It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch. Whilst Cheryl was busy rhyming ‘bars’ with ‘cars’ hanging on the every monosyllable of charisma void, triangle of cheese head Will.i.am, back combing her barnet into the size of Ohio, and generally living out the plot to a terrible rom-com much to the tabloids glee,seemingly unassuming Nicola Roberts was hatching a plan – one that did not involve overblown, cliché ballads, acres of fake tan or being prodded into tears on a confessional TV show presented by a human boiled ham.
Thankfully, perhaps luckily, Baby Aloud chose the long game and with her coterie of hip admirers due to the crew at Vivienne Westwood anointing her the coolest red-head since old Lizzie The First, she had her pick of the bunch. With gossip circulating as early as last year of Diplo’s involvement, the pop pages went into overdrive salivating over an imaginary tough girl, all singing, all dubstepping, MIA explosion of an album. Cinderella’s Eyes has turned out not to be the Molotov cocktail of pop expected or the forced cool-by-numbers album most were dreading. She manages to set herself apart from the conveyor belt of forgettable, ‘kooky’ cool girls of electro a la Little Boots to Ellie Goulding who appear freshly minted and moulded into shape by producers and marketing team. This is partly due to her mammoth personality, this is a Nicola Roberts album, make no mistake. It is hard to believe the once shy girl with the down turned mouth and awkward stance is now bellowing at the top of her lungs about forcing her ‘balls of steel’ down critics throats with the use of some handy KY jelly. But she is and Chris Moyles better learn to swallow… hard.
The album cleverly covers the two intertwining themes that have become synonymous with Roberts over her past 10 years in the spotlight, her dazzling rise to fame and the severe misogynistic bullying she has had to deal with at the hands of the media throughout her life as a member of Girls Aloud. As the themes change so does her voice from a soft kittenish whisper to a whip sharp screeching sneer as the backbeats change from the now ubiquitous ‘Pon De Floor’ whir to a sea of calming keyboards. Where the album hits the hardest is in its lyrics. Cinderella’s Eyes almost reads like diary entries or a series of angry unsent emails now viewed with glacial control. From the aforementioned ‘Gladiator’ that simultaneously rips apart the ridiculous slings and arrows she’s had to endure and the ideal of London as the epicentre of the arts world to the recited lists of fears and insecurities on the Metronomy-produced ‘I’, her rawness and vulnerability is stretched out for all to view.
This confessional tone climaxes with the astonishing finale ‘Sticks + Stones’, a shocking coda that serves as a cautionary tale to fame hungry wannabes everywhere with its bleak vision of a 17 year old Nicola begging her driver to buy her more vodka to ease the pain of being known as the ‘ugly’ one of the band. The lyric “funny that I was too young for some things but you thought I’d cope with being told I was ugly” stinging like freshly formed tears, it shames the appearance obsessed media more than any documentary expose could. This is not the Robbie Williams ‘pity me’ confessional, this is dispatches from the front line and lessons on how to become stronger all wrapped up in an electro-pop bow. Cinderella’s Eyes is the reverse fairytale of the girl whose glass slipper may have shattered but has still managed to become the belle of the ball.