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A vinyl of the Sugababes’ album ‘The Lost Tapes’, laid on a scratched silver surface.  The cover art features a black and white shot of Siobhan, Mutya and Keisha, which is from their feature in Ponystep back in 2013. The album title ‘The Lost Tapes’ is written on a piece of silver iridescent tape, which is stuck over the sugababes group logo / font.

In news which caught many a Sugababes fan by surprise, the Sugababes released an album comprised of the material which had leaked almost a decade ago, back when they had to go by Mutya Keisha Siobhan and were prepping their comeback as a group that everybody was calling the Sugababes anyway.

When this leak hit and I heard how good this material was, I was all sorts of pissed on behalf of the group, because some of the material was so good and had huge hit potential. I wanted to review it and speak on it, but didn’t want to review something which had leaked. I also didn’t want to draw attention to leaked material. Because despite doing so little promotion of this raggedy blog, posts from it end up in different corners of the Internet (which y’all will occasionally inform me of) and even I sometimes see it pop up in Google search results, something which continually surprises me. And aside from the moral quandary of reviewing leaked material, I was also conscious that me sitting and saying ‘THIS IS SO GOOD’ would be somewhat meaningless to those of you who listen to music based on what I say about it, because you would have struggled to find the album anyway, due to how quickly it got yanked. So I’m chuffed that the Sugababes have said ‘Fuck it’ and officially released some of the songs from the leaks, so they can be made widely available in an official and legal capacity, and they can make some of the money off of it as they deserved to the first time around.

It really is a shame this wasn’t their first official album though. Because some of the songs here truly are amazing. And it’s exactly the type of album they needed at that point in time, and the album that fans needed after the bullshit we got released under the Sugababes name once Mutya left.

As a Sugababes fan who witnessed the steep decline in music quality after Taller in More Ways, The Lost Tapes is joyous. The Sugababes were a group who came onto the scene with a really cool and unique sound, which was a surprise given the members of the group and what each of their musical preferences were. To have a white girl, a Filipino girl and a Black girl releasing these slightly weird pop songs which had this underground edge which was reminiscent of 90s pop from the likes of Neneh Cherry (no doubt due to the influence of her husband and producer, Cameron McVey, who also produced songs on their debut album, One Touch) it was refreshing. Especially at a time when every other girl group was doing slight variations of the same thing. So it was a bit heartbreaking that the Sugababes sound, which had been sustained for four albums, was just thrown away in favour of the glossy generic stuff that other girl groups were putting out at the time. Groups who had come up and were trying to emulate the cool factor of the Sugababes in the first place, and wound up releasing better music. It was truly bizarre.

So, The Lost Tapes releasing with the Sugababes name and songs which have a clear stamp of the Sugababes sound, it made me smile. And for the Sugababes to be releasing an album of leaked material themselves through their own imprint, with their original name; it truly feels like the Sugababes are reclaiming their shit in every sense, and it’s great to see. I just hope we actually get a damn studio album from them after all of these years. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Leaked material is never a joke for those it belongs to. But even though fans know it’s wrong to check it out, they of course do. And in the case of then Mutya Keisha Siobhan, it was inevitable that the leaked songs would be picked up by music publications, blogs, go a little bit viral and cause more conversation then their release of “Flatline” did. (The name of that single truly was unfortunate). Fans had been teased some of these songs for ages and had even heard them performed live. So there was no way they were going to take the moral high ground when they leaked. If you give a fan a single, you feed them for a day. If you give a fan a 200MB MediaFire link, you feed them for a lifetime. So fans have been living with the songs on The Lost Tapes for almost a decade now.

Whilst two to three albums worth of material had leaked back then and continued to for a short while, not all of those songs are included on The Lost Tapes and there are numerous reasons as to why. We don’t know what the legal situation was concerning the songs that leaked. The Sugababes may not have owned the rights to them all. Some of the songs were probably shopped off to other record labels and artists, as was the case with “Love in Stereo”, which wound up on Bananarama’s 2019 album In Stereo. Or songs written by others who thereby owned most of the publishing rights, may have reclaimed their songs, as was the case with “Burnt Out”, which writer Tom Aspaul then released himself. And then there’s also the chance that some songs were held back because the Sugababes may want to do something with them in the future.

This is the problem when material leaks and some of us get our hands on the material. We develop attachments to these songs which we were never meant to hear at that point in time, or ever in some cases. And it infers our feelings about official releases which come down the line. Even with The Lost Tapes, there are fans like myself who are wondering what happened to certain songs which we may have never supposed to have ever heard. Like, girl. Where is “Light Up”?

But there is nothing on The Lost Tapes that the fans who kick it on forums haven’t heard before. We get the amazing Dev Hynes produced “Flatline”, the only song on the album which got an official release. We get the MNEK produced “Boys”, which the girls had performed on tour and was supposed to release as a single. We get “Today”, a song the girls had also performed live a few times, and another MNEK production which was planned to be a follow-up single to “Flatline”. This shit is old, but still features the magic they did when they were heard years ago. And in true Sugababes fashion, because none of the songs adhered to a trend, none of it has aged or feels tied to a particular period in time, unless it was a creative choice (i.e “Summer of ‘99”, “Boys” and “Today” all sounding like tracks from the 90s). This material all still holds in the ways good Sugababes songs are supposed to. The way songs from One Touch, Angels with Dirty Faces, Three and Taller in More Ways still do. Change, Catfights & Spotlights and Sweet 7? We don’t know them. Although in the case of Change, I cannot lie. I do like songs from that album and still want to hear “Never Gonna Dance Again” with Mutya on it.

But bat-eared fans may notice some differences when listening to some of these songs. When I was listening to The Lost Tapes and I heard “Boys”, “Drums”, “Summer of 99” and “Today” I cocked my head and said ‘These all sound different’. And it’s because they are different. And again, this is the problem with leaks. Because they were not officially released, we have no idea at which point in the production or mixing phase they were. Some of the material may have even been demos. So a lot of the songs on this official release feature changes. And in every case I have to say that the leaked versions sound better, and it’s not just because I’ve lived with them longer. They just do sound better. The common thing I find with all of the songs which sound different, is that they sound flatter to me. So I’m not sure if it’s a case of the mixes being tweaked so they intentionally sound different to the leaked versions, if the leaked versions were never finalised mixes or if the flattened sound is a result of the mastering. But for each song that does sound noticeably different, the leaked version is my preference. “Summer of ‘99”, “Today”, “I Lay Down“” and “Only You” in particular got hit pretty hard and I took this personally, as “Summer of ‘99” and “Today” were two of my favourites amongst the leaks. “Today” and “Only You” don’t sound as crisp and as punchy as they did in their leaked forms. And parts of “Today” don’t sound quite as tight as they did on the leaked version, such as when the music starts stopping, starting and stuttering toward the end. There are some small differences in arrangement with “Summer of ‘99”. The intro is longer and there are additional vocals during the second pre-chorus and the bridge is a little different. With the exception of “I Lay Down”, which has all new music behind it, completely going against the charm of the original being a hybrid interpolated mashup of / with Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” – none of these things ruin any of the songs and are minor prices to pay for finally having official versions of the songs. But I personally have a preference for the leaked versions in pretty much every instance.

A black and white shot of Siobhan, Mutya and Keisha, which is from their feature in Ponystep back in 2013.
Sugababes – The Lost Tapes | Sugababes

The Sugababes for me were never a group I felt were anything special vocally. Although I liked that they bucked the trend of having one or two members being the main singers. At least in the beginning, during the short-lived One Touch days. But when it did come to their voices, I always liked Mutya’s tone. I am a sucker for some huskiness. And Keisha’s voice levelled up massively through the years and the albums. She really did become that bitch with the ad-libs as her voice got [Turns and looks into the camera] stronger. And Siobhan’s voice developed beautifully through the years as she released her solo material. But the Sugababes’ vocal arrangements and harmonies weren’t something which really stuck out to me the way they did with other groups, regardless of Keisha saying that she thinks it’s one of the things that she felt the Sugababes were known for. But once Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan got the OG band back together, harmonies and vocal arrangements were a far greater focus on songs and it added a new layer to their music. It also made me realise how much I liked all three of their voices together.

No disrespect to Heidi. But her voice never stood out on songs where she, Mutya and Keisha were singing together. She had a voice which fit in nicely, but wasn’t distinct enough to pull out in the same way Mutya’s and Keisha’s were. Siobhan on the other hand, never gets lost and is never hidden in the songs. And where-as Heidi often got Michelle’d, she never quite got the bridges Michelle got, to such a point that they became her thing the way they did for Michelle. This entire dynamic is just different with Siobhan. She has a presence on songs in a way Heidi did not. She gets more air-time. She ad-libs. She’s a dominant voice on hooks. And whilst Heidi sounded good on songs, there were so few instances where her parts on songs were standouts for me, in the way that Mutya’s and Keisha’s frequently were. Where-as on The Lost Tapes, there are a bunch of moments where Siobhan’s moments are highlights and she shines. Her verse and middle eight on “Flatline”. The way she hits her verse at the end of “Drum”. Her high note on “Today”. And even when Mutya left and then Keisha left, Heidi still wound up playing third fiddle to Amelle and Jade. It just further cements that the combination of Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan is the best combination vocally. Each of them has a distinct enough voice which allows them to play different parts on a song. The dynamic is completely to what it was with Sugababes 2.0 and it creates a better balance musically.

The Lost Tapes is really just a great thing which allows fans a chance to support the Sugababes with official releases of songs that many of us were already playing. It doesn’t change anything in regards to how I feel about the Sugababes’ sound. And it doesn’t change anything in regards to how much I like the group. I was fully on board when “Flatline” dropped. I was fully on board with the direction of the music based on the leaks. So I just hope that whatever the Sugababes release in an official capacity builds on what they made here. And props to the Sugababes for even releasing this officially. I will admit, I have some of the leaked songs and have rinsed them like mouthwash since they first hit the Internet. But having them released officially is awesome and a great move on their part. Get money bitch.

▪ Drum
▪ Flatline 🔥
▪ Summer of ‘99 🔥
▪ Metal Heart
▪ No Regrets
▪ Today 🔥
▪ Only You 🔥

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Album Review: Sugababes – The Lost Tapes