh ourselves silly at the way they looked and sounded (Duran Duran or Spandeau Ballet on Top of the Pops) But at least we have our cringetastic memories; what have today's kids got?

'Sound of the Underground' is best stolen from a slow-witted child and returned in six months time when the current craze passes. It's worth having for the singles alone. And fear not, while Girls Aloud are on the better end of the commercial pop scale, there is still plenty of bad pop music to take the piss out of - Gareth Gates, Ronan Keating and new droogs on the block Simon Casey and Mickey Joe Harte (all boys, interestingly enough)...

Anne-Louise Foley

Track listing: Sound of the Underground - No Good Advice - Some Kind of Miracle - All I Need (All I Don't) - Life Got Cold - Mars Attack - Stop - Girls Allowed - Forever and a Night - Love Hate - Boogie Down Love - Don't Want You Back - White Lies - Love Bomb (UK bonus track) - Everything You Ever Wanted (UK bonus track)